April 14, 2023 7:59 AM - Subscribe

King Teppicynon, Pharaoh of the Kingdom of Djelibeybi and all it's lands (which stretch all of a mile on either side of the river Djel) and God in charge of making the sun rise over his peoples (though no one, including the King, is quite sure how he does that) is dead. Long live the King! Both the new one, Teppicynon's son Teppic, a recent graduate of the Ankh-Morpork Assassins' Guild School with no interest in killing anyone, and Teppicynon himself, who in death is learning that the massive tombs Djelibeybi is bankrupting itself to erect might not be all they're cracked up to be... (Discworld #7, Stand-alone.) By Terry Pratchett.

It's the Discworld Book Club, everybody! Recently we've been following the City Watch books (Previously: Guards! Guards!, Men at Arms, Feet of Clay, Jingo, The Fifth Elephant, Night Watch, Thud!, Snuff) as well as the Industrial Revolution books (Previously: The Truth, Monstrous Regiment, Going Postal, Making Money) and are now jumping back to cover some stand-alone novels. For those who truly wish to go back to the beginning, there are a number of Discworld novels covered in Fanfare back in the day (The Color of Magic, The Light Fantastic, Equal Rites, Mort, Sourcery, Wyrd Sisters) which makes this the earliest book in the series which has not yet been featured here! That said, in our weird reading order, I believe the next book will be Moving Pictures, which often gets clumped under the Industrial Revolution but is really kind of a Stand-alone, and we haven't done it yet, so that's next!


Teppic, Prince of Djelibeybi, Kingdom of the Sun, is completing his final examination from Ankh-Morpork's Assassin's Guild School. He has no real inclination towards being an assassin, and can't stomach the idea of murder (which is a bit of an impediment in that profession) but his parents agreed that he should probably learn a trade, what with their Kingdom being broke and all.

The Kingdom is broke because it has few natural resources aside from sand and stone and the river Djel, which they exploit very little for religious reasons, and they have spent all of their money over 7,000 years of "empire" constructing lavish pyramids for their dead rulers. High Priest Dios is happy to explain the reasoning for all of this, of course, but when King Teppicynon, Teppic's father, dies the day after Teppic's final exams, the King learns first-hand that the great tombs and the local theology surrounding them are just holding him (and all of Djelibeybi's past rulers as well) back from the afterlife.

Meanwhile, Teppic learns the hard way just how little "ruling" the King actually does in this country as compared to, say, Dios. Dios has Teppic hold court to hear cases put before him, and then warps Teppic's generally lenient and reasonable judgments into draconian official decrees, such as the execution of Ptraci, Teppicynon's favorite handmaiden. So Teppic uses his Assassins' Guild training to help Ptraci escape to the neighboring nation of Ephebe, but with construction underway on the greatest pyramid ever erected, the size of which shapes space and time itself, getting back into the Kingdom may be a bit trickier...
posted by Navelgazer (11 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Finally getting around to reading this one, it was hard not to read it in the context of Small Gods (which we should be covering soon!) Both take place in "the past" relative to most Discworld books (though that's less apparent here) and both feature High Priest villains who are very similar. Both feature trips to the ancient-Greece Discworld stand-in Ephebe. Small Gods is one of the top-tier DIscworld novels, agreed upon by just about everybody, and this can't help but suffer from the comparison, but it's still good, with the confrontation with the Sphinx being a particular highlight for me.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:03 AM on April 14, 2023 [1 favorite]

I approached this (in the sense that an eighth-grader "approaches" any novel) as a student of ancient Egyptian history, and I remain fond of it even after formal study. As a parody of Egypt, it trades on a lot of old and mistaken ideas, like human sacrifice and the general notion that Egypt was a timeless culture that went unchanged for thousands of years. (It very much did not. In the scope of things, pyramids were practically a fad.)

I like it in spite of all that, or perhaps because Pratchett took some of those tropes in order to create a fresher story. Dios is a good villain, and the absolute horror of pharaohs being alive in their tombs -- well. That was definitely something that had occurred to me as soon as I read about certain Middle Kingdom coffins having eyes painted on them so the dead could see out. I loved the ancestral telephone game. And I've never forgotten some of the scenes between them:

‘I wanted to be buried at sea,’ said Teppicymon. 'I hate pyramids.’

‘You do not,’ said Ashk-ur-men-tep.

‘Excuse me, but I do,’ said the king, politely.

