I am really glad that I decided to reread a the Discworld novels to give them a better commentary as I have found that I have been quite enjoying them, and in many ways they have been getting better and better. However, this is the second to last one that I read (and it seems that I may have originally read them in order of publication, since the last one I read was Guards, Guards, and that is sitting next to me waiting to be reread very soon). Pratchett seems to have tried another experiment in this one where he has created a number of new characters and a new setting, though like the other Discworld novels Anhk-Morpork does play a role.
In this story we travel to the kingdom of Djelibeybi (pronounced Jellybaby) which sits on the river Djel. It is very clear that this kingdom is based on Ancient Egypt, and it is nestled between the nations of Tsort and Ephebe (which is supposed to be Greece, right down to their drunken symposiums). The thing about Djelibeybi is that it is a kingdom where tradition rules, to the point that it is impossible for the king to actually break with tradition. However, the king is not actually the ruler but rather the priests, and in particular the priest Dios.
I really don't want to give too much away but Dios is actually one of Pratchett's most memorable characters. The reason being is that despite being the antagonist of the novel, he does not come across as being either bad or misguided. He simply does things the way that things have always been done. He is a man of tradition, and tradition must be followed. As mentioned, he is the actual ruler of the kingdom, though he never actually says that, simply because he is the one who advises the king, and interprets what he says. In fact it is very clear that the subjects never actually listen to the king, but rather to him, so that when the king tries to change tradition, Dios will always interpret the words as sticking with tradition ('I shall set him free,' says the king, as which Dios interprets as being 'throw him to the crocodiles').
The problem arose when the previous king decided that he wanted his son to have a good education, and normally that would simply mean being taught by the priest, specifically Dios. Instead the king sent his son, the protagonist of the piece, to the Assassin's Guild in Ankh-Morpork. As it turns out, the Assassin's Guild actually provides probably the best well rounded education on Discworld, and the comments about the assassins are actually quite good as well. An assassin does not murder for any other reason than money, and it is not that life is cheap, on the contrary, it is actually very expensive, especially if you get an assassin to kill somebody.
Interesting concept though, because in reality that is true. It doesn't cost you much, in fact, it doesn't cost you anything, to be dead. You simply lie there and rot. However, to live, it costs you quite a lot of money ($35.00 AU per day, which includes rent and bills, public transport, groceries, health insurance, and a mobile phone). Moreso, it costs you an awful lot of money to actually stay alive and to keep on living. Hmm, I could actually do the sums, and work out how much it actually costs to live for one day, but I won't. Anyway, if you like maths, and like the idea of maths being turn on its head, you will like this book as well. As it turns out camels are the greatest mathematicians in the world (which I disagree with because it actually turns out that it is cats who are the world's greatest mathematicians - I remember having a dream back in 1994, before I had read this book, where I came to the realisation that my sister's cat, Twinkle, understood imaginary numbers and calculus, however had no reason to actually use it).
One of the interesting things about this book is the concept of belief, and it is something that I come across again and again in my Christian walk. Simply because you believe something does not make it true. I may believe that a plane will get me from Melbourne to Hong Kong, but no amount of belief is going to actually stop the engine from blowing up over the South China Sea. This idea is explored in this story, particularly with the idea that the kings of Djelibeybi believed that after death they would travel to the netherworld. This was a really strong belief that turned out to be wrong. Instead, they spent eternity as ghosts stuck in their pyramids.
The absurdity of belief comes to the fore when the entire kingdom collapses in on itself. Basically it has been said by the gods (namely Dios) that the late king would be buried in the greatest and biggest pyramid ever built, however pyramids have a habit of storing time, and the stored time must discharged regularly. Unfortuantely this pyramid was so big that it ended up throwing everything out of whack, causing Djelibeybi to be sucked into its own dimension where all of the belief became reality. As such, the gods, who only existed in the mind of Dios, became real, to the point that the five sun gods ended up playing soccer with the sun (to produce a very amusing sporting commentary), and the gods, who had no real personality or character, simply went around destroying the kingdom because they had nothing else to do.
I guess this is one of this things that I at least got out of this book: how we tend to prefer to listen to another person's interpretation of faith than actually finding out for ourselves. I have even experienced it where a priest will actually twist the words of a religious book around so that it says the complete opposite. It is not so much the priests that are the problem, but rather us, who are allowing ourselves to listen to the priests and not actually think for ourselves. Granted, many priests do not allow their interpretations to be questioned, and have studied their respective texts for so long that they are experts in interpreting it in their own way. However, the Bible was written in Koine Greek for a reason, and that was so that it could be read and understood by the common person of the day, rather than having it interpreted through a priestly cache. That was why Jesus was such a revolutionary, because his teachings took the power out of the hands of the priests and gave it back to where it rightfully belonged, and that was with God. However it is a shame that we as humans always seem to allow the priests to step in between us and God, to continue to twist his words around to suit their own selfish purposes.