Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Last Hero: A Discworld Fable, by Terry Pratchett and with art by Paul Kidby

As my two readers probably know by now, I am a huge fan of the Discworld series by Sir Terry Pratchett and I have read a majority of the books in that wonderful series. However, I have not yet read some of the supplemental books to the series or the children's books of Discworld but I intend to rectify that in the near future. Recently I read the illustrated novel, The Last Hero, which is written by Sir PTerry and has many excellent illustrations created by longtime Discworld artist Paul Kidby. This novel is a must-have for any fan of Discworld and an excellent afternoon read.

The plot of The Last Hero takes place sometime after the novel Interesting Times in which Cohen the Barbarian and his Silver Horde of octogenarian heroes had managed to take over the Agatean empire. Cohen has everything he could possibly want, but when his friend Vincent chokes to death on a cucumber Cohen realizes dying in the lap of luxury is no fitting end for a hero. So Cohen decides to imitate Mazda, the first hero, who stole fire from the gods by returning fire to the gods on Cori Celesti. With interest. Yep, Cohen and his gang are going to blow up Dunmanifesten, the home of the gods, in one final act of epic heroism.

Unfortunately, Archchancellor Ridicully and the rest of the Unseen University staff realize that if Cohen succeeds in blowing up Cori Celesti then the entire magical field of the Disc would be destroyed. This may not seem too concerning but since magic is what holds the Disc together it could mean the end of the world. So Ankh-Morpork sends off a team to stop Cohen and the Silver Horde, consisting of Leonard da Quirm, inventor of their spaceship, Captain Carrot Ironfounderson of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, who bravely volunteers to go stop Cohen, and Rincewind the wizard, who knows he'll end up going anyway because that's how the universe works.

I do have one complaint about this book, it isn't very well fleshed out in parts and the transitions between locales is downright clumsy in parts. The flow of the book gets a lot better as you get further in, but for the first quarter or so I kept getting disoriented. I was especially disappointed in this instance because I expect better from Pratchett, but overall I still think it's a worthy addition to the Discworld franchise.

The illustrations are absolutely fantastic and offer a great view of Discworld. Some of the wide-angle pictures of A'Tuin with the four elephants and the Disc on top of them were gorgeous. I definitely don't regret buying this and love having some excellent Discworld art in my collection now. However I don't know if it's a book you should share with your kids and any parents should definitely read it first. I know the one picture of Cohen giving the gods of the Disc the middle finger would have kept my mother from letting me read it when I was a kid. Adults fans of Discworld will definitely enjoy it, though, and you can probably read it in an afternoon.

I also loved that this book decided to lampshade tropes that keep appearing in hero stories and even video games. I found myself asking, "Yeah, who does put all those keys and weapons and medicine kits in those abandoned dungeons?" If you've ever played a dungeon-crawler like the Legend of Zelda games or you're a fan of the Conan the Barbarian stories you'll definitely appreciate The Last Hero. Apparently evil overlords are contractually obligated to hire henchmen so stupid they can't see through the flimsiest of disguises, while heroes are obligated to let the overlords escape to fight another day. Plus it's good for both of them because they're not out of work tomorrow.

If you're new to the Disc I don't think I'd recommend starting with The Last Hero, there are a couple of other books which are much better introductions, such as Guards! Guards!, Witches Abroad, and Small Gods. Also, I feel like you kind of have to read Interesting Times first to really understand Cohen and the Silver Horde, a rare example in the series. But if you're an old friend to the Disc and haven't checked this out yet you definitely won't be disappointed.

- Kalpar

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