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The Last Hero

by Terry Pratchett

illustrated by Paul Kidby

(Gollancz, £6.99, 174 pages, paperback, first published 2001, this edition published 31 December 2004.)

Review by Caleb Woodbridge

In Terry Pratchett's second illustrated extravaganza, Cohen the Barbarian sets off on his last quest: to return with a vengeance cover scanwhat the first hero stole. Unfortunately, this would mean the destruction of the Discworld, so the wizards of the Unseen University and Leonardo da Quirm join forces to fly a team to Dunmanifestin to save the world...

Like an anniversary special of Doctor Who, it's also a chance to throw several favourite characters into the same book. Although different characters often make cameos in stories focusing on others, here Cohen the Barbarian and his Silver Horde, the wizards of the Unseen University, Leonardo da Quirm, Captain Carrot, Lord Vetinari, Rincewind, and, as always, Death, all have a good part to play in the story, helping to make this an "event" story.

This isn't the first lavishly illustrated Discworld book - that honour goes to the globe-trotting adventure for Rincewind, Eric, illustrated by Josh Kirby. Unfortunately, Eric is only now available in a standard paperback format without the lavish illustrations. This paperback edition comes with sixteen more pages of Paul Kirby's great illustrations, making this The Last Hero: Slightly Extended Edition. While very nice and all, it's a bit annoying for anyone who bought the book in hardback and reeks of a cynical ploy to get die-hard fans to buy both editions. The artwork successfully evokes wonder, humour and eeriness in turn, and like the text is full of clever parodies.

In classic Pratchett style, there's a whole host of references, jokes and parodies, both in the text and the artwork. Evil Harry Dread, the small-time Dark Lord of the old school, is a great riff on fantasy clichés. The American space programme also sees its Discworld equivalent in inimitable style, and also provides possibly one of the funniest lines as they make an unexpected discovery as to who else is on board the ship.

Leonardo da Quirm is a super-duper Leonardo da Vinci, having not only da Vinci's incredible inventiveness, but the ability to sit down long enough to actually build his ideas. Da Quirm is at the same time rather sanitised compared to Leonardo of our world. While his naiveté over inventing terrible weapons of war is very funny, it doesn't compare to da Vinci's real life eccentricities, such as his belief that the male gentilia should be proudly displayed to the world as a matter of honour, for example!

This displays Pratchett in madcap inventiveness and humour mode, much more like the earlier books than the more disciplined and mature novels of late, which are arguably better Literature, but not as much fun. That's not to say that this book doesn't have any depth to it, not at all. The book moves seamlessly from jokes about the fantasy genres to the big matters of life and death and gods and humanity, often on the same page. It doesn't descend into polemic or become allegory, but there's plenty going on in the story to go away and think about, as well as just plain fun and wordplay.

So humour, wit, intelligence, beauty and excitement - what more can you want? Great stuff.

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