Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics. The official topic for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday required participants to list the top upcoming books on their Fall (Spring down here in the Southern hemisphere) to be read list. However, I addressed that a couple of weeks ago, so that leaves me with a bit of a free topic this week. I decided to fill this extra list by looking at one of my absolute favourite series of all time, the Discworld books by Terry Pratchett.
I have long been a fan of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, which, in my opinion, is one of the absolute best series of all time. Made up of 41 separate novels and running from 1983 to 2015, the Discworld novels are a fantasy institution from one of the most talented authors ever. Set on a flat world shaped like a disc that travels through space on the back of four elephants, who themselves stand on the back of a giant turtle, this world is filled with all manner of crazy and over-the-top people, creatures, gods and monsters, and this results in an amazing number of stories. All 41 books feature amazing and highly unique story that perfectly blends outrageous fantasy elements with clever and relentless humour and satire. I have read every Discworld novel multiple times, and in my opinion, everyone is a masterpiece in their own way. Heck, I am such a big fan of this series that I even named this blog after a location in the Discworld universe, that’s how much I love them.
While the Discworld novels are never that far from my mind, I have been thinking about them a lot more lately, mainly because I have been featuring some of them on my recent top ten lists. My lists that highlighted my favourite Books with Magical Schools, Favourite Books Written More than Ten Years Ago and Hilarious Book Titles have all featured a few Discworld books, and it turns out I have a hard time not going on about Pratchett’s work on a weekly basis. Naturally, this has gotten me thinking more and more about the Discworld books, and I will probably embark on a new re-read of them sooner or later. However, before I get around to that, I thought I would have a go at listing my absolute favourite Discworld novels, as that will make an interesting list.
Now, why I deeply enjoy this entire series, not all Discworld novels are created equal. Several shine above the rest in my opinion, whether because they have better jokes, a more compelling plot, or a more impressive and elaborate premise. As such, I felt reasonably confident that I could choose the ten entries (with some honourable mentions) that I enjoy the most. I have based this list on several factors, including humour, plot, world-building, characters and many other features. This allowed me to determine my favourite Discworld books, although I had to make some hard choices to settle on a final top ten, as all of them are very good. I was eventually able to whittle it down to my list, and I think the results match my overall preference rather well. While most of them are from Pratchett’s golden years and are in the middle of the Discworld release back, I think there is a good variety here, and that the list below really showcases the outstanding and amazing depth that Pratchett always had. So let us see what made the cut.
Interesting Times – 1994
A rambling good read that sees one of Pratchett’s most iconic protagonists visit this world’s version of Asia. Loaded with some brilliant jokes (the multiple translations of a person’s scream), a ton of fun references to Asian culture, and some outrageous characters, Interesting Times is an excellent read that also offers a little closure for the first two Discworld books.
Feet of Clay – 1996
The third City Watch novel, Feet of Clay is a brilliant murder mystery novel that makes full use of its fantasy and comedy to create an epic read. Featuring several great mysteries, including a series of murders committed by a Golem and the poisoning of the city’s ruler, you really get dragged into the story while loving Pratchett’s excellent solutions and hilarious inclusions.
The Truth – 2000
Pratchett introduces print journalism to the Discworld in this clever standalone entry. Following an ambitious reporter who creates Ankh-Morpork’s first newspaper, only to get dragged into a big conspiracy, The Truth is an ambitious and very exciting entry that perfectly parodies everything about newspapers. Loaded with jokes about everything from dodgy advertisers, stupid human interest pieces, and even featuring a trashy alternate paper, this is perfect for anyone familiar with the crazy newspapers of London.
Night Watch – 2002
Another exceptional City Watch book is the later entry, Night Watch, which sees Vimes, transported back into the past by magic with a dangerous serial killer. Forced to relive his traumatic early days on the watch, Vimes must keep his younger self alive while also navigating a dangerous revolution he remembers all too well. With a compelling narrative that mirrors Les Misérables and some great time-travel elements, Night Watch is one of the more distinctive reads in the series. While it gets a lot darker than some of the other Discworld novels, it is still extremely addictive, and fits into the rest of the series perfectly
Top Ten List:
Pyramids – 1989
The first entry on my top ten list is the classic Pratchett novel, Pyramids. A standalone entry in the series, Pyramids tells the story of a young prince of a river valley kingdom, very similar to Egypt, who returns home after receiving training as an assassin in Ankh-Morpork (the biggest city on the Discworld and a major setting). Upon claiming the throne, he tries to fight against the tradition of his kingdom, with limited effect, until the kingdom’s overuse of pyramids creates major temporal issues for the entire valley (its all down to bad geometry). Loaded with so many jokes about ancient Egypt, this is a hilarious fish-out-of-water tale that is very hard to put down. There are a ton of great moments in this novel, including the best look at the legendary Assassin’s Guild, an impromptu rugby game between the gods over the sun (with commentary from an overexcited priest), and an army of mummies pissed off at being buried without their organs. I have probably read this Discworld novel the most out of any of them, and I get something new out of it every time I pick it up. An exceptional, and extremely funny read.
