"May you live in interesting times" is the worst thing one can wish on a citizen of Discworld -- especially on the distinctly unmagical sorcerer Rincewind, who has had far too much perilous excitement in his life. But when a request for a "Great Wizzard" arrives in Ankh-Morpork via carrier albatross from the faraway Counterweight Continent, it's he who's sent as emissary. Chaos threatens to follow the impending demise of the Agatean Empire's current ruler. And, for some incomprehensible reason, someone believes Rincewind will have a mythic role in the war and wholesale bloodletting that will surely ensue. (Carnage is pretty much a given, since Cohen the Barbarian and his extremely elderly Silver Horde are busily formulating their own plan for looting, pillaging, and, er, looking wistfully at girls.) However, Rincewind firmly believes there are too many heroes already in the world, yet only one Rincewind. And he owes it to the world to keep that one alive for as long as possible.
Discworld continues to spin merrily along in this new addition to Pratchett's successful series (begun with The Colour of Magic, 1983) about a magical world carried through space on the back of a giant turtle. Here, Rincewind the wizard is drafted to visit the Agatean Empire, which in Pratchett's hands is either a satire of Imperial China or a satire on how that China is handled by other fantasy writers, or possibly both (in Discworld there are few certainties). Arriving complete with the Luggage, Rincewind is dropped into the middle of a succession crisis that's complicated by the presence of Cohen the Barbarian, with his Silver Horde of superannuated barbarians, and a band of youthful revolutionaries, the Red Army. The plot that slowly emerges sees Cohen become Emperor and will hold Discworld fans' attention despite some of the satirical effects arising from a working knowledge of British popular culture. Pratchett is an acquired taste, but the acquisition seems easy, judging from the robust popularity of Discworld. Certainly there is more verbal elegance in this novel than in most humorous fantasy. Pratchett does try to satirize so many subjects at once here that he resembles the man who jumped on his horse and rode off in all directions, and so the book benefits from being read in small, bracing doses.