When my friend leant me this book he simply said 'Rincewind' at which I rolled my eyes. I must say that Rincewind is certainly not my favourite Discworld character, even though some of the books in which he has starred have been quite good. However I wasn't really expecting anything all that much to come from this book, even though it is one of the Discworld novels and I am slowly making my way through each of them (and it was also a bit of a time out from some of the heavier novels that I have read).
It turned out that it was a good thing that I didn't expect all that much from this book because if you aren't expecting all that much then it is really easy to exceed those expectations. In fact I really enjoyed this book, and even Rincewind was quite cool, especially when you appreciate the nature of his character (namely that his main rule of survival is to run away as fast as possible, and that a boring life is a good life because a boring life means that your lifespan is inevitably going to be much longer).
This time Pratchett takes us to China, or at least Discworld's equivalent of China – the Agatean Empire. This was a little odd because with the first book the suggestion was that the Agatean Empire was in fact Japan (in which Pratchett was poking fun at the stereotypical Japanese Tourist – Twoflower). However, it now turns out that it is China and that people weren't supposed to actually leave the country and visit the world on the other side of the wall. In fact the powers that be discourage that simply by telling everybody that there is nothing behind the wall except demons and ghosts.
Thus therein lies the problem. Not only did Twoflower leave but when he returned he wrote a book called 'What I did on my Holidays'. Sure, it sound's like some primary school essay, but I am sure that primary school essays have managed to morph themselves into revolutionary documents. Actually, there have been countless numbers of books that have morphed themselves into revolutionary documents, despite the author having no intention beyond simply writing a fascinating story.
The other issue is that the emperor is dying, which means that there is an opening for a new emperor. Sure, the Emperor should have an heir, but that doesn't seem to be the case here, and even if he did having an heir does not necessarily mean that that heir is going to become emperor, namely because there is some other guy who wants that title – Lord Hong. As one can expect from a farcical comedy, nothing seems to go right for poor Hong. Sure, he manages to kill the emperor, but before he can take the title as his own he suddenly discovers that somebody has beaten him to the punch – Cohen the Barbarian, or as we find out – Genghiz Cohen.
If there is one thing that I absolutely loved about this book it has to be the Silver Horde (which is a play on the Golden Horde, otherwise known as the Mongals). Here we have a handful of old men, who happen to be barbarians, sneaking into the city to steal the throne of the empire. Sure, most people expect old men to be weak and frail, but that would be a huge mistake when approaching the Silver Horde. In fact at one point the end up beating up a room full of ninja.
I also quite liked the idea of the wall. We all think that the Great Wall of China was built to keep the Mongal Hordes out (and good job it did to – NOT), however Pratchett suggests that that is not the case – it is designed to keep the people inside. We can't have plebs leaving the country, learning new ideas, such as rebellion, and then bringing it back and corrupting people – they've already had a problem with one person doing that. Anyway, as Cohen says, how is a wall going to stop a horde of barbarians? They ain't going to get there, see the wall, and decide that it is all too hard and go home again. No, they are going to take wood from all the trees lying around and then build ladders so they can climb over it.
This whole thing about keeping the people in made me think about China back when it was written. Back then you hardly had any Chinese travelling abroad – these days you have heaps. I was sort of wandering whether Pratchett was having a dig at some of these closed countries, though prior to the 19th Century China was a pretty closed country and many of the peasants were intentionally kept ignorant so as not to upset the balance (apparently the Chinese Script was invented to make it really hard for the general populace to become literate). Still, I'm not sure if you are meant to think too deeply with a Terry Pratchett book (though then again it is satire, so I am probably wrong), but then again it is something that I do enjoy doing.