Review: Small Gods by Terry Pratchett

‘Belief, he says. Belief shifts. People start out believing in the god and end up believing in the structure.’

Welcome back friends! Today is a very exciting post on my corner of the internet as I relaunch the Discworld Project with my review of the excellent and if you’ll pardon the pun, God tier level, of Pratchett, Small Gods.

Just because you can’t explain it, doesn’t mean it’s a miracle.’ Religion is a controversial business in the Discworld. Everyone has their own opinion, and indeed their own gods. Who come in all shapes and sizes. In such a competitive environment, there is a pressing need to make one’s presence felt. And it’s certainly not remotely helpful to be reduced to be appearing in the form of a tortoise, a manifestation far below god-like status in anyone’s book. In such instances, you need an acolyte, and fast. Preferably one who won’t ask too many questions…

So I have not read a Pratchett books in some months and as a result this project has slipped by the wayside a bit. In case you’re new to my blog or any of my book related content, this is the link to all the reviews i have done so far. I basically challenged myself in 2019 to return to the Discworld series and read the entire series in chronological order. Terry Pratchett’s work means a lot to me and his death in 2015 left me fairly shook. You can read the books in many ways (covered here) but this is how I’ve chosen to read them and with no time limit as well.

Small God’s has often been pitched to me, via the internet and fellow Pratchett fans at cons, to be one of the very best of the series. Pratchett has a very particular style of critique and satire when it comes to tropes, stories and other things he explores in his stories. This one turns it’s eye on organised religions, god’s and belief. And to noone’s surprise, especially my own, achieves this on a fantastic level.

We start this particular installment in the Theocracy of Omnia. This is a new country at this point of the series and is ruled by the watchful eye of the Quisition. The Church of Omnia worships the great god Om, championing his power, spearheaded by a man named Vorbis and the ever watchful eye of the blessed Om who will punish the blasphemous. Except he kind of can’t. Since he’s stuck as a tortoise with no belief to sustain his power.

Something that I really enjoyed is the point that’s made about belief in the god and belief in the religious structure. It’s been established in previous Discworld entries that reality on the Disc is a lot more fluid than ours. Reality is affected by belief and if enough people believe in something, that something will exist. It’s explored briefly in Reaper Man and a bit more in Witches Abroad but here it’s hammered home because Om, the great god, is now one of the Small Gods. He has one believer, his church has thousands. Without belief, he will cease to be. Who is that one believer? That would be Brutha.

Brutha, a naive young man with an unwavering belief in both the Church and Om, get’s stuck with Om as tortoise. I loved the complicated relationship between these two. I mean it’s one thing to live your life and practice the teachings of a god but another to be stuck carrying that god everywhere with you in the shape of a reptile. There are definitely a lot of lessons learned, mostly by Brutha but Om as well. Gods are never generally morally “good” beings (glares in Zeus) and it’s really interesting, and a little sad, for Brutha to see just how selfish Om is, how corrupt Vorbis is and especially how the people of Ephebe aren’t evil “savages”. It’s definitely interesting when paired with how absolutely useless Om is as a god now. He relies on Brutha for everything. He’s confronted with the fact his believers are humans with lives, and families. They’re not objects, they’re people.

Something that’s pointed out over the story is that working for a religion doesn’t automatically make you a good person and how taking the teachings of a god out of context to excuse actions isn’t generally morally right. There are a few instances over where Brutha will quote the various texts of Prophets to Om about the things he has supposedly said and done and it’s made very clear while he did some things, that the interpretation wasn’t always necessarily correct. It makes me wonder about the amount of horrible people doing things in God’s or Jesus’s name for Christianity and if Jesus was around, how he might comment on how people interpret his words and doings. That was just something that I found a small but interesting point.

This is one of the books I do think is accessible to new readers of Discworld and is definitely one of the books that can be treated as a standalone. There is of course callbacks and mentions to other characters, places and previous books. The always welcome appearance of Death, a surprise cameo of the Librarian and his branch of L Space. The Death of Rats and Ankh Morpork are briefly mentioned as well. So definitely this is one for readers new and old. Terry Pratchett is at the best of his writing in Small Gods and I feel from here the books are going to be the genius that everyone knows him for.

I’m so excited to be back reading this series, thank you to anyone reading this review. It’s taken a bit longer than I liked between moving, work and general pandemic nonsense to get back to this project but I do hope to share more often with you along my journey. Thanks for checking in all of you and happy reading!

★★★★★/5

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