~posted by David H.
If there has ever been a king of comic fantasy, then that crown was worn by the late Terry Pratchett. And in that crown, the shining jewel is the Discworld series. Published in 37 different languages with over 80 million books sold, Pratchett is second only to J.K. Rowling as the best-selling British author to date. And with forty novels published, and a forty-first to be published shortly, it’s one of the longest series of fantasy novels ever. Which gives new readers a bit of a problem: Where do you start?
While each Discworld novel is a self-contained story, beginning and ending in that book, many follow a set of story arcs, each featuring a distinct group of characters. The first two novels, The Colour of Magic & The Light Fantastic, follow the adventures of the worst wizard on the Disc: Rincewind. Barely tolerated by his colleagues at Unseen University, the cowardly Rincewind finds himself dragged into adventures across the land, managing to survive while somehow saving the world in the process. The series includes several Rincewind adventures, with Interesting Times & The Last Continent among the best.
The Witches novels are a favorite for many readers, starting with Wyrd Sisters, featuring the indomitable Granny Weatherwax. Head of a coven of three, with perpetually cheerful Nanny Ogg and perpetually bedraggled Magrat Garlick, she keeps their small corner of the world safe from various enemies including vampires and some very dangerous (and not at all glittery) fairies. This series also ties in with Pratchett’s young adult Discworld novels. Beginning with The Wee Free Men, they detail the adventures of witch-in-training Tiffany Aching and are wonderful reading for all ages.
Another favorite is the Guards series, chronicling the adventures of the City Watch of Ankh-Morpork, largest city on the Discworld. Centering on the ups and downs of Constable Samuel Vimes, the books chronicle his transformation from drunken Captain of a two man city watch to a titled Lord in command of a respected and progressive police force (including werewolves, zombies, and golems). Starting with Guards! Guards!, these books feature some of the best characters in the series with new favorites added in every installment. There’s even a picture book Where’s My Cow?, with Vimes reading a bedtime story to his son.
While those are the main three series, there are two more remaining: those following conman Moist von Lipwig as he improves Ankh Morpork against his will (starting with Going Postal) and those following the Discworlds’ incarnation of Death (beginning with the book Mort). Lipwig’s series is best started from the beginning, while the Death novels are at their best with the introduction of Death’s granddaughter Susan, beginning with Soul Music. There are also several one-off novels in the Discworld series, and one of the best is Small Gods, which asks the question: What happens to a God when no one believes in them anymore? Wherever you decide to start, you’ll find great humor, wonderful characters, and some atrocious puns.