Now that I’ve gotten more than 20 books into Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, I think it’s time for an overview of what’s what.
For those who don’t know what Discworld is, I can sum it up as a long-running parody of the fantasy genre that is also well-written, psychologically apt, and quite deep at times. With puns. Lots of puns.
I had seen references to the Discworld books for years on internet communities before I asked a friend to borrow the first book, The Colour of Magic. It was silly, but had some genuinely funny jokes that weren’t mean, so I asked for another. Then another. And the third one (Equal Rites) got me. I’ve been a Pratchett fan ever since. For the benefit of other possible Pratchett fans, underneath the Read More link I have a list of all the Discworld books I’ve read so far with their cast of characters, a brief plot overview, and a rating. I have tried to avoid any serious spoilers for individual books, but some character developments will be obvious from the summaries. Be warned, but… please read these books, and enjoy!My ratings are on a scale of four, with one being poor, and four being great. So far I have read the books in the series in publication order, with one outlier (Monstrous Regiment) that I encountered early because of a book group discussion. So you’re getting the whole set up to where I am now, partway through The Last Continent.
Note: For more information about Terry Pratchett and his various books — including annotations for all the Discworld novels — surf over to The L-Space Web.
The Colour of Magic (1983)
Main Characters: Rincewind, Twoflower, The Luggage, Hrun the Barbarian
Rincewind the failed wizard is given the task of accompanying a clueless tourist and his ambulatory luggage on their travels around the Discworld. Rating: ** Finished on 04/30/04.
The Light Fantastic (1986)
Main Characters: Rincewind, Twoflower, The Luggage, Cohen, Bethan, Trymon
Rincewind and Twoflower continue their travels as an ominous red star approaches the Discworld. Rating: ** Finished on 05/24/04.
Equal Rites (1987)
Main Characters: Eskarina Smith, Esme “Granny” Weatherwax, Simon, Cutangle
A wizard travels to the Ramtops to bequeath his magical legacy to the eighth son of an eighth son – who turns out to be female. As the child Esk grows older, Granny Weatherwax, village midwife – and witch – keeps an eye on her. When Esk’s newly revealed powers become dangerous, Granny takes her on as an apprentice. And then the real adventures begin. The first third of this book breaks new ground for Pratchett. Granny Weatherwax is more fully developed than any of his previous characters, and the story is novelistic rather than a string of gags. The second half of the book falls back into the old pattern. Alas. Rating: *** Finished on 06/15/04.
Main Characters: Mort, Death, Albert, Ysabell, Keli, Cutwell
A bookish lad is taken to town to be chosen as an apprentice, but the only employer who will have him is “the Defeater of Empires, Swallower of Oceans, Thief of Years, The Ultimate Reality, Harvester of Mankind”, i.e. Death, who after uncounted millennia wants some help with “the Duty”. Mort takes well to his new work… until he is given the task of reaping a beautiful young princess’s soul. Rating: ** Finished on 08/02/04.
Main Characters: Coin, Spelter, Carding, the Librarian, Rincewind, the Luggage, Conina, Creosote, Nigel
Coin is the eighth son of an eighth son of an eighth son. As soon becomes clear, there’s a very good reason that wizards aren’t allowed to have sex: the result might be Coin. That is, a sourceror. His mind controlled by his dead father’s staff, Coin pays a visit to Unseen University and disintegrates the new Archchancellor. Things go downhill from there. Given that deadly peril is involved, Rincewind soon becomes entangled in the events. As do Conina (daughter of Cohen the Barbarian), Creosote, the former Seriph of Klatch, and Nigel, the neophyte swordsman. Rating: ** Finished on 09/03/04.
“The Librarian replied with an expansive gesture that indicated, as clearly as if he had said “oook”, that Rincewind was a wizard with a hat, a library of magical books and a tower. This could be regarded as everything a magical practitioner could need. An ape, a small terrier with halitosis and a lizard in a jar were optional extras.” p. 206
Wyrd Sisters (1988)
Main characters: King Verence of Lancre, Esme “Granny” Weatherwax, Gytha “Nanny” Ogg, Magrat Garlick, Duke and Duchess Felmet, The Fool (Verence), Tomjon, Hwel
The king of Lancre is killed by the scheming Duke Felmet, who is vexed to find the crown and infant heir missing. The Duke, obsessed with imaginary bloodstains on his hands and haunted by the old king’s ghost, soon begins to suspect the local witches of plotting against him. They, in turn, are perturbed enough by his unkingly behavior (“…this new man just wants the power. He hates the kingdom.” p. 115) that they reluctantly band together to overthrow him and return the magically older (and now theatre trained) heir Tomjon to the kingdom. Shakespeare references abound, not only to “Macbeth”, but to “Hamlet”, “Richard III”, “Henry V”, etc. Rating: *** Finished on 11/20/04.
