The End of the Age of Heroes
Discworld Book 27: The Last Hero
It really does feel like Terry Pratchett had a need to shift the tone and perspective of the DiscworldAt first blush, the Discworld series seems like just a parody of fantasy literature. Dig into any of the books, though, and you'll find deep and funny tales of a world just slightly off from our own. A world that, yes, is a flat disc carried through space on the backs of four elephants that, in turn, ride on the back of a giant space turtle. at a certain point in the series. We've already seen the effective end of the "Witches" run (Carpe Jugulum) and the last novel for the "Death" series (Thief of Time), and now we're getting the conclusion for a number of characters: the Silver Horde led by Cohen the Barbarian, as well as the last effective leading role (in any capacity) for Rincewind. Moving forward the only major sub-series to continue would be the "Watch" books, and even then those novels have been quickly evolving away from where they started all the way back in Guards! Guards!.
As a conclusion for the old era of the Disc, though, The Last Hero is pretty glorious. It's a series-spanning novel featuring just about every major group that has shown up in the series (except, sadly, the Witches) as they all work to stop (or accidentally start) the end of the world. It's a fun, short, and terribly amusing novella presented (like Eric) in illustrated form, giving the short tale a lot of heft via the fun and delightful artwork. It is, in short, just about everything you could want for a novel with this much impact on the series going forward.
In the novella, Cohen (along with the rest of his Silver Horde of aged barbarians) has decided to perform one last quest: millennia ago a hero once stole fire from the gods, so Cohen has decided to go to the center of the world, to the tallest peak on the Disc, Cori Celesti, invade the home of the gods, Dunmanifestin, and return the fire that was stolen. And by than he means to set off the largest explosion ever and blow up the home of the gods. Once last parting shot as the heroes leave this mortal coil.
The only problem is that Cori Celesti is also the center of the magical field that keeps the Disc spinning; if the mountain top is blown up, all that magic will have nowhere to earth itself and the entire magical field will be thrown up, causing a life-ending calamity. So a team of new heroes -- Leonard di Quirm, Rincewind, and Captain Carrot -- are chosen to fly to the center of the world (via a space craft that Leonard built) and encourage Cohen not to blow up the home of the gods and end all life in existence.
More than anything what I like best about The Last Hero is that it's a pay-off for so much of what's happened in the long continuity of the series. Having started all the way back in The Colour of Magic, the continuity of Discworld has changed and evolved a great deal through these 27 books (so far). At times it felt like the series was even at odds with its own continuity; for example there's the fact that The Colour of Magic featured a kind of dragon but then, later, we're told in Guards! Guards! that dragons left the world centuries ago. While these to facts could be hand-waved away, it always seemed a little strange to me.
The Last Hero, though, at least makes it clear that everything we've seen and been told does still exist in continuity. Rincewind's adventure over the side of the world that ended that first book: still a thing (which scares the hell out of the "Wizzard" even now). And there's even more types of dragons introduced here, helping to show that all the facts and details we've seen before can exist, and quite easily, once we have the full story. That's some solid plotting and a nice bit of retconning that I can appreciate.
The whole space flight portion of the book, really, is quite amusing. We've never had the grouping of Leonard, Rincewind, and Carrot before. Hell, the only time Leonard and Carrot shared a book was back in Jingo and the two never met (or even had a plot line that connected at all), while Rincewind has never seen either of these guys before at all. It leads to a new and interesting group dynamic of the space cadet (Leonard), the coward (Rincewind), and the simple copper (Carrot) that brings out new angles and facets of all of their characters.
Plus, honestly, there's something magical about the journey these three (plus, it should be noted, the Librarian who sneaks along for the ride) as they venture, for the first time ever in the series, off the Disc. It's new terrain as they go into space, fly under the Disc, and even explore the moon. Honestly, it reminded me of the 1902 French film, A Trip to the Moon for the ridiculousness of the journey, something I'm sure Pratchett intended.
That said, I have to admit that Cohen's side of the story didn't hold up as well for me. I think that's because, as is setup in the novel, the Silver Horde is at the end of the story -- there's really no more growth these characters can achieve. Were they being used as colorful accents for someone else's story (as they were when setup with Rincewind back in Interesting Times) that would be fine -- as comic relief these guys are great, and they certainly can motivate other characters to find their new evolution. But, despite being heroes, these guys are far from protagonists. Their quest has a certain inevitability to it, and while they get a good send off at the end (achieving one last heroic act), their journey is never as good as the sum of its parts.
What helps to perk up their tale, and the rest of the book for that matter, are the illustrations by Paul Kidby. These clean and colorful drawings help to accent to written word, delighting the eyes while adding their own bit of humor to the proceedings. In comparison to Eric the art here is of benefit to the story while Eric's drawings were much more a hindrance. Honestly, I never really liked the artwork from the late artist Josh Kirby, finding his works too muddled and ugly, but Kirby finds the right style and tone to really accent the works of the Discworld, and this novella really highlights all he could bring to the series.
Overall, then, The Last Hero is a real treat. It finds room for a lot of characters and gives them a fitting send-off. It shows up new realms and gives us a lot of good ideas for how the world works. It is an all-encompassing fable that really adds to the whole of Discworld. If it has to be the end for a lot of the characters featured here it's the best ending we could have hoped for, and then some.