Mark Reads ‘Pyramids’: Part 1

In the first part of Pyramids, Teppic ponders how he came to try to be an assassin. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.

So, here we are! My seventh Discworld book, and I’m just so pleased that most of this is new and unfamiliar to me. Well, I must admit that I am always happy with Ankh-Morpork as a setting, but that’s barely a part of what happens here. I am just ENDLESSLY amused with how far Pratchett takes an admittedly absurd idea. It’s very much like the school for fools we saw in the last book, or that acceptable thievery present in Ankh-Morpork, and I’M JUST SO INTO IT. Pratchett accepts a reality of the fantasy genre – that the kingdom is littered with assassins for hire – and takes it EXTREMELY FAR. While I feel like Wyrd Sisters was far less of a parody of fantasy, I think most of the Discworld books so far have followed this type of humor.

And I personally love it. It’s no secret that fantasy itself is not often something I read, and I’ve had to be recommended really good fantasy in order to begin to enjoy the genre. (Which is strange to me sometimes because there ARE two things about fantasy that will generally pull me into a story: good systems of magic and DRAGONS. I almost typed “FUCKING DRAGONS,” but worried that would be sending the wrong message. I’m not into dragon smut.) Some of that is a matter of taste, not anything political or social. I’m just not into a lot of what fantasy tends to address. That makes these books a lot of fun for me because they are fantasy while simultaneously able to poke a lot of fun at the tropes and archetypes that are commonly used. (Another good example: I don’t like first-person shooters pretty much ever, but I’m obsessed with the Borderlands series. They’re more cartoonish and hilarious than most others in the genre, and it helps me be able to get into the world.)

Pyramids introduces me to Teppic, an assassin-in-training who is taking his final exam, one that has only two possible conclusions: he passes and is a real assassin, or he dies. Er – he’s inhumed, I should say. That’s intimidating and scary, yes, but it’s also super fucking funny to me because WOULDN’T THAT NEED TO BE HOW THIS WORKS? To be an excellent assassin, you need to be able to blend in, stay a constant secret, kill others as quickly and inconspicuously as possible, and you would need to survive. So doesn’t it make sense that the exam should test that? There’s a beautiful commitment to worldbuilding present in this joke. You’ve got Teppic’s dressing sequence, which actually reminds me of EVERY TIME I HAVE EVER PREPARED FOR AN EXAM. Y’all, I was that annoying kid who brought pens of every color and back up batteries and three different kinds of paper and a perfectly organized binder and detailed notes if they were allowed and is anyone surprised by this. Then there’s, “No assassin ever used the stairs,” which… oh my god, the more I think about this, the more hilarious it becomes. Are all assassins destined to do parkour at all times? Could you imagine grocery shopping with assassins? Or going to Disneyland with an assassin? THEY WOULD REFUSE TO STAND IN LINES and then they’d magically appear at the front of other ones and I take it back, I actually want this. A lot.

Anyway, back on topic.

Fairly solid classroom rumor said that if he inhumed his examiner before the test, that was an automatic pass.

Christ, I’d forgotten about college class rumors. I’D FORGOTTEN THAT THEY EXISTED. Like the rumor that certain professors re-used the tests, but changed certain names and numbers. Or the more seedy rumors about affairs. OR THE TIME MY STUDY GROUP FOR A POLITICAL SCIENCE COURSE BECAME CONVINCED OUR PROFESSOR WAS SOCKPUPPETING IN OUR ONLINE DISCUSSIONS. We never proved that one, but I was a staunch believer. But this specific rumor that Teppic heard probably would have been true, given how intense Mericet is. Mericet is such a fun character because he’s a perfect trope himself: the brutal training master who cares not about affection or small talk, and who we’re convinced believes that everyone ever fails him. He just seems so ready to expect disappointment!

I was surprised, then, that in the midst of this exam, Pratchett found a way to give us flashbacks. We don’t get those often in the Discworld books, but goddamn, it works so well within the story itself. As Pratchett flashes back and forth between Teppic’s horrifying fall and the years leading up to his exam, we get a chance to get to know Teppic and his family. I found this necessary because he is not a character in this fictional universe that we’ve ever met. We need to know details about his life and his origins because we’ve got nothing else from him. Plus, the place he’s from (I’ll get to the thing, I swear) is somewhere we’ve never been before!

So Pratchett takes us back to a kingdom on the Disc, squished between Tsort and Ephebe (I think?), that’s small, selfish, and historically obsessed with pyramids. There are some clear elements of ancient Egyptian cultural present, but Pratchett doesn’t rely on them too much to tell the story, with one exception: Teppic’s father, King Teppicymon XXVII, hates pyramids. HE HATES THEM. They wasted money and resources, and they do nothing for him but make his life and his king duties more difficult. I imagine this is one of the reasons why he’s not nearly as close with his son as he could be. He does try – oh, does he ever try – to send his son off to school respectfully, but it’s clear that he never was the kind of father who was…  I don’t know, attentive. Ever.

“…he was left to bring himself up on a trial and error basis, mildly hindered and occasionally enlivened by a succession of tutors.”

How Teppic’s uncle, Vyrt, came to convince him to take up assassination is a mystery to me, but I’d love to find out. Why this specific trade? Why would someone willingly enter an educational facility where 90% of the students die by the time of the final exam? Is Teppic just naturally good at this? He’s good at some things, but not others, so I wonder if there was some other circumstance or motivation that got him to this point. Regardless, this book has my attention. I LIKE THIS, PLEASE GIVE ME MORE.

You’ll notice I haven’t said the name of Teppic’s home country. I just wanted to make you wait until the last paragraph so that I could tell you that I’m well aware of the fact that y’all made me read Discworld just so I could get to Djelibeybi. I’m on to you, fandom. I am on to you.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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