What Terry Pratchett book should I read first?
September 4, 2008 7:23 AM   Subscribe

What Terry Pratchett book should I read first?

I would like to get into a bit of Terry Pratchett. I have the book "Thud!" sitting front of me, but a few people have mentioned this might not be the best starting place for a Pratchett expedition.

What Pratchett book(s) would you recommend getting started with?

Are there "standalone" books that aren't part of a series I could begin with?
posted by alhadro to Writing & Language (39 answers total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
Strata is a standalone sci-fi book by Pratchett.

I've just started to get into Discworld -- I just started at the beginning and I'm now five or six books in.
posted by katrielalex at 7:30 AM on September 4, 2008

Small Gods is a good standalone Discworld book that introduces a lot of the basic concepts of the world and Pratchett's style. It's also one of the funniest.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 7:32 AM on September 4, 2008 [2 favorites]

'The Color of Magic' is the first Discworld book. It's not very close to some of his other stuff. Many of his books take place in Discworld, but are very different from each other.

I'd start with 'Color of Magic', then go with 'Guards! Guards!'... that's the first of the night watch books. 'Thud!' is a later night watch entry, and IMO, not as good.

Then, just go from there. No specific order is required, though the night watch books would be better to read in order. I'm reading 'Small Gods' right now, and so far it's one of my favorites.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 7:34 AM on September 4, 2008

You could start with The Bromeliad Trilogy, or the Johnny Maxwell books, both are nice short series, but maybe just a little slanted towards younger readers.

The Colour of Magic is the first book in the Discworld series, and gives a pretty good intro to the whole world. It's where I started. I went off on a tangent with the Night Watch novels at one point, but once you have your feet in the Discworld, moving from group to group isn't too hard. The Wikipedia page has a good chronological listing, with tags for which group the story mostly deals with.
posted by pupdog at 7:35 AM on September 4, 2008

Good Omens is a collaboration with Neil Gaiman that I remember as being quite enjoyable. It's also a standalone novel, with no Discworld connections.
posted by joelhunt at 7:36 AM on September 4, 2008

I randomly read Night Watch first and it was a good start for me. But others say Guards! Guards! is the first and best to start off with in the mini-series. But definitly go for the night watch books first.
posted by saxamo at 7:37 AM on September 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

I don't care for the first couple Discworld books - Rincewind is not my favorite character. (YMMV of course.) That being said, I'd probably just dive headlong into "Thud!" and enjoy the madness - continuity isn't so terribly important in the Discworld.

Just to give you a general idea, the discworld books tend to be about the witches (Weird Sisters, Equal Rites, etc) the guards (Thud!, Jingo maybe, and, not surprisingly, Guards! Guards!) Death (Mort, Hogfather) Rincewind (The Color of Magic, Sourcery, The Last Continent,) and some standalones (Small Gods, Going Postal.) That's not a complete list (at all) but it's what I can remember without getting off the couch.

It would make sense to pick a thread and start from the earliest book in that thread, if continuity is important to you, but I read them all wildly out of order and it worked out ok for me. Most of them are very much standalone novels, although there is character development that spans several books.
posted by restless_nomad at 7:38 AM on September 4, 2008

Best answer: Here's a Discworld reading order guide. There are several series within Discworld, and you'd lose something by reading any of those out of sequence (but largely can read any of them without the others without losing so much.)

Good Omens was co-written with Neil Gaiman is standalone (and great.) The Bromeliad would be my next choice (originally published as three slim books -- get an omnibus and pretend it's standalone.)
posted by Zed_Lopez at 7:40 AM on September 4, 2008 [9 favorites]

Good Omens is a collaboration with Neil Gaiman - fans of both can tell from the writing who wrote what. I love it, but I'm a fan of both.

I think I started Discworld with "Lords and Ladies" which at the time was smack in the middle. There are subsets within the series, and most people find that they've got favorites - there's Death, there are the witches, there is the Watch, there are the wizards. I prefer the books focused on Death, my husband prefers the Watch. The wikipedia page breaks it down by theme so that you can try at least one of each.

I'd say that if you want to stick with Thud as a keystone for you, to go back and read all of the other books in the Watch series. I mean, it's a 36 (at least) book series, and I don't want to be the one to tell you to go back to book three (Equal Rites). Guards! Guards! is the first book of the Watch (book eight) and should get you started nicely.