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Guards! Guards! – 1989
One of the more interesting aspects of the Discworld series is the way that Pratchett featured several smaller sub-series which follow specific characters. My favourite of these is easily the City Watch books, which follow the underpaid and constantly underestimated watchmen of the infamous, crime-ridden city of Ankh-Morpork. Perfectly blending Pratchett’s typical humour and fantasy elements with hard-boiled detective narratives, the City Watch books are some of the best entries in this series, and I love the unique blend of characters and highly entertaining and enthralling narratives. The first City Watch entry, Guards! Guards! is definitely one of Pratchett’s best novels, and I constantly rave about it when I do lists about funny books. Not only does it do a great job introducing several iconic characters who Pratchett would reuse throughout the rest of the series, but it has an outstanding narrative to it. Following the depleted and useless Night Watch, made up of a drunk captain, a hopeless sergeant and a criminally minded corporal as they attempt to solve a series of murders caused by a magically summoned dragon. Joined by a new eager, if slightly oblivious new recruit, who definitely isn’t the city’s returning king, the Night Watch embark on an ambitious investigation against cultists, dragon hunters and city’s massive criminal class. Guards! Guards! is fantastic on so many levels, and there is something for everyone in it.
One of the things that the Discworld novels excel at is parody and satire of certain social, historical or cultural elements, with everything from countries, ancient empires and entire trades lovingly mocked. Perhaps one of the best examples of this is Moving Pictures, a mostly standalone read that sees the art of film appear on the Discworld, becoming an instant hit. Soon an alternate version of Hollywood appears, and various characters jump at the chance to make over-the-top films, which are accompanied by a vast array of jokes and references about classic movies, film making tropes and actors. Naturally for a Discworld book, nothing is what it seems, and the heroes are forced to face off against interdimensional monsters coming out of the screens. In addition, the iconic Unseen University setting gets some stability as a new Arch-Chancellor arrives, shaking up the wizards. I love this book on so many levels, especially as Pratchett has so much fun satirising the film industry here. Everything is lampooned here, such as Gone with the Wind (accompanied with subliminal advertising), King Kong (except a giant woman kidnaps an ape), The Wizard of Oz (the dwarfs of the Discworld will never be the same again), and so much more. I can’t even count the sheer number of movie references featured here, and I discover a new clever joke every time I read Moving Pictures. Pratchett also manages to introduce or expand on several great secondary characters who will go on to have major roles in other books in the series, so it turns out to be a surprisingly key book. Impressive and wonderful on so many levels, Moving Pictures was an easy inclusion for this list.
Witches Abroad – 1991
Another one of the top Discworld sub-series is the Witches books, which unsurprisingly follows a group of witches (Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick), in several unique adventures. Unlike the characters they are based on from Macbeth, the witches are a force for good and help the local villages primarily with headology (psychology and folk medicine parcelled up with mystical overtones) and the occasional magic. The witches make for an excellent group of central characters, and Pratchett told some exceptional stories with them. While Wyrd Sisters and Lords and Ladies are both pretty epic reads, my favourite Witches book is Witches Abroad. As the name suggests, this book see the three protagonists embark on a holiday to a faraway kingdom (essentially New Orleans), to fulfil a fairy godmother’s last wish. Along the way they are forced to confront a series of twisted fairy tale scenarios, their own internal bickering, and an evil fairy godmother from Granny Weatherwax’s past. Armed only with a wand that is permanently set to pumpkin mode, the witches must deploy their usual trickery to save the day. This entire novel is pretty epic, as it not only captures the protagonists in all their amazing glory, but it has a powerful story that expertly blends humour and drama. A lot of the narrative focuses on the dark side of fairy tales, and Pratchett has fun satirising so many classic stories in very clever ways. However, my favourite scene is the fantastic sequence where Granny Weatherwax uses headology to completely destroy a group of card sharks who had conned her friends. Extremely inventive, memorable and oh so funny, I just had to feature Witches Abroad here.
