Small Gods stands on its own in the Discworld universe, at least when it comes to the story and the characters. It does of course continue to build on the “in jokes” that have been accumulating from the very first Discworld book. There are some references that I think would sail harmlessly over the head of anybody who hadn’t read the earlier books, but catching those references is part of the fun for me.
The story is based on the idea that there are lots and lots of “small gods” out there, with no influence or power, desperately trying to get the attention of a human who will believe in them. Once somebody believes in them, they start to gain power, which grows as they accumulate more true believers. This can also happen in reverse; if the believers diminish, then so does the god. The story focuses on a god by the name of Om, who has unexpectedly found himself in the form of a tortoise as his power is diminishing. Only a single boy by the name of Brutha truly believes in him and can hear his voice. Adventures ensue.
I really enjoyed the first half of the story, but I started to lose interest in the second half. I couldn’t really say why; it