After previewing - I'm going to second that I am no fan of the wizards - I don't like Rincewind either. And also, Small Gods is my favorite of the entire series, despite not being centered around Death.
posted by librarianamy at 7:40 AM on September 4, 2008

I would also suggest Small Gods. Pyramids and Moving Pictures are also equally kind of unrelated to other things.

I'm a fan of the books with Susan in (the Death series, generally), and also tend to think that the wizards are among the weakest of the bunch (but still good).
posted by that girl at 7:46 AM on September 4, 2008

Death Trilogy: A Discworld Omnibus: Mort, Reaper Man, Soul Music. It is where I started and I am fully addicted.
posted by Classic Diner at 7:51 AM on September 4, 2008

I would also support the suggestion to start with Small Gods and Pyramids. Moving Pictures is also a good idea. They give you a good idea of what Discworld is like, but don't carry too much luggage (no pun intended) from previous novels.

While the reading guide suggests starting the Witches series from Equal Rites, I think starting from Wyrd Sisters is a better idea, as the characterisation of the witches are better formed from Wyrd Sisters onwards.

Also, look out for a new standalone novel (not Discworld, and not even fantasy, I believe) entitled Nation. Pratchett read some excerpts of it during the Discworld Convention a couple of weeks ago, and it sounds quite good. (Of course, I am a biased listener, so take that with a pinch of salt)
posted by Alnedra at 8:02 AM on September 4, 2008

I'd recommend color of magic- however, none of the 20 other books I've read have lived up to that one (especially not small gods.) It does a good job of introducing the world, but a lot of the concepts and jokes don't come up in later books.

The Thief of Time introduces the igors, which are my favorite running gag, and they play in later in going postal and making money (going postal the best of these three)

I always found the Death Trilogy to be decent quick reads, but not my favorite. A lot of his books read the same in terms of plot progression. The problem is- there's just so much good stuff! the books about witches generally don't relate to the books about ankh which don't really relate to death.

If you have Thud, you'd do best to read color of magic, the night watch books, and invention of industry books (The Truth, Going Postal, Making Money). Reading these books in order is useful as most build off of ideas in previous books (werewolves in the watch, igors, golems, etc.)
posted by Large Marge at 8:04 AM on September 4, 2008

I honestly didn't like Small Gods that much. I recommend Going Postal.
posted by LSK at 8:08 AM on September 4, 2008

Another vote for Good Omens.
posted by wolfkult at 8:19 AM on September 4, 2008

my first Discworld book was Soul Music. I was a bit lost but it got me hooked. I think I like the Witches best, and I first started them with Lords and Ladies. Masquerade is interesting because it is a Witches/Watch story, but not a good starting point.

BoingBoing had a similar discussion about where to start Discworld
posted by jrishel at 8:34 AM on September 4, 2008

Going Postal---it's very funny, probably easy to find (although I guess since they've re-released all the books, that's not so much of an issue) and it's very stand-alone, while still introducing you to a lot of the themes/people.
posted by leahwrenn at 8:34 AM on September 4, 2008

Wyrd Sisters is what I always recommend to friends who haven't read Pratchett before. It'll get you hooked.
posted by selfmedicating at 8:37 AM on September 4, 2008

I'd recommend that you start with one of the earlier books as I think the later books are more rewarding if you've got a grasp on the characters and how they've developed over the series. So Mort or Guards! Guards! or perhaps one of the standalone books such as Small Gods.
posted by electricinca at 8:40 AM on September 4, 2008

It all comes down to, I think, what you're initially looking to get out of the series.

Colour of Magic: For completists. First book in the series. All-out parody of assorted fantasy tropes and novels, some largely forgotten these days. Has kind of a Simpsons Season 1 Syndrome thing going where it doesn't really resemble the rest of the series. Some characters & concepts survive to become more important, some are swept under the rug.

Mort: For plot-lovers. Fourth book in the series. Death hires an apprentice. First book where Pratchett gets more serious about ongoing plotlines, start of the "Death" cycle.

Moving Pictures: For those that like the nutty. Imprisoned eldritch horror attempts to escape by turning the Disc into Hollywood ca. 1930. A more mature "wacky" novel. Standalone, but introduces several characters (Rudcully!). The apogee of the goofy-fun aspect of Discworld.

