The Last Hero
illustrated by Paul Kidby
(Gollancz, £6.99, 174 pages, paperback, first published 2001, this
edition published 31 December 2004.)
In Terry Pratchett's second illustrated extravaganza, Cohen the Barbarian
sets off on his last quest: to return with a vengeance
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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