Interesting Times by Terry Pratchett
Published in 1994
Genre: Fantasy, satire
“This is where the gods play games with the lives of men, on a board which is at one and the same time a simple playing area and the whole world.”
Such an enigmatic opening can only be the beginning to yet another Discworld novel. Interesting Times, by Terry Pratchett, picks up the thread of Rincewind’s life and sends him sprawling into adventure once again. Fraught with peril, politeness, and parody, Interesting Times continues the story of Rincewind; a man who seeks boredom in lieu of his naturally exciting life.
Much of Interesting Times alludes back to the first two books of the Discworld series. The stage is set with Fate and Luck, two of Discworld’s gods, playing a game (as was first mentioned in The Color (or Colour) of Magic). Fate never loses but Luck is tricky and challenges him, choosing none other than her favorite (or favourite) pawn.
Once the game is put in motion, an albatross from Agatean Empire (the Discworld equivalent to Asia) arrives at Unseen University looking for the “Great Wizzard.” This references Rincewind’s hat, which is notorious for its misspelled label. Rincewind has been enjoying a boring life on a deserted island and is forcibly taken back to the University in order to be sent to the Agatean continent.
He is coerced into being teleported onto the continent where he runs into Cohen the Barbarian (first mentioned in The Light Fantastic). Cohen and the Silver Horde, his band of geriatric barbarians, are busy pillaging the continent with the aim of stealing the seat of the emperor (though not literally).
We are introduced to Lord Hong, the villain of the tale, who wants to supplant the emperor but since war on the continent is polite due to tradition, he has to do so through subterfuge and espionage. He wants to attack Ankh-Morpork because he is tired of all of the traditions of his homeland and cooks up a scheme to bring the “Great Wizzard” to his continent in order to seize power.
The story of the “Great Wizzard” came about when Twoflower (another main character from The Color (or Colour) of Magic and The Light Fantastic) wrote of his adventures with Rincewind in a book titled, “What I did on My Holidays.” This unintentionally creates a rebellion because the people read about Ankh-Morpork and Rincewind’s apparent bravery, believing him to be their savior. There was already a legend of a Great Wizard who created the Red Army (an army of Terracotta warriors) and united the continent many years ago; the followers of Twoflower’s book call themselves the Red Army in tribute.
Through a series of lucky (or unlucky) events, Rincewind is captured by the emperor and is reunited with Twoflower in the dungeon. They escape and come upon Cohen, who has become emperor after Lord Hong killed the old one and tried to blame it on the Red Army. Cohen and the Silver Horde meet Lord Hong and the assembled armies of the other lords and prepare for a fight to the death.
As it turns out, the legendary Red Army was real and Rincewind literally stumbles upon them in his attempt to run from the battle. He is able to control them through an apparatus that is part of a suit of armor and uses the army to defeat Lord Hong’s forces. The wizards of Unseen University try to teleport Rincewind back to Ankh-Morpork but, due to the intervention of Luck, accidentally teleport him to the continent known only as XXXX (the Discworld equivalent of Australia).
Interesting Times is filled with references to feudal Japan and ancient China. The people of the Agatean continent live in a state of forced isolationism; they believe everything outside their continent to be inhabited by ghost-vampires and refusing to believe otherwise because there was no one brave or curious enough to find out if it was true (until Twoflower, that is). The Red Army is also reminiscent of the Terracotta warriors that guard the tomb of the first emperor of China.
Interesting Times takes the goofiness of Pratchett’s humor and the wit necessary to craft a story that is not only entertaining, but one of the better works of fantasy I have ever read. The jokes are quick and serve the plot, rather than the reverse, and the story sets up the next book of Rincewind’s adventures nicely. Pratchett hits a high point with one of the standouts in a series filled with wonderful storytelling.
Verdict: 4 miscalculated teleportation attempts out of 5
Recommended for: Fans of the Discworld series, fans of Terry Pratchett, readers who can discern between writing a parody of stereotypes and actually stereotyping, and you!
Not recommended for: Enemies of the Discworld series, readers who cannot discern between writing a parody of stereotypes and actually stereotyping, Lord Hong, or people who don’t like to be entertained.