This is the 13th book in Terry Pratchett’s “Discworld” series. On Discworld, there are many gods, and their power derives from the people who believe in them. Om happens to be a ‘small god’, who until recently, had no actual believers, in spite of the fact that “Omnianism” is the national religion of Omnia, a very strict religious nation.
Enter Brutha, a young Omnian novice, who has an amazing memory, but is illiterate, and naive and totally accepting of anything and everything that he has heard (and hence, has come to believe). Brutha is an actual believer, and hence, Om discovers that Brutha may be his only chance at getting back into the ‘God’ game. Unfortunately, he is now trapped in the body of a turtle, and Brutha is the only person capable of hearing him. To both Brutha’s and Om’s chagrin, Brutha attracts the attention of Equisitor Vorbis, a powerful Omnian leader who upon learning of Brutha’s talents, has plans for him on his trip to the foreign nation of Ephebe. And as simple-minded as Brutha is, he’s also smart enough to know that it is never healthy to attract the attention of such a powerful individual.
Small Gods is my absolute favorite book in this series so far. It is a brilliant and irreverent satire of organized religion. The fact that in a religious state dedicated to what the priests claim is the ‘one true God’, that no one actually believes except for one very simple-minded naive individual, and that pretty much everyone else is just going through the motions out of fear or loyalty or habit is incredibly ironic. Almost no one questions the Priests or Church doctrine, even when there is clear evidence that some of their claims are factually wrong.
This is Pratchett’s most seriously satirical book so far. Granted, many of his previous novels were not pure parody and also poked fun at and criticised things such as government and city life and the law and popular culture. But this is his most focused satire to date. And I absolutely loved it. It also is set in parts of the world that we have not seen before: Omnia and Ephebe, and most of the characters are new as well (though I love the character of Death, and I love his scenes in this novel).
I believe that if you have never read a Discworld novel or story before, that you could start here, and not miss out on much. But there are some things that certainly would make more sense after reading at least a few of the stories. If you were to read only one Discworld novel, based on only the books I’ve read, I’d say that this should be the one. That said, you’d be missing a lot of very funny stuff if you did that. But, imho, this is a must-read novel. If I can convince only one person to read Small Gods after reading this review, then I would be happy — I’d be happier if I could convince you to read the entire series, or if I could convince a lot more than one person… But really, this is, in my sincere opinion a great satirical fantasy novel.