The Last Continent by Terry Pratchett is the 22nd novel in the author’s comic fantasy Discworld series and the sixth in the Rincewind sub-series. Following the events of the previous novel, Interesting Times, Rincewind finds himself once again to be a stranger in a strange land, this time in Fourecks (or XXXX), a continent relatively unknown to the rest of the Discworld. It is a desolate and arid place full of surprisingly jovial people and terrifying wildlife. Though at first simply trying to survive as best he can, it would seem destiny once again has a mission for the put-upon, subpar wizard, one that will have him embarking on a odyssey across the landscape, making him a hero among the locals whether he likes it or not.
I’ve mentioned this before, but the Rincewind books are not among my favourites. He’s an iconic character in his own right, and his misadventures helped kick off the entire series, but his cowardly nature makes him just a little too one note for me. His stories most often involve him touring a culture of the Discworld in some way too, parodying cultures and stereotypes of our world along the way, which can be good fun but isn’t, in my opinion, where Pratchett is at his best. However, despite this book continuing those above-mentioned trends, I kind of loved reading this novel, though as I write this I’m still not sure I fully understand why.
Set up at the end of Interesting Times, Rincewind finds himself stranded in a country analogous to our Australia. As such, a lot of what unfolds is a send-up of Australian cultural icons and stereotypes, such as enthusiastic beer drinking and even a sequence referencing the Mad Max films. Admittedly, I feel like a lot of references went over my head (I still have no clue about the drag queens towards the end), but they were woven into the story enough that even without understanding them I could still appreciate the story.
The geography plays a big role too, as the country is so arid that it literally never rains there; all water is found underground. So, nobody believes this daft notion, which Rincewind keeps insisting on, that water is supposed to fall from the sky every so often. This is ultimately the core concern of the story, as is dealing with the never-ending storms that surround the continent, imprisoning all who live/end up there. To this end, Rincewind is spurred onward by a godlike entity that means for him to save this land.
The book isn’t really about this end goal, however, as much as it is about the journey, which is what I found myself enjoying so much. While nearly every Rincewind novel could be described as an odyssey of sorts, this one felt most distinctly to me like a strange odyssey through a strange land, as all he really needs to do is get from point A to point B, but he keeps bumping into new trouble. So, the amusing misadventures along the way became more of the focus, and I think this book is one of Pratchett’s best executions of this type of story. The narrative had a perfectly laid-back quality to it that made it easy to just go with the flow. While still ever-ready to try and avoid danger or whatever Fate has in store for him, Rincewind approached his situation with similar resignation, making it all the more easy to get into.
This contrasts especially with the previous book to me, which followed similar patterns but ultimately had a core plot line, including an active villain, with something grander to say about political structures and social oppression. The Last Continent doesn’t really have anything quite so substantial in its story, but by embracing its farcical elements more completely it became a much more enjoyable read.
Another half of the book’s narrative, which does tie into Rincewind’s quest, concerns the wizards of the Unseen University, who are trying to bring Rincewind back to the school in order to help them cure the Librarian of an unusual illness. In trying to seek him out, they end up going through a window in a forgotten wizard’s office that leads onto a tropical island in the far distant past, where they subsequently become trapped.
This section was also not especially plot driven, as they simply try to figure out where they are, how to survive, and end up interacting with some primordial beings, but I really enjoyed this for how it fleshed out the different faculty members. I still find it hard to keep track of who is who, as they’re always referred to by title instead of name, but some idiosyncrasies emerged more noticeably here. The history of how wizard hierarchy used to operate at the university, as we saw in the earliest books, is referenced a lot too, paying appreciable homage to the beginnings of the entire series.
The only thing that stands out as a particular problem for me with this book, especially as these two story lines connect with each other, is I have difficultly fully grasping why any of this happened or needed to happen, and it’s admittedly been a little vexing. Like I said, when all is said and done, the journey was more important, but I do wish the why of it all was more clear. Despite the nebulous plot, there were higher concepts at work concerning the nature of reality, creation, and time travel that I wish had been a little better defined. It was like 80% of the way there, so it was still compelling, but I feel like I’m missing a few pieces of the puzzle.
I don’t think it’s exceptional even as a Discworld novel, but The Last Continent was a joyously fun read. It feels like this novel finally closed the book, so to speak, on Rincewind’s long and strange journey too. He may have had a brief reprieve of sorts before the start of Sourcery, but he’s pretty much been on the run ever since the end of that book. I have no idea where things will go for him from here, but I’m looking forward to new and different adventures for the hapless chap, hopefully back at the university where he belongs.
My Rating: 4 out of 5