'But you do not. What you feel nowe is myld dislike. When you have lain in one for a thousand yeares,’ said the ancient one, 'THEN you will begin to know the meaning of hate.’

There's a larger conversation here about how Pratchett treated cultures of POC. He went in well-intentioned and "colorblind," which ... good at the time, not great now. Although, being white, I can't say definitively, I don't think it comes off as badly here as it did in Interesting Times. (Same issue -- some good ideas in that book! And some very old and bad ones.)
posted by Countess Elena at 9:11 AM on April 14, 2023 [4 favorites]

Agreed. This wasn't as bad as I'd worried it might be in regards to POC culture treatment (The name "Djelibeybi" being close to as bad as that gets IMO) but it's still dicey enough that I was worried about it throughout. Early Installment Weirdness has the discussion at the beginning about how the Assassins' Guild school is undiscerning about whom they accept, which goes very much against later books where the Guild is unofficially but very well understood to be only for children of the aristocracy. This can possibly be handwaved away though, either because this book seemingly takes place in the Century of the Cobra (rather than the Century of the Fruitbat, where the series as a whole was at this point, though Ankh-Morpork sure looks the same otherwise) or just as an artifact of Teppic's perspective, which was pretty warped by his upbringing when he enrolled in the school. It's also entirely possible that I just missed something there by listening to the book while working.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:40 AM on April 14, 2023

I like Pyramids.
Teppic's increasing frustration with the inability of his country to change even a little is great.

Also, the dude who just can't mange to unload his white elephant of a statue. hah.

Pyramids is far better than Small Gods, if we are making a comparison.
posted by madajb at 11:48 PM on April 14, 2023 [1 favorite]

That was the first one I read with something of a plot, and the one where I changed from a 'nice that someone's doing a fantasy hitchhiker too ' attitude to 'this is the writer Terry Pratchett, I need to pay attention to him'.

In terms of enjoyment I would even rank it along Guards!Guards! and MacBest, only that these two are foundational Discworld books that gave us Mumm and the Witches and started their own series, of course, whereas Pyramids is just a stand-alone.

And I understand why, but I'm still sad that Pteppic didn't have brief guest appearances in other series and even more, that Dios never had the pleasure of meeting Granny Weatherwax.
posted by Ashenmote at 2:43 AM on April 15, 2023 [1 favorite]

Pyramids and Guards! Guards! - two of my all-time favourites from the series - were both published in the same year: 1989.
posted by simonw at 7:46 AM on April 15, 2023 [1 favorite]

I really didn’t like this one. I actually stopped reading Pratchett for a long time after Pyramids. Thank goodness Guards! Guards!was the next book. If it had been Moving Pictures, which I also struggled to finish, I may have given up on the Discworld books completely.
posted by fimbulvetr at 9:47 AM on April 15, 2023 [1 favorite]

Pyramids was the first Discworld that hooked me, when an excerpt (Teppic taking the Assassin test) was published in a UK gaming magazine I picked up in pre internet days. It was a great little scene that made me want to read more.

Especially because there was a footnote in there which didn't connect to anything in that excerpt, and me wondering what the hell "It was quite a big frog, however, and got into the air ducts and kept everyone awake for weeks' was referring to.
posted by The otter lady at 2:30 PM on April 15, 2023 [4 favorites]

I think I am fond of this one, on the whole; like it's no Guards! Guards! or even a Mort but it goes to some unexpected places - especially when you realise the full scope of what's gone on in Djelibeybi. The idea of the nightmare realm of all the gods returning at once (and immediately having a turf war) while on the horizon pyramids are rotating in four dimensions is fun to try and imagine - especially since it starts off pretty tame, as a spoiled prince having to come back and be ruler. There's a few ways that could go; breaking the space-time-continuum isn't traditionally one of the options.
posted by Merus at 7:19 PM on April 15, 2023 [1 favorite]

I think I enjoyed the peek behind what it takes to become a full-fledged assassin the most. It's funny, I've literally read all of the discworld books many times (some as many as a coupe dozen), but this volume and the earliest books are the ones I've read the fewest times, perhaps thrice each.
posted by maxwelton at 12:52 AM on May 16, 2023

I know this comes a little late to count as an afterthought, but I just realized that Pyramids is basically a Yes, Prime Minister remake.
posted by Ashenmote at 4:06 PM on September 16, 2023

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