This is another one that I haven’t read in years, so long, in fact, it almost read fresh for me. This could be one of the rare Discworld books I may not have ever re-read before. This is a true stand-alone, there’s not another Discworld book that features Teppic as a main character and I think for that reason I tend to overlook it. Part of the joy of Discworld for me is getting to know the characters really well and watch them progress, like Sam Vimes. So, I tend not to revisit the stand alones as often as maybe I should.
Teppic is the son of a king, the king of the “Old Kingdom” where their kings are considered to be gods in the flesh. His father’s main responsibility to the kingdom is making sure the sun comes up, the rains come, and the river floods when it’s supposed to. All said it’s a pretty cushy job since Teppic doesn’t remember seeing his father put any real effort into making the sun come up, and the priests run the day to day necessities of the kingdom.
His parents decide that they want him to be educated and send him off to the Assassin’s Guild in Ankh Morpork. This is a serious culture shock for Teppic who’s accustomed to people waiting on him hand and foot. He’s figured out that he’s not anything special at the assassin’s academy, and is treated like any other student. The book opens with Teppic trying to pass his last exam known as The Run, where they do a mock trial of an assassination. Many students try and fail the last exam, and are never seen or heard from again, it’s best to just pass the test. There’s a lot of flashbacks, especially in the beginning, and it can be difficult to follow at first, but it all comes together eventually. Shortly after taking the final exam, Teppic’s father dies and he has a divine calling to go back home and take his place as ruler.
Once he goes back home, however, he realizes that his country is sort of backwards, and not modern at all. He misses indoor plumbing, he wants medicine and to treat his subjects with some form of dignity. His country is deeply steeped in tradition, rituals, and strict rules to follow. Despite his good intentions, Teppic finds his rule constantly undermined by those around him because deliberately misinterpret his orders so they fall in line with old traditions. Or, they straight up interfere with his orders, like the ships that were supposed to be carrying the feather beds and plumbers from Ankh mysteriously losing their way or their cargo on their journey to the Old Kingdom.
Since Teppic is now the Pharoah his subjects are made uncomfortable when he tries to approach them, viewing him more as a god than as a man. Approaching his subjects can even put them in danger as he soon learned when he went to shake the hand of a stonemason and it resulted in the mason getting his hand cut off. He was shocked and appalled and tried his best to make things right, saying that the practice is barbaric and he has no intention of following through with the punishment. However, the man he touched was so devout it was taking an effort from the priests to prevent him from using a chisel to chop off his own hand. Things take a turn for the dire when a handmaiden is brought before him for judgment. She was refusing to “take the potion”, which was effectively a suicide potion so she could serve the previous king in the afterlife. She doesn’t want to kill herself, she doesn’t want to live in the netherworld, but custom demands that she be a loyal servant. Despite Teppic saying she should be set free, his priest/advisor twists the words and sentences the girl to death. This was the tipping point for Teppic and he decides to use his assassin skills to rescue her.
The world building in this one got expanded quite a bit since much of the book is set in the Old Kingdom and not one of the more familiar places like Ankh or Lancre. There’s a whole different culture, religion, geography and what have you, so this read very fresh and new. The pyramids themselves are magical, often spouting off cold and silent fire into the night illuminating the surrounding city.
The pacing for this one took a while, the real meat of the story didn’t really begin until Teppic was out of Ankh Morpork and back in the Old Kingdom. From there though the story kind of took off and also took a turn for the weird and surreal.
I did like Teppic, although he won’t ever rank as one of my favorite characters in Discworld. He really did try his best to do right by his kingdom, he wanted to make changes for everyone’s benefit and certainly didn’t see himself as some god ruling over mere mortals. I didn’t laugh as much as I did with the last book, Wyrd Sisters, but this did have me smiling throughout it. More of a mild warmth and amusement over laugh out loud moments.
- nonwestern setting
- comic fantasy
- Egyptian lore
- King/ruler POV’s
- likable main characters
- satire of fantasy tropes
- Plot: 11.5/15
- Characters: 12/15
- World Building: 13/15
- Writing: 13/15
- Pacing: 11/15
- Originality: 13/15
- Personal Enjoyment: 7.5/10
Final Score: 81/100