Book Review: Pyramids by Terry Pratchett

Posted April 4, 2016 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 2 Comments

Book Review: Pyramids by Terry Pratchett

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Pyramids by Terry Pratchett
Genres: Fantasy
Published by HarperCollins on October 13, 2009
Pages: 321
Format: eBook
Source: the library

Buy on Amazon
Also by this author: Equal Rites, Wyrd Sisters

Seventh in the Discworld fantasy series in which Pratchett pokes fun at whatever he can imagine. The focus in Pyramids is on the rigid adherence to religious worship and custom. Especially when one has forgotten why one follows it. If you want to make sense of the chronology of the whole series or the various subseries, there is a chronological listing of the Discworld books on my website.

In 1989, Pyramids won the British Science Fiction Association Award for Novel. It’s original title was The Book of Going Forth.

My Take

This was my least favorite so far of Pratchett’s Discworld. Oh, it’s funny enough as it pokes fun at that attitude of “me granfa did it and his granfa before him, and if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me”. Yet another old custom is that non-compulsory taking of the potion to follow the king into death. Hmmm, what a choice!?

It’s an odd progression at the start, as Pratchett swings back and forth in time between Teppic’s memories of childhood, his classes, back to his first day at school, and then slipping into his practical exam. Of course, Ptraci has her own schooling memories. Quite vivid ones too that she and the other handmaidens relive from the tattoos on Alonzo’s body!

Writers may want to read Pratchett if only for the fabulously unique metaphors!

We get a peek in at Teppic’s view of assassins’ school. Oh, boy. No assassin apprentice ever takes the stairs. And it does make sense. You will LYAO when you read about the proper way to walk in Djelibeybi. “You turned your torso this way, then you turned your head this, and extended your arms at forty-five degrees…” Well, just imagine one of the pictures from a pyramid of those figures of people walking with their arms just so…

It took awhile before it was revealed (and I caught on to it) just exactly who was the “greatest mathematician in the history of Discworld”. Yep, only in Discworld.

Pratchett pokes a lot of fun at business: “padding” the payroll; an ancient look-in at marketing — while all the profit is in those small things, you weren’t anyone ’til you did a pyramid; palming products off; and, more.

There’s all those little things Pratchett has fun with…the dolphins! Yep, I’ll just betcha that’s the real reason they save people, lol. Squishi chefs, Teppic channels Moses, the Tsorteans and the Ephebians go a bit nuts with that wooden horse concept, the priest commentator about the sports battle between the gods, reconsidering old clichés, used car salesmen, and, yep, more. Oh, mama! The mummies all get released from their pyramids and are not happy when they learn the truth about the after-life — those lying priests! “Show a bit of backbone. Everyone else is.”

Teppicymon is an odd sort of father, and I suspect Pratchett used him as a model for the typical practice of raising up one’s children among the nobility. That upbringing certainly didn’t prepare Teppic for his godhood. Nor should they have sent Teppic out into the world where he learned them furrin’ things about handshakes and choice. Talk about culture clash!? Maybe that is supposed to explain how Teppic spent his first twelve years at home and never picked up on that whole not-touching thing. Just as odd are Arthur’s religious practices which require a goat. I get the impression, it’s a nightly requirement. Talk about expensive. And messy.

Teppic’s comment about “time…just piling up, like snow” was a nice bit of foreshadowing.

I sure would like to know why daddy took that leap off the palace wall. It might be that Dios! He certainly has a fit towards the end when the gods show up, and he insists “they will learn to do as they are instructed!” An attitude that makes much more sense at the end. You’ll end up wanting to smack Dios up one side and down the other. I don’t know why they’ve all let him get away with it. I mean, why bother showing up?

More religious questions crop up about daddy who is supposed to be a god, hence Teppic’s curiosity about how essential his father was in making the sun come up every day. Makes you wonder why the schools don’t teach logic anymore. And the truth about what a pyramid is good for comes out! It also serves to point up how much we forget over the centuries. The fear of change.

The Story

Father has sent young Teppic off to assassins’ school to learn a profession and get an all-around education. Well, and the kingdom needs whatever money an assassin can earn. But his father’s sudden death forces Teppic to return…and he hasn’t a clue as to what a pharaoh should do.

It’s tradition that wakes Teppic up to what’s wrong in the kingdom — forcing the building of yet another money-sucking pyramid, mad priests, sacred crocodiles, a frustrated ghost, and marching mummies.

And to top it all off, the adolescent pharaoh discovers deceit, betrayal — not to mention a headstrong handmaiden — at the heart of his realm.

