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Pyramid power--it's not just for razors any more
on December 31, 2002
Pyramids represents something of a detour in Pratchett's Discworld series. The principal action takes place in the heretofore unfamiliar land of Djelibeybi, located in northern Klatch across the Circle Sea from Anhk-Morpork. This is a unique realm of the Discworld, two miles wide and 150 miles long. It is often referred to as the Old Kingdom for a very good reason-it is quite old, over 7000 years old in fact. It is a desert land whose pharaohs are obsessed with pyramid-building; besides bankrupting the country, this obsession has also had the unforeseen consequence of keeping the country firmly entrenched in the past. Pyramids, you see, slow down time, and there are so many pyramids in Djelibeybi now that new time is continually sucked in by them and released nightly in flares. In a land where the same time is reused daily, it comes as something of a surprise when the pharaoh Teppicymon XXVII decides to send his son Teppic outside of the kingdom to get his education. Just after becoming a certified, guild-approved assassin, young Teppic is called upon to return home after his father suffers the unfortunate consequences attendant upon thinking he can fly. Three months into his reign, he basically loses his kingdom-literally. The Great Pyramid being built for his father's mummy is much too big, and eventually it causes the temporal dislocation of Djelibeybi from the face of the Discworld. Accompanied by the handmaiden Ptraci, whom he rescued from certain death, and a camel whose name would be edited were I to state it here, Teppic must find a way to restore his kingdom back to its proper place and time above the ground. The ordeal is only complicated further by the fact that all of the land's dead and thousands of gods suddenly have appeared in person, acting as if they own the place.
While its unusual setting and the fact that it features characters seen here and nowhere else makes this novel seem a little different from its fellow Discworld chronicles, I must admit it is quite an enjoyable read. Pratchett ingeniously incorporates ideas and practices from ancient Egypt and ancient Greece: pyramids, mummification, Greek philosophers, the Trojan War and its Horse in particular, etc. Teppic is an enjoyable enough character, but we never seem to delve deeply enough to understand him properly. I loved the brash handmaiden Ptraci and her fearless contempt for tradition. All of the dead pharaohs are quite funny, particularly in terms of their opinions on an afterlife spent shut inside a tomb inside an escape-proof pyramid. The subplot featuring the history of warfare between two neighboring kingdoms really helps make this novel a true winner. Perhaps the most interesting thing to be found in these pages, though, is the actual identity and thought processes of Discworld's greatest mathematician. There is also much to amuse and delight fans of temporal dislocation theories-the pyramid builders make many incredible discoveries in the process of building the Great Pyramid, not the least of which is a means of utilizing the structure's innate time loop to call forth several different selves to help make sure the job is finished in the allotted time.
Even though this book is funny and satisfying enough to stand on its own, I would not start my Discworld reading with it. Aside from Teppic's time spent in Anhk-Morpork learning to be an assassin, the action takes place outside the much more familiar lands we encounter time and again in the other novels. Of course, Pratchett devotees will want to read it for the very reason that it acquaints us with a strange, otherwise unfamiliar section of the Discworld.