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Book cover art by Ben Perrini (left).
Review © 2001 by Thomas M. Wagner.

With Pyramids, the seventh Discworld opus, Terry Pratchett's unstoppable creative genius unleashes some of the most cosmic comic mayhem the series had seen up to that point. While the story is weirdly schizophrenic, such a thing isn't necessarily a liability in the anything-goes world of farce. Our hero this time is Teppic, heir to the throne of Djelibaybi, a sliver of a kingdom that bears, you might say, a passing resemblance to ancient Egypt. Wanting to make a little something of himself in the world, and unsatisfied with the nonsensically ritualized life awaiting him if he stays home, Teppic travels to Ankh-Morpork where he enrolls as a student in the Assassins Guild (makes sense). But when his father, the moderately mad Teppicymon XXVII, unceremoniously kicks the bucket, Teppic must make his way back home (a journey Pratchett all but ignores in the interest of just getting him back there) to assume the throne.

Assume it he does, but any illusion he actually rules anything evaporates once he meets Dios, his high priest, a character similar to Deacon Vorbis in the later Small Gods, though not depicted by Pratchett as quite as ruthless a fellow. Teppic's dialogue exchanges with Dios are among the funniest Pratchett has written, as the young and confused pseudoking tries to figure out exactly where he stands in the order of things. Indeed, it is Dios running the show, and things begin really getting out of hand when Dios manipulates Teppic into ordering the construction of the largest pyramid ever built for his late father. Teppic is none too happy about this (and neither is the ghost of his father, who, now dead, is finally beginning to enjoy life, and doesn't want to be cooped up in an enormous mausoleum), because Djelibaybi is frankly overrun with pyramids. But what can he do?

The story reaches an early climax of sorts when the construction of the massive pyramid causes such a vast buildup of magic that the entire nation of Djelibaybi ends up on the business end of a bizarre cataclysm. Following this, the story is a little less consistent in tone. A really funny bit will be followed by a draggy bit, only to be followed by another funny bit, and so on. While Pratchett's gift for farce and absurdism is firing on all five cylinders — the funniest bit occurs late in the tale when Teppic confronts the Sphinx and offers some constructive criticism on riddles — in this novel he makes an early attempt or two at more sophisticated social satire (like a bit about the neighboring nation of Ephebe and its creation of "mocracy" where everyone gets a "vet"), and these flop like the proverbial lead balloon. Still, this novel does contain perhaps the series' funniest pun. I'll let you find it.

Overall, Pyramids is a funny entry in this enduringly popular series, though it doesn't quite become the epic that Pratchett is both parodying and aspiring towards. Its pattern is much more prosaic: funny beginning, blasé midsection, funny ending. But it is well worth the reading all the same, if only to find out the identity of Discworld's greatest mathematician!