Small Gods: For those that like the thinky. Big-shot local diety gets his comeuppance, has to deal with the nature of belief. Standalone, first one with strong philosophical elements.

The strongest books are later in the line (Thud is pretty good), but they depend a lot on prior character development for their impact. Even later standalones like Going Postal rely on knowlege of who this Patrician guy is and why we should be rooting for him (and why a medieval fantasy universe is suddenly Victorian, and what's up with those nosy creeps in the City Watch).

Oh, and if you want to experience the closest thing possible to a backstory-free Discworld novel in Pratchett's mature style: The Wee Free Men, the start of a young-adult series set on the Disc. Very little reliance on prior events, and aside from the underage heroine, there's nothing kiddie-lit about it.
posted by ormondsacker at 8:52 AM on September 4, 2008 [3 favorites]

Read Guards! Guards! for the introduction to all the Watch books and characters and a pretty good intro to Ankh-Morpork too. Read Reaper Man for a love story with the Discworld Death in it, and it's a pretty good intro to the Death character too. Read Wyrd Sisters for the witches.

From Guards read Men at Arms, Feet of Clay, Jingo, The Fifth Elephant, The Truth, Night Watch, Monstrous Regiment, then Thud. Going Postal and Making Money are also set in Ankh-Morpork but seem to be the start of a new story arc. Time will tell. Don't read those two before some of the Watch books, though.

From Reaper read Mort - that's out of publishing order, but it's a better flow with the character. Then go with Hogfather and Thief of Time.

From Sisters read Witches Abroad, Lords and Ladies then Carpe Jugulum.

Keep in mind that these books have overlap. The Watch series of books is probably the most stand alone of the lot, and that's where I would start. If you want the Wizards, start with anything from Moving Pictures and previous, then move on to Soul Music, Interesting Times, The Last Continent.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 9:14 AM on September 4, 2008 [3 favorites]

nthing Good Omens. great book.
posted by gnutron at 9:46 AM on September 4, 2008

The discworld books are good, but don't start at the start, because the first one (colour of magic) isn't very good - he hadn't hit his discworld stride at that point. But you should start somewhere near the start, as there will be fewer in-jokes that you don't get.

Seconding Dipsomaniac's suggestions.

(And if made-for-TV movies are your thing, Hogfather is probably worth checking out)
posted by -harlequin- at 10:27 AM on September 4, 2008

I say go ahead and read Thud!. I started with Good Omens, then read one of the Death books, I think, but honestly, they're all written to be enjoyable on their own, and none of the books rely heavily on surprise twists, so you can pretty much start with any of them. I do agree that the first five or so are little rougher than the later ones, though.
posted by ignignokt at 11:02 AM on September 4, 2008

I found Going Postal in a sale rack and bought it because it looked funny and I wanted to find a new author. I loved it. Followed it up with Thud! and Monstrous Regiment. Then I started at the beginning and have worked my way up to Moving Pictures (though I admit I skipped Eric, haven't read that one yet). While there are some bits that won't make sense if you read them out of order, Pratchett is pretty good about introducing characters as if they were new in each novel, so the most striking thing to me about reading out of order is that the image of the Discworld you have from later novels doesn't match what you read about in the early ones, because the world evolved as he wrote about it.
posted by caution live frogs at 11:31 AM on September 4, 2008

Oh dear god don't start with Colour of Magic/Light Fantastic. They're so different to the rest of the books that they're almost out of canon. I read them after I'd read several others and was shocked at some of the characters, most notably Death's apparent relevelant streak.

A lot of the books need you to have at least a vague understanding of the city or of recurring characters. Small Gods could be a good choice as it's pretty much standalone. Wyrd Sisters is the one I tend to start people on, since it's a fun book. pTerry spends a lot of time playing with the various Shakespear plays (most obviously Macbeth) and it leads you on to the other witches books quite nicely.

I'm not convinced by the order presented in that guide on l-space since it pretty much ignores the crossovers between the different universes. The watch series can't really be that clearly seperated from the inductrial revolution series, for example. The Rincewind, Watch and Death books tie much more closely than that leads you to believe too.

