The Last Hero

by Terry Pratchett

Cover image

Illustrator: Paul Kidby
Series: Discworld #27
Publisher: Harper
Copyright: 2001, 2002
ISBN: 0-06-050777-2
Format: Graphic novel
Pages: 176

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The Last Hero is the 27th Discworld novel and part of the Rincewind subseries. This is something of a sequel to Interesting Times and relies heavily on the cast that was built up in previous books. It's not a good place to start with the series.

At last, the rare Rincewind novel that I enjoyed. It helps that Rincewind is mostly along for the ride.

Cohen the Barbarian and his band of elderly heroes have decided they're tired of enjoying their spoils and are going on a final adventure. They're going to return fire to the gods, in the form of a giant bomb. The wizards in Ankh-Morpork get wind of this and realize that an explosion at the Hub where the gods live could disrupt the magical field of the entire Disc, effectively destroying it. The only hope seems to be to reach Cori Celesti before Cohen and head him off, but Cohen is already almost there. Enter Lord Vetinari, who has Leonard of Quirm design a machine that will get them there in time by slingshotting under the Disc itself.

First off, let me say how much I love the idea of returning fire to the gods with interest. I kind of wish Pratchett had done more with their motivations, but I was laughing about that through the whole book.

Second, this is the first of the illustrated Discworld books that I've read in the intended illustrated form (I read the paperback version of Eric), and this book is gorgeous. I enjoyed Paul Kidby's art far more than I had expected to. His style is what I will call, for lack of better terminology due to my woeful art education, "highly detailed caricature." That's not normally a style that clicks with me, but it works incredibly well for Discworld.

The Last Hero is richly illustrated, with some amount of art, if only subtle background behind the text, on nearly every page. There are several two-page spreads, but oddly I thought those (including the parody of The Scream on the cover) were the worst art of the book. None of them did much for me. The best art is in the figure studies and subtle details: Leonard of Quirm's beautiful calligraphy, his numerous sketches, the labeled illustration of the controls of the flying machine, and the portraits of Cohen's band and the people they encounter. The edition I got is printed on lovely, thick glossy paper, and the subtle art texture behind the writing makes this book a delight to read. I'm not sure if, like Eric, this book comes in other editions, but if so, I highly recommend getting or finding the high-quality illustrated edition for the best reading experience.

The plot, like a lot of the Rincewind books, doesn't amount to much, but I enjoyed the mission to intercept Cohen. Leonard of Quirm is a great character, and the slow revelation of his flying machine design (which I will not spoil) is a delightful combination of Leonardo da Vinci parody, Discworld craziness, and NASA homage. Also, the Librarian is involved, which always improves a Discworld book. (The Luggage, sadly, is not; I would have liked to have seen a richly-illustrated story about it, but it looks like I'll have to find the illustrated version of Eric for that.)

There is one of Pratchett's philosophical subtexts here, about heroes and stories and what it means for your story to live on. To be honest, it didn't grab me; it's mostly subtext, and this particular set of characters weren't quite introspective enough to make the philosophy central to the story. Also, I was perhaps too sympathetic to Cohen's goals, and thus not very interested in anyone successfully stopping him. But I had a lot more fun with this one than I usually do with Rincewind books, helped considerably by the illustrations. If you've been skipping Rincewind books in your Discworld read-through and have access to the illustrated edition of The Last Hero, consider making an exception for this one.

Followed by The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents in publication order and, thematically, by Unseen Academicals.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2023-04-11

Last modified and spun 2023-05-14