Small Gods (Discworld Novel 13)

by Terry Pratchett | Science Fiction & Fantasy |
ISBN: 0552138908 Global Overview for this book
Registered by erinacea of Friedrichshain, Berlin Germany on 11/22/2015
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1 journaler for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by erinacea from Friedrichshain, Berlin Germany on Sunday, November 22, 2015
Another Discworld book read during the Mark reads Discworld project, and clearly the best one so far. The premise is great and the climax exciting, but what really makes this book is that it's so thought-provoking. While following the character's development (Om's more than Brutha's), it raises a lot of questions on not only religion but also ethics in general, questions that are absolutely worth asking and pondering.

1. Small Gods
2. Guards! Guards!
3. Reaper Man
4. Witches Abroad
5. Wyrd Sisters
6. Mort
-------- (imaginary line splitting favs from non-favs)
7. Moving Pictures
8. Sourcery
9. Equal Rites
10. The Light Fantastic

I'd actually read the book twice before: first I skimmed a German copy in a bookstore (and loved the book!) and years later I read an English BookCrossing copy, which left me a bit disenchanted.

General warning:
As usual, my review is going to be chock-ful with spoilers. I'll try to hold back on any major plot developments, but comments on characters, themes etc. are pretty much par for the course.

The story:
When the Great God Om returns to the Discworld after a long period of absence, it's to discover that his so-called believers' faith no longer burns with the old flame, which forces him to manifest as a lowly tortoise. Worse, the only person capable of hearing him is the young novice Brutha, who is not exactly the Chosen One Om would have chosen if he'd had any choice. But the Exquisition is on the move and Om and Brutha need to walk the path to save a small god (and a country) from oblivion.

It's a bit unclear whether Brutha or Om plays the bigger role in this story but that only reinforces the symbiotic nature of their relationship (god and believer) rather than the "boy and his tortoise" romp that occasionally shines through. Over the course of the reading project, other readers have raised the interesting point that Om goes through more character development Spoilers! highlight to make visible (from bloodthirsty old-testament style god to the more forgiving care-for-your-followers god by the end of the story) than Brutha, whose values and priorities stay essentially the same, though he has to learn to trust his own judgement rather than follow authority, even (and especially if) they claim to be backed by so-called holy scriptures.

More end-game spoilers:
I'm a bit disappointed by Vorbis' late avowal that he doesn't really believe in Om anymore because I feel it weakens an interesting character into something resembling a cardboard villain. I adore Brutha's final deed, though. It's so very symbolic and completely in tune with his character.

Other readers have pointed out the almost complete lack of female characters (except for one goddess and Brutha's grandmother who only gets mentioned in his memories), but I'm not really bothered by it. While I agree that the story could have been crafted in such a way to include notable female characters (either among the rebels or by making Didactylos and/or Urn female), there are some pretty good in-world explanations for Brutha not meeting any women on his journey: Due to his role (acolyte, Vorbis' spy, chosen one), Brutha basically interacts with three groups: representatives of Omnianism, Ephebian philosophers, and Omnian rebels, all of which are male-only groups largely by tradition. Given Omnia's strict interpretation of the religious laws elsewhere, it only makes sense that women play no role in the priesthood (something that gets pointed out when Vorbis praises Brutha's grandmother's attitude). The philosophers have been shown before (in Pyramids) to hold nothing but contempt for women's intellectual capabilities, and with this book either playing before or concurrently to that book (something that becomes possible due to the time-shift shenanigans in Pyramids), having female philophers appear would have been surprising.
That said, switching Didactylos and/or Urn's gender(s) could have added some depth to their relationship with the other philosophers (and explained their utter disdain) and would have introduced an interesting dilemma for Didactylos' die-hard fan Simony. The rebels are probably the group where a female character could have been added most easily (though I personally think that they probably would have rejected a female member seeing how they grew up used to a male-only hierarchy). Then again, Brutha only learns of their existence while abroad and as a consequence hardly interacts with any of them aside from Simony.

Next up: Lords and Ladies

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