Mind you, you're going to get as many answers to this question as there are pTerry loving Mefites...
posted by twine42 at 11:50 AM on September 4, 2008

It wasn't until after a couple of books that Pratchett introduced plots to his books. I'd skip the first two. I liked Good Omens & Small Gods quite a bit.

Alnedra: Pratchett read some excerpts of it during the Discworld Convention a couple of weeks ago...

Oh, what? Dammit.
posted by Pronoiac at 12:12 PM on September 4, 2008

nthing Small Gods. xing Good Omens, which was nowhere near as good as the two names on the cover lead me to believe it was.
posted by infinitewindow at 12:21 PM on September 4, 2008

nthing the Wee Free Men and Good Omens, both good intros to writing style, humour and neither will spoil much in he way of plot.
posted by mce at 12:23 PM on September 4, 2008

You don't say what you normally like, but if you're a techie, Going Postal is an excellent first book. The unabridged audiotape, by the way, is fantastic.
posted by zippy at 1:16 PM on September 4, 2008

My mother was in London at a bookshop buying books for me and she asked a friend's daughter for help selecting books for her 13 year old daughter (me). After strongly recommending the Discworld books she told my mother to start by buying me Men at Arms, Guards Guards and Equal Rites rather than the actual beginning of the series. Those were the first Discworld books I ever read and I loved them so much I bought a new one every chance I got. These three books are exciting, don't require much in the way of background knowledge and are absolutely hilarious. So those are my recommendations.
posted by peacheater at 2:17 PM on September 4, 2008

I always recommend Good Omens as a basic pTerry book and Guards! Guards! as the intro Discworld book. Dipsomaniac has a pretty good rundown on things, except that Soul Music is in the Death cycle more so than the Wizards, I'd say.
posted by bettafish at 2:56 PM on September 4, 2008

Going Postal was my first and I LOVED it.

Then I read Thud! and liked it quite a bit. Then Small Gods, which was okay but had a big fat axe to grind.

Then I read a bunch of the smaller ones, including the Color of Magic, Lords and Ladies, Men at Arms, and Monstrous Regiment, Equal Rites, and haven't really liked them. I'm about to give up the rest.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:44 PM on September 4, 2008

I'd also advise against The Colour of Magic, as he's too busy parodying fantasy/D&D tropes to explore his own style. Pyramids seems a bit weak for an introduction to Pratchett.

I consider Moving Pictures all around one of Pterry's best, Guards! Guards! is the best introductory book of a major line and I think the self-contained The Wee Free Men captures best the spirit of the witches books, without belonging to them. Because of the Night Watch's storyline (its leader gets thrown back in time, when he was just a new recruit) you could read that one first and get all the small allusions to long-standing characters when you reread it.

Anyway, there are lot of good books in the middle of the arcs once you get hooked. Feel free to explore these later.
posted by ersatz at 3:57 PM on September 4, 2008

Pronoiac: It was in Birmingham, UK, though. If you are interested in attending a Con, try the one next year, in Tempe, Arizona.
posted by Alnedra at 8:45 PM on September 4, 2008

I'd read anything but the Rincewind books. I started out with them, but they're so not great compared to about everything else. You want to be hooked on Pratchett before you read those for completist's sake.

I'd have a beginner start with the Watch books, or the witches. Maybe the Moist books or Tiffany or some of the one-offs like The Truth or Moving Pictures for shorter saga fun.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:39 AM on September 5, 2008

Alnedra: Oh, thanks! I got a flyer for the AZ event at a signing, & I hadn't thought it was so soon.
posted by Pronoiac at 12:11 PM on September 5, 2008

Read Thud! It's a strong book that stands fine by itself. I'd only read Mort previously (and haven't picked up anything since) and I loved it hard. Pratchett is a good enough writer that you don't need to rely on any kind of order - because you'll be going back for a second read soon enough.
posted by saturnine at 5:57 AM on September 7, 2008

i started with guards! guards! and it has a little bit of everything. It definitely got me hooked. If I had to start over again, I would probably read that or monstrous regiment, which isn't a typical Pratchett book, but has all of the good elements. OR Wee Free Men - a young adult book of Pratchett's which is AWESOME.
posted by ilovermontmeta at 5:01 PM on September 11, 2008

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