Most of Discworld’s books are “stand alones” with stories that are neat and tidy by the end of the novel – but still tie into other books in the series. This one is truly a one-off that isn’t part of a smaller subseries within the Discworld. It’s considered one of the best Discworld novels, and if you want to just dip your toes into the series this one could be for you.
The main character in this story, Brutha, is a priest in training, a very lowly priest-to-be without a lot of political draw or power and he’s not too bothered about it. This just makes things very ironic when a tortoise (who is the reincarnation of the Great God Om) falls from the sky and lands in the gardens of the grounds where Brutha discovers him. He was trying to be nice to the tortoise, he offered him some lettuce and some grapes and all he got back was a rather hostile reply. Which was odd. Tortoises aren’t supposed to talk, after all.
“How would you like a grape, little tortoise?”
“How would you like to be an abomination in the nethermost pit of chaos?” said the tortoise.
The tortoise is pissed off because he’s just been dropped from a very great height by an eagle who wanted to crack the tortoise’s shell to have a bit of lunch. The tortoise is even more pissed off because he’s The Great God Om, the very God that Brutha worships, and he was supposed to manifest into something magnificent, and instead, he got stuck as a tortoise. It’s been a stressful day for Om.
Om starts making demands, demands that can’t be ignored. According to the very frustrated turtle-god, Brutha is supposed to go fetch the highest priest in the sanctuary to bring back to Om, but no one will listen to him since he’s so low on the totem pole. Brutha isn’t confident in his sanity anymore either, and doesn’t truly believe that the turtle is Om. As far as Brutha knows, Om isn’t tortoise-shaped, it’s common knowledge that Om presents himself as an eagle, lion, or a bull. There’s statue’s and everything, clearly, this tortoise is having an identity crisis.
Brutha is a sweet character, and his genuinely pleasant disposition puts a damper on what could have been a harsh critique of organized religion and keeps the tone warm and endearing. The Omnian priests aren’t exactly nice people though, they hate the Ephebians and their ‘false gods’, thinking of them as barbarians with their plays and dancing. Brutha has one valuable talent, he has a perfect memory. Anything that’s said to Brutha he remembers perfectly. It’s a shame he can’t read, people assume he’s stupid because he can’t read, but that certainly isn’t the case. Because of this memory, Vorbis takes Brutha on a “diplomatic mission” to Ephebe and while there Brutha has quite a life Experience. He finds the library of Ephebe and makes friends with their philosophers. It’s an entirely new concept to Brutha that there are people who sit down and have amicable chats about ethics, life choices, and religion without one person burning at the stake by the end of it.
Both Om and Brutha grow and develop a lot while they were in Ephebe, Om finally tones it down a bit and realizes that fear and shame don’t equal belief. It turns out Om isn’t powerful because Brutha is the only true Believer left. The church of Om had been using fear and oppression through the Quisition for so long, that people fear the church and attend out of habit, rather than genuine Belief.
One thing leads to another and the diplomatic mission ends poorly and it looks like war is on the horizon for Om and the Ephebians – it’s up to Om and Brutha to prevent epic bloodshed.
I really loved the ending to this one, it jumped forward 100 years after the events of the book to give you some kind of resolution to the story. Unlike most of the other Discworld books, these aren’t recurring characters and you don’t see Brutha again, so I’m glad this wasn’t left open-ended.
The writing in this was fantastic, it really is one of his best. However, I also have to be even-handed with my rating system so, like every other author that makes this mistake, this one is getting dinged for misusing venomous and poisonous. Damnit, Terry. Snakes are venomous, not poisonous.
“Fear is a strange soil. It grows obedience like corn, which grow in straight lines to make weeding easier. But sometimes it grows the potatoes of defiance, which flourish underground.”
“The Ephebians believed that every man should have the vote (provided that he wasn’t poor, foreign, nor disqualified by reason of being mad, frivolous, or a woman). Every five years someone was elected to be Tyrant, provided he could prove that he was honest, intelligent, sensible, and trustworthy. Immediately after he was elected, of course, it was obvious to everyone that he was a criminal madman and totally out of touch with the view of the ordinary philosopher in the street looking for a towel. And then five years later they elected another one just like him, and really it was amazing how intelligent people kept on making the same mistakes.”
“Bishops move diagonally. That’s why they often turn up where the kings don’t expect them to be.”
- Plot: 13.5/15
- Characters: 14.25/15
- World Building: 14/15
- Writing: 13.5/15
- Pacing: 13.5/15
- Originality: 15/15
- Personal Enjoyment: 10/10