“There was something here, he thought, that nearly belonged to the gods. Humans had built a world inside the world, which reflected it in pretty much the same way as a drop of water reflects the landscape. And yet… and yet…
Inside this little world they had taken pains to put all the things you might think they would want to escape from — hatred, fear, tyranny and so forth. Death was intrigued. They thought they wanted to be taken out of themselves, and every art humans dreamt up took them further in. He was fascinated.” p. 286
Pyramids, a.k.a. The Book of Going Forth (1989)
Main characters: Teppicymon XXVII (the King), Teppicymon XXVIII (Teppic), Dios, Ptraci, Dil, Gern, Ptaclusp (the elder) and his sons, IIa and IIb, You Bastard (the greatest mathematician in the world)
Young Teppic has just passed his examination to become a licensed assassin in Ankh-Morpork when his father, the ruler of Djelibeybi, leaps to his death and makes Teppic the new pharoah. Teppic returns to his kingdom and reluctantly takes up his duties, only to discover that the high priest, Dios, has some unbending ideas about how things ought to be done. And in Dios’s mind there’s no doubt that the recently deceased king will need a pyramid – a big one – for his mummified remains, regardless of what he said about being buried at sea. But it turns out that it’s not such a good idea to build pyramids beyond a certain size… This is the best Discworld book yet, bursting with ideas and humor and flowing energetically from scene to scene with barely a dull moment. Rating: **** Finished on 11/28/04.
“Derelict and half covered though it was, someone had taken care to keep a pathway clear to the pyramid. And the stone was quite worn away, as by the passage of many feet.
This was not, by the nature of things, the normal state of affairs for a pyramid. The whole point was that once you were in, you were in.
The mummies examined the worn entrance and creaked at one another in surprise. One of the very ancient ones, who was barely holding himself together, made a noise like a deathwatch beetle finally conquering a rotten tree.
“What’d he say?” said Teppicymon.
The mummy of Ashk-ur-men-tep translated. ‘He saide yt ys spooky,’ he croaked.” p. 322
Guards! Guards! (1989)
Main characters: Captain Samuel Vimes, Sergeant Colon, Corporal “Nobby” Nobbs, Lance-constable Carrot, The Librarian, Lord Vetinari the Patrician, Lupine Wonse, Lady Sibyl Ramkin, Errol the Swamp Dragon
The lowly and disregarded City Watch of Ankh-Morpork (all four of them) are actually inspired to investigate something when their headquarters is incinerated by a dragon – a creature that shouldn’t exist. Vimes’s gloomy philosophizing owes much to the various film roles of Humphrey Bogart, but there are other signs that Pratchett is becoming more Serious in his writing. For example, the characters are more developed in this book than previously. The various members of the Watch seem almost like real people. And the uncertain romance between Vimes and Lady Ramkin is portrayed with surprising sublety. Not as easily engaging as Pyramids, but a promising new direction. Rating: **** Finished on 12/11/04.
Main characters: Rincewind, Eric, the Luggage, Astfgl the King of Demons
A teenage magician tries to summon a demon, and instead gets Rincewind, who has been trapped in the Dungeon Dimensions since the end of Sourcery. Together (and occasionally accompanied by a mangy parrot and/or the Luggage), they visit several places and times in the Discworld. Meanwhile, the paperwork-obsessed King of Demons is trying very hard to find them. Rating: * Finished on 01/04/05.
Moving Pictures (1990)
Main characters: Cut-me-own-Throat Dibbler, Victor Tugelbend, Ginger, Gaspode, Laddie, Detritus
The alchemists of Ankh-Morpork reinvent the movies on the site of ancient Holy Wood – and all hell breaks loose. This book was much too scattered and slow-moving. Perhaps the worst Discworld book so far. Rating: * Finished on 04/18/05.
Reaper Man (1991)
Main characters: Death a.k.a. Bill Door, Miss Renata Flitworth, Windle Poons, Mustrum Ridcully the Archchancellor, the Bursar, the Dean, the Senior Wrangler, the Librarian, Mrs Cake, Ludmilla, Lupine
The auditors of reality decide that Death has developed too much of a personality, so they relieve him of his duties. Death goes off to experience Life as a farm laborer. While his replacement is considered, the spirits of dead things have nowhere to go and roam about the Discworld animating the normally inanimate, including cobblestones, pairs of pants, shopping carts, and 130-year-old wizard Windle Poons, whose undeath makes him feel more alive than he can ever remember being. The long slapstick plotline about the predatory mall was a bit too silly, but I loved the humor and somewhat sad philosophy of this book. Rating: **** Finished on 04/30/05.
