In the first part of The Last Hero, the leaders of Ankh-Morpork join up to tackle a bizarre problem: someone is going to try to end the world. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For talk of sexual assault/rape.
Oh, friends, IT’S TIME FOR ME TO START A NEW DISCWORLD BOOK! This is always an exciting time for me, but in this case, it is extra special. Let me first thank all the wonderful folks in Amsterdam who orchestrated giving me a copy of The Last Hero through my boyfriend, who hid it from me so I couldn’t see it. The whole thing was wrapped in red paper as well, so even when I was moving and had to pack it, I literally could not tell what was on the cover. Thus, when I got it out of my room just minutes before recording the video for this review, it was the very first time I’d seen it. I DIDN’T REALIZE IT WAS FULLY ILLUSTRATED!!!! I’ve seen Paul Kidby’s work before at both of the Discworld cons that I’ve been to, as well as through many of you in the comments.
Now, I get to experience all of this within the context of a new story AND for the first time! So, since this is my first illustrated Discworld book, I want to make sure that I’m commenting on both the story and the art, sort of like what I was doing for The Science of Discworld. HERE’S HOW I’M DOING THIS.
What’s most striking to me about Kidby’s style is that as fantastical as the topic is, it feels so visceral. It comes off as realistic while still being exaggerated, as if it exists as a bridge between what we’d consider more traditional fantasy art and something that would exist in the real world. Now, I feel like I’m a decent book/television reviewer because it’s what I know. I am not an artist who works in this specific medium, so I admit to having virtually no real understanding of technique or theory.
But here’s what I most wanted to talk about: Since I’m not naturally a visual person, I am so thrilled that I get to see what these characters look like through someone else’s eyes. I imagine that Pratchett gave guidance for a lot of this, and I actually find “canonical” art for characters to be super comforting because my brain has such a hard time visualizing anything. Rincewind looked a little different in my mind, but Cohen is very close to how I imagined him. The best part, however, was the view of Ankh-Morpork. I now understand the comparisons to London. IT LOOKS LIKE THE TWISTING THAMES, OH MY GOD!!! And this shit helps a great deal for me. If you’ve been following along for a while, you might remember how much of a kick I got out of the maps posted in the comments during my read-through of The Lord of the Rings. It’s like that! I love having the imagery in my head!!!
The Last Hero
Since this book isn’t as long as most Discworld novels, Pratchett really gets to the point, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun. The conflict is introduced in this first part, and holy shit, it’s ridiculous: Cohen the Barbarian is going to end the world.
Well, we don’t quite know if that’s what is going to happen, but I get why the Patrician is leading the leaders of the city to try and stop him. It’s the Prometheus myth in reverse: Cohen is going to give back the fire that was stolen from the gods. Of course, given that he’s a hero and can’t do anything subtle ever, that means he’s got something called “Thunder Clay” that will blow up all of Dunmanifestin. And an explosion in the most magically-charged area of the Discworld will probably destroy all of the Disc, so… yeah. It’s a big deal.
How this came to be is a mystery, and I also don’t get why it was necessary to kidnap a minstrel in order to accomplish this. There’s a high chance that Cohen isn’t planning to actually blow up the city of the gods. I suspect that the gods would probably try to stop that if it was as serious as the humans think it is, but perhaps they enjoy the game getting real close to them. I mean, it’s gotta be entertaining to watch the wizards, the guild heads, and the Patrician struggle with all the obstacles in their way. They can’t do magic near Cori Celesti, so that means they have to travel there by normal means. Even then, doesn’t that imply that Cohen has a huge head start??? HOW ARE THEY GOING TO CATCH UP TO HIM?
It’s a great start to this story, but there is an odd, unnecessary moment smack dab in the middle of it. I am most especially sensitive to what the text says here given what our society has been having a conversation about these days, and this line in particular did not age well at all:
“Not rape, I believe,” said Mr. Betteridge, finding a rock on which he could stand. “Not in the case of Cohen the Barbarian. Ravishing, possibly.”
“There is a difference?”
“It’s more a matter of approach, I understand,” said the historian. “I don’t believe there were ever any actual complaints.”
Y I K E S that doesn’t come off well, does it? Sexual assault doesn’t disappear because no one complained about it; the act still happened. I don’t know why another joke of this nature appears here after the ones in Interesting Times because it’s not exactly a subject ripe for humor, especially not from this perspective. Here’s to hoping it’s the last of its kind in this book.
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