Sometimes being a god is no fun at all…

The Characters

Djelibeybi is…

…a small kingdom that has existed for over 7,000 years and serves as a buffer between two much larger countries — Tsort and Ephebe where they know about geometry.

Pteppic “Teppic” is the son and heir of King Teppicymon XXVII, who is also a god. The deceased Artela is Teppic’s mother. Ptraci is Teppicymon’s favorite handmaiden, his daughter, and Teppic’s half-sister. Khuft was the first ruler, a fleeing thief. Grandma Pooney is Queen Far-re-ptah. King Psam-nut-kha is extremely annoyed at Koomi’s “foul shades” comment. Aunt Cleph-ptha-re firmly believes in flaying people. Vyrt is the pharaoh’s brother-in-law and an assassin.

The religious aspect
Dios is the high priest and First Minister. The ambitious Hoot Koomi is the high priest of Khefin. The gods include the Supreme Gods — Net, Fon, Hast, Set, Bin, Sot, Io, Dhek, and Ptooie; Nesh. Herpetine Triskeles, Sycnope, Silur the Catfish-Headed God, and Orexis-Nupt rule the dead. Hat is the Vultured-Headed God of Unexpected Guests. Nept. Vut the Dog-Headed God of the Evening. And more.

The burial aspect
Master Dil is the master embalmer. Gern is the new apprentice who’s in love with Glwenda, the garlic farmer’s daughter. Ptaclusp is the architect and jobbing pyramid builder to the nobility; his twin sons, Ptaclusp IIa is obsessed with accounting and saving every little bit while Ptaclusp IIb is fascinated by cosmic engineering. Good thing, since Teppic asks for such a humongous pyramid. Grinjer makes exquisite models. Rthur is a fresco painter.

There’s a bit of payroll padding going on in here — on both sides.

Lady Nooni has heard fearful things about the school. Lord Fhem-ptahem. Jahmet is a servant. You Bastard is the camel Teppic and Ptraci leap aboard. Rhumusphut and Ktoffle come for a judgement about an ox.


Xeno, he’s into the destruct testing of axioms, and Ibid, a known authority on everything but geometry, decorating, and basic logic, are experimenting with arrows and tortoises. Copolymer is the greatest storyteller in history while Iesope tells fables, and Antiphon writes comic plays. Pthagonal is brilliant with geometry. Endos the Listener gets paid for listening. Heme Krona owns Camels-R-Us stables. Young Autocue is the eager volunteer.

Ankh-Morpork is…

…an oozing, aromatic sort of city, and probably the biggest on Discworld.

The Assassin’s Guild of Ankh-Morpok…
… trains assassins for legitimate work and where nobody fails the test.

“No killing without payment … and always give a receipt.”

Teppic’s classmates include Chidder who comes from a trading family and graduates into the family business as a pirate taking feather mattresses and such; Arthur, a Strict Authorized Ormit, is the son of Johan Ludorum, one of the greatest assassins in the history of the Guild; Cheesewright; and, Snoxall. Fliemoe is a fellow student of whom to be wary.

The tough Mericet teaches Strategy and Poison Theory; Grunworth Nivor loves his food, teaches Traps and Deadfalls, and is Teppic’s housemaster in Viper House; Kompt de Yoyo teaches Modern Languages and Music; Lady T’malia teaches Political Expediency — if you want to live, do NOT have dinner with her; Dr. Cruces is the head tutor; and, Mrs. Collar took care of Teppic’s sex life in the sixth form.

Alfonz is part of the Unnamed‘s crew. DEATH makes a couple of appearances and at least one time finds him discombobulated.

The Cover and Title

Ooh, the cover is a brilliant red violet with a fleet of black pyramids floating on those violet sands. The premier pyramid is capped with a golden metal and flaring off a fat, spiky lightning bolt. The left edge is bordered in black with some sort of golden scepters(?) sprinkled down it. The author’s name and title are in turquoise.

The title is the focus of the story, the Pyramids Teppic would love to get rid of.

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2 responses to “Book Review: Pyramids by Terry Pratchett

  1. I loved ‘Pyramids’ – maybe not quite as much as ‘Small Gods’ which is my all-time favourite Pratchett read:). I thoroughly enjoyed your review, which manages to be highly detailed and give all sorts of interesting insights into the book WITHOUT straying into spoiler territory, which is a great deal harder to do than you make it look…

  2. I have been learning, Sjhigbee, lol. And I thank you for your comments. It means I’m getting the hang of it. I fell into Terry Pratchett’s Discworld through Tiffany Aching, and am now determined to read through the series chronologically.

    Now I’m looking forward to Small Gods! Only four more stories before I get there!

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