Witches Abroad (1991)
Main characters: Esme “Granny” Weatherwax, Gytha “Nanny” Ogg, Magrat Garlick, Greebo, Lily Weatherwax, “Ember” Ella, Mrs. Gogol, Saturday
The coven of Lancre travel to the city of Genua to rescue a young princess from the good intentions of Granny’s long-lost sister Lily. There are plenty of postmodern references to fairy tales and the process of telling stories, which could have been annoying in the way of Moving Pictures, but the three witches are hilarious together, and their travels around the Discworld are very entertaining. Rating: *** Finished on 05/20/05.
“I don’t trust anyone who drinks rum and smokes a pipe,” said Granny.
“Nanny Ogg smokes a pipe and drinks anything,” Magrat pointed out.
“Yes, but that’s because she’s a disgustin’ old baggage,” said Granny, without looking up.
Nanny Ogg took her pipe out of her mouth.
“That’s right,” she said amiably. “You ain’t nothing if you don’t maintain an image.” p. 304
Small Gods (1992)
Main characters: Brutha, the Great God Om, Vorbis, Didactylos, Urn, Simony
The Great God Om, reduced to the ungreat and nearly helpless form of a tortoise, meets his only believer, the novice Brutha, and tries to find more people to believe in him so he can once again be great. He is hampered by the current leader of his Church, Vorbis the Exquisitor, whose interests lie more in the line of burning and torturing non-believers than in believing anything himself. Rating: *** Finished on 06/12/05.
Lords and Ladies (1992)
Main characters: Esme “Granny” Weatherwax, Gytha “Nanny” Ogg, Magrat Garlick, Verence of Lancre, Mustrum Ridcully, Casanunda
The wedding of Magrat and King Verence is planned for midsummer day. Magrat has her doubts about this whole queen business, and is not sure she wants to go through with the ceremony. But events spin out of her control when the Queen of the Fairies takes advantage of a dimensional weak spot to emerge into the human world. Then it is up to the witches of Lancre to put her and her minions back in their place. Rating: *** Finished on 07/30/05.
Men at Arms (1993)
Main characters: Samuel Vimes, Carrot, Sergeant Colon, Corporal “Nobby” Nobbs, Cuddy, Detritus, Angua, Gaspode, The Patrician
A young nobleman gets it into his head that what Ankh-Morpork needs is the return of the king. In the pursuit of this goal, he steals the only gun in the Discworld from the Assassins Guild, and immediately falls under its evil spell. Meanwhile, Sam Vimes is about to undergo two important rites of passage: retirement and marriage. And the new recruits of the Night Watch are mixing and matching in strange ways. Rating: ** Finished on 08/25/05.
Soul Music (1994)
Main characters: Susan Sto-Helit, Death, The Death of Rats, Imp y Celyn (a.k.a. Buddy), Glod Glodsson, Lias Bluestone (a.k.a. Cliff), C.M.O.T. Dibbler, Archchancellor Ridcully
Three young musicians form a band with a mysterious guitar at the center of it and start a craze on the Discworld. Meanwhile Death’s grand-daughter, Susan, has to take on The Duty because the anthropomorphic personification has become depressed again and run off to the join the Klatchian Foreign Legion. (The book begins with the spectacular deaths of Susan’s parents, Mort and Ysabell from Mort.) A warped re-enactment of the birth of rock music, this book was somewhat tedious for me, but not as bad as Moving Pictures. Rating: ** Finished on 07/02/06.
The universe danced toward life. Life was a remarkably common commodity. Anything sufficiently complicated seemed to get cut in for some, in the same way that anything massive enough got a generous helping of gravity. The universe had a definite tendency toward awareness. This suggested a certain subtle cruelty woven into the very fabric of space-time. p. 255
The wizards went rigid as the howl rang through the building. It was slightly animal but also mineral, metallic, edged like a saw.
Eventually the Lecturer in Recent Runes said, “Of course, just because we’ve heard a spine-chilling, blood-curdling scream of the sort to make your very marrow freeze in your bones doesn’t automatically mean there’s anything wrong.” p. 339
Interesting Times (1994)
Main characters: Rincewind, Pretty Butterfly, Lotus Blossom, Twoflower, Cohen the Barbarian and his Horde
Rincewind is teleported to the Counterweight Continent and promptly falls afoul of the deadly political games of empire. He also meets up with previous traveling companions Cohen the Barbarian and Twoflower. Rating: *** Finished on 07/11/06.