Small Gods – 1992
The next entry on this list is in my opinion, some of Pratchett’s best work. The 13th Discworld novel, Small Gods has a standalone narrative which sees Pratchett examine religion and belief. The story follows Brutha, a somewhat simple lad who lives in a vast imperial theocracy that is centred around the worship of the Great God Om. However, Brutha is shocked when he discovers a talking tortoise only he can understand who claims to be the actual Om. Forced to take the tortoise along on a great adventure, Brutha discovers the corruption at the heart of his empire and must fight to save it, himself, and his god. This is a particularly clever novel from Pratchett and a very worth addition to this list. The author pulls together a very thoughtful and captivating read that examines the various pros and cons of religion, worship and gods in a very thoughtful, but still humorous way. The mixture of theological debate, adventure, and the brilliant satire of religion, results in a very impressive read, and it is guaranteed to leave you both laughing and pensive at the same time. The book’s main strength is the outstanding interactions of the two main characters, and the growing relationship between an arrogant put powerless god, and his simple but deeply wise believer, sets an impressive tone for the entire book. I would say that Small Gods is one of the most intelligent and compelling books of the entire Discworld series and I cannot hype it up enough.
Men at Arms – 1993
After wowing everyone with Guards! Guards! Pratchett mercifully brought back the City Watch characters and storylines again with a fantastic sequel, Men at Arms. This book sees a retiring Captain Vimes and his team try and stop a madman who is running around the city killing people with the Disc’s first gun. Featuring another exceptional mystery that involves assassins, clowns and a literal species war between dwarfs and trolls, Pratchett switches the tone of this book from the hardboiled detective story of Guards! Guards! to a more typical police narrative like Dirty Harry. Loaded with fantastic cop humour and introducing several great new characters, Men at Arms is just as good as the first City Watch book, while also expertly setting up some story elements for the rest of the series. Guaranteed to appeal to both fantasy fans and crime fiction buffs, Men at Arms is one hell of a read.
Hogfather – 1996
All Pratchett fans will know that one of the most surprising loveable recurring characters in the entire Discworld series is Death, the literal grim reaper, who appears in pretty much every book. Initially shown to as a resolute soul taker, Death evolves into quite a personable and likeable figure who is obsessed with the humans he’s tasked with reaping. This obsession eventually compels him to adopt a daughter and take on an apprentice, which leads to the first Death book, Mort. Pratchett wrote several Death novels over his career, many of which dealt with Death’s growing love of humanity, while also involving attacks on reality by outside forces. While I have a lot of love for Reaper Man and Soul Music, my favourite Death novel is probably Hogfather. After the Hogfather (this universe’s version of Santa) is murdered, Death steps into the role for unknown reasons. This forces his granddaughter, Susan, to investigate the disappearance and try to bring back the Hogfather. This results in an extremely entertaining and silly book that satirises all things Christmas and festive in one fantastic outing. Most of the humour revolves around Death pretending to be Santa, which leads to all manner of confusion and fear, that is so much fun to see. Throw in a very memorable villain and a great secondary storyline around the crazy wizards at the Unseen University accidently inventing gods, and this is one of the funniest books in the series. A very entertaining and compelling Discworld novel, you will never look at Christmas the same again after reading it.
Jingo – 1997
For the next entry on this list, Jingo, I must admit that my choice to include it here might be for more personal reasons, rather than purely on the quality of the book. That is because Jingo was the first Pratchett book I ever properly read, and it has led to my subsequent lifelong obsession with all things Discworld. I still have my first copy of Jingo, and it is extra special for me because I managed to get Terry to sign it for me. So yeah, I might be a little biased when it comes to Jingo, but I maintain it is a worthy addition to this list as it has a brilliant and hilarious story to it. The fourth entry in the City Watch sub-series, Jingo sees Commander Vimes and his men caught up in a brewing war between Ankh-Morpork and the rival empire of Klatch when both claim a mysterious new island that rose in the ocean between them. After an attempted assassination of a Klatchian prince occurs on Vimes’ watch, he leads the city watch in an impromptu invasion of Klatch to find the killer and stop the war. I deeply enjoyed Jingo’s brilliant and very clever story and it was a very worthy addition to the City Watch series. The humour in Jingo is a bit more subtle than some of Pratchett’s other novels, with most of the jokes satirising British imperialism, diplomacy, politics, and its view of foreigners, with a ton of references to historical wars and conflicts that Britain had against its neighbours. While some of the jokes are a tad obscure, they are all extremely well set up, and they always get a chuckle out of me. Throw in some brilliant references about a lone bowman assassin, an espionage mission with Sergeant Colon and a cross-dressing Corporal Nobbs that has mixed success, and the always charismatic Captain Carrot turning into Lawrence of Arabia and arresting two entire armies for breaches of the peace, and you have a really entertaining narrative. Jingo is always a must read for me whenever I revisit the Discworld universe, as well as being an essential entry in the deeply impressive City Watch books that comes highly recommended.
Another Pratchett book that I have a little bias for is The Last Continent, which is probably one of my absolute favourite Discworld novels. The sixth book to feature the cowardly wizzard (not a typo) Rincewind as its protagonist, The Last Continent takes place on the lost continent of XXXX, which is essentially the Discworld’s version of Australia (despite certain assurances from the author that any similarities to Australia are coincidental at best). This book follows Rincewind after he is tricked into another heroic quest that sees him traverse the continent, often mimicking various Australian folk heroes or cultural icons. At the same time, the wizards of Unseen University, in an attempt to find Rincewind, get themselves trapped back in time and must escape from an enthusiastic god of evolution with their usual chaotic shenanigans. Pratchett has a lot of fun with The Last Continent, and there isn’t a single piece of Australian culture or history that he doesn’t make fun of here. As an Australian myself, I can’t help but laugh at all his fun and well-written Australian jokes and it was interesting to see his British take on my country. I also have a lot of love for the evolution centred jokes that occur during the secondary storyline, many of which I didn’t fully appreciate until after I studied biology at university. This is probably one of the better Rincewind novels as well, especially as the character now full appreciates his role in the universe, and his resentment at being dragged into a heroic quest is quite hilarious. Him, plus the fantastically written Unseen University wizards, make for a sensational cast, and their two storylines come together perfectly. There is no way that I can exclude Pratchett’s love-letter to Australia from this list, and it will always have a very special place in my heart.
Going Postal – 2004
The final entry on the list is Going Postal, which I feel is one of Pratchett’s best later books. Featuring a very different tone from some of his previous books, Going Postal is a very distinctive read that is very hard not to enjoy. Introducing a new protagonist in Moist von Lipwig, a notorious conman who is captured by Ankh-Morpork’s tyrannical leader, Lord Vetinari, and given two options: death or running the city’s post office. Reluctantly choosing the later, Lipwig soon lives to regret his decision, as everyone and everything associated with the post office is absolutely crazy. Forced to use all his talent, skill and instincts as a conman to save the post, Lipwig tries to rise to the occasion, only to contend with the ruthless chairman of a rival company who is determined to kill him. It is a testament to Pratchett’s writing skill that he could make anything, even the post office, ruthlessly entertaining, as you swiftly fall in love with the hilarious over-the-top employees and associates of this crazy establishment. Lipwig himself is the perfect protagonist for this book, and Pratchett wrote a brilliant redemptive storyline around him as he attempts to save his new friends with all his old tricks. While this book is extremely funny, I also felt that Going Postal benefited from a somewhat darker tone than the preceding books, while Pratchett also examines the benefits and costs of progress and new technology. This darker tone would persist for the rest of Pratchett’s adult Discworld novels, and I have often thought that Pratchett included it in response to his growing health issues. As such, I often look on Going Postal with a little sadness, especially as it was probably the best book he wrote towards the end of his career. However, despite that, Going Postal is probably one of the Discworld books I have read the most and I would strongly recommend it to anyone and everyone interested in this outstanding series.
So, as you can see from this exceptionally long list, I have a lot of love for the Discworld series and can write a ton about all the books. While I deeply enjoy all the Discworld novels, the ten featured above are my absolute favourite now, and I cannot recommend them enough, especially if you want a laugh or an uplifting tale to brighten your day. This is a list I might come back to in the future, especially if I do another reread and re-evaluate my positions. I have been thinking about trying to read all of them again soon, especially as I recently found out that the Discworld audiobooks have all been re-released, this time with an amazing voice cast, including Colin Morgan, Peter Serafinowicz, Billy Nighy, Andy Serkis and Indira Varma. As such, stay tuned for more reviews of the Discworld books soon, and I look forward to returning to my ultimate comfort book series. In the meantime, let me know what your favourite Discworld book is in the comments below.