Terry Pratchett,
(Victor Gollancz, 1989; Corgi, 1997)

Terry Pratchett is systematically poking holes and fun at every standard of both the fantasy genre and world history. In Pyramids (subtitled "The Book of Going Forth") he tackles the questionable burial practices and monarch/deity beliefs of ancient Egypt. And he hits his target with full marks.

Teppic is a killer-in-training, a member of the elite Assassins Guild of Ankh-Morpork. He's also heir to the throne and divinity of Djelibeybi, where the industry for corpse-embalming, pyramid-building and other necrophilic activities far exceeds any interest in actual living. There, too, the king is considered by all (including himself) to be a god, responsible for many things including the daily rising of the sun. Granted, he doesn't know how he does it, exactly.

When Teppic's father dies under vaguely silly circumstances, Teppic -- newly invested by the guild as an assassion in good standing despite his basic unwillingness to kill anyone -- is summoned home to ascend the throne. But the monarchy isn't all he thought it would be. There's something very disquieting about his high priest. He is increasingly attracted to one of his handmaidens despite, well, problems which will readily become apparent. He misses the freedom of his assassin lifestyle and the stealthy charm of Ankh-Morpork's rooftops, not to mention the killer black wardrobe which was de rigueur for any good assassin.

Meanwhile, the previous king hasn't completely passed on. He's not too happy with the embalming process, which he's forced to watch in great detail. And the pyramid being built in his honor is perhaps a bit too massive, when he'd really rather just be buried at sea.

Did I mention the mathematically inclined camel?

Pyramids takes Pratchett's Discworld on to greater, funnier heights, with a lot of great laugh-out-loud bits which drew curious glances from people around me while I read. There are a few too many half-hearted puns, many based on silly misspellings and misinterpretations of various political systems outside of Djelibeybi's arid sphere of influence, but it's not too hard to grunt quietly and pass them by. Because Pyramids is set primarily in a previously unexplored area of the Discworld, and since many of the characters are unique to this book, it's another good place for Pratchett neophytes to get their first taste of his unparalled wit.

Just beware of the camels. They spit.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

Buy Pyramids from Amazon.com.