Main characters: Esme “Granny” Weatherwax, Gytha “Nanny” Ogg, Agnes “Perdita” Nitt, Christine, Walter Plinge, Mr. Bucket, Salzella, Enrico Basilica (a.k.a. Henry Slugg)
Since Magrat has abandoned them for marriage and children, Granny and Nanny need a third witch to make up their number. Agnes Nitt does not want to be that witch, so she runs off to Ankh-Morpork to join the Opera. It is far from a dream come true, for despite her enormous singing talent she finds herself overlooked in favor of the pretty and shallow Christine. Then opera personnel start turning up dead. The resident opera Ghost is blamed, but no one can catch him. Real trouble starts when Granny, Nanny and Greebo decide to pay a visit… Rating: *** Finished on 08/28/06.
Feet of Clay (1996)
Main characters: Samuel Vimes, Captain Carrot, Angua, Sergeant Colon, Corporal “Nobby” Nobbs, The Patrician, Dorfl
Two old men are murdered and the Patrician is almost fatally poisoned. Are the events related? And what does the city’s golem population have to do with it? With this novel, the Watch novels really start to take on some serious social and moral questions. There’s a decidedly morose undertone to the story of the enslaved golems and the depiction of Vimes’s old neighborhood, Cockbill Street. On the more humorous side, however, this novel introduces the character of “Wee Mad” Arthur, the gnome. Rating: *** Finished on 07/21/06.
[Vetinari’s] main protection was that he was just that bit more useful alive than dead, from everyone’s point of view. The big powerful guilds didn’t like him, but they liked him in power a lot more than they liked the idea of someone from a rival guild in the Oblong Office. Besides, Lord Vetinari represented stability. It was a cold and clinical kind of stability, but part of his genius was the discovery that stability was what people wanted more than anything else.
He’d said to Vimes once, in this very room, standing at this very window, ‘They think they want good government and justice for all, Vimes, yet what is it they really crave, deep in their hearts? Only that things go on as normal and tomorrow is pretty much like today.’ ” p. 75
Main characters: Susan Sto-Helit, Death, Albert, The Death of Rats, the Raven, the oh god, Mister Teatime, Medium Dave and Banjo Lilywhite, Archchancellor Ridcully, Ponder Stibbons
The young assassin Mister Teatime is given an impossible task: to inhume the Hogfather. He is just talented and disturbed enough to do it, and as a result Death has to fill in for the famous fat man. HO HO HO. Meanwhile, the Death of Rats and the Raven track down Susan Sto-Helit and recruit her to solve the mystery of the Hogfather’s disappearance. The wizards of Unseen University and their thinking machine Hex are also on the case. This novel was a little too frenetic for my taste, and the Christmas theme wasn’t my favorite, but Death was as delightful as ever. Rating: ** Finished on 11/07/06.
Main characters: Samuel Vimes, Captain Carrot, Angua, Sergeant Colon, Corporal “Nobby” Nobbs, The Patrician, Leonard of Quirm, 71-hour Ahmed
An island suddenly rises from the sea between Ankh-Morpork and Klatch and the two powers immediately begin squabbling over it. The situation rises to true crisis when an assassin takes a shot at the visiting Prince Khufurah of Klatch, nearly killing him. Now it’s war. But who was the assassin? And why did he do it? Vimes investigates, and in the course of his detecting commandeers a boat and sails off after the retreating 71-hour Ahmed and Angua, who has been kidnapped in werewolf form. Meanwhile, the Patrician and Leonard of Quirm have left the Palace and recruited Colon and Nobbs to pedal their Going-Under-The-Water-Safely Device in a secret mission to prevent international relations from falling apart completely. This book started off quite philosophical but headed off into silly humor about halfway through. Nobby dressing up as a woman? Vetinari as a clown? Just plain ridiculous. The book was still enjoyable, though. Rating: *** Finished on 11/19/06.
Monstrous Regiment (2003)
Main characters: Polly (Oliver) Perks, Sergeant Jackrum, Lieutenant Blouse, Wazzer, Shufti, Igorina, Maladict, etc.
Polly cuts off her hair and disguises herself as a man in order to enlist in the military and track down her brother, Paul. As the book continues, more and more of her fellow recruits are revealed to be female. Rating: ** Finished on 07/06/05.