Book Review: Pyramids

Unlike most boys his age, young Teppic doesn’t spend his time chasing girls or hanging out at the mall. Instead, he trains at a famous school run by the Assassins’ Guild, where he learns the ancient art of inhumation (otherwise known as “bumping off”). No sooner does he pass his exit exam, however, than he learns that his father, King Teppicymon XXVII, is dead – leaving Teppic the sole heir the throne of Djelibeybi.

But that’s not the worst of it: Teppic has absolutely no clue about what it means to be a pharaoh. Of course, the first thing to do is to build a worthy resting place for Dad – a pyramid to end all pyramids. Then there are numerous other administrative duties he must attend to, such as dealing with mad priests and sacred crocodiles, not to mention making the sun rise each morning. As if that’s not enough, the teenaged pharaoh uncovers deceit and betrayal at the very heart of his realm.

Having steeped myself in several volumes of rather bleak fiction (ala Lord of the Flies), I felt I needed a break. I wanted a funny book, one that didn’t take itself so seriously. Somehow or other, Terry Pratchett’s name appeared on my list of to-be-read-authors. I did a bit of research, dropped by the library, and borrowed Pyramids. It fit the bill perfectly.

Part of the bestselling Discworld series, Pyramids is an outrageous send-up of ancient Egypt (and to a certain extent, ancient Greece). It’s a fantasy adventure loaded with hilarity and satire, and hardly a page goes by that won’t have the reader smiling, laughing, or in stitches. Think Monty Python meets J.R.R. Tolkien, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of the fantastical funniness of this book.

Throughout the story, we are introduced to a number of memorable characters: Teppic the boy King; Ptraci the brash and flirtatious handmaiden; Dios the mad priest; Ptaclusp the architect; a group of neo-Athenian philosophers who can’t seem to agree on anything; and my personal favorite, a mathematically-inclined camel with a crabby temper. As another critic so aptly put it, “What makes Terry Pratchett’s fantasies so entertaining is that their humor depends on the characters first, on the plot second, rather than the other way around. The story isn’t there simply to lead from one slapstick pratfall to another pun. Its humor is genuine and unforced.”

Along with the memorable characters come some equally memorable scenes. My favorite one occurs when the gods of Djelibeybi begin to fight over the Sun. A priest, witnessing this epic contest, proceeds to commentate on the struggle in sports-announcer fashion:

“It would appear,” said the high priest of Cephut, the god of Cutlery, who felt that he could take a more relaxed view of the situation, “that Thrrp has fumbled it and has fallen to a surprise tackle from Jeht, Boatman of the Solar Orb.”

There was a distant buzzing, as of several billion bluebottles taking off in a panic, and a huge dark shape passed over the palace.

“But,” said the high priest of Cephut, “here comes Scrab again… yes, he’s gaining height… Jeht hasn’t seen him yet, he’s progressing confidently toward the meridian… and here comes Sessifet, Goddess of the Afternoon! This is a surprise! What a surprise this is! A young goddess, yet to make her mark, by my word, what a lot of promise there, this is an astonishing bid, eunuchs and gentlemen, and… yes… Scrab has fumbled it! He’s fumbled it!… and… what’s this? The elder gods are, there’s no other word for it, they’re cooperating against these brash newcomers! But the plucky young Sessifet is hanging in there, she’s exploiting the weakness… she’s in!… and pulling away now, pulling away, Gil and Scrab appear to be fighting, she’s got a clear sky and, yes, yes… yes!… it’s noon! It’s noon! It’s noon!”

Silence. The priest was aware that everyone was staring at him. Then someone said, “Why are you shouting into that bulrush?”

“Sorry. Don’t know what came over me.”

Who should read Pyramids? Everyone… over a certain age, that is. While most of the humor is quite clean, there are several instances of sexual innuendo/suggestive dialogue, making it a book that I think is best reserved for readers ages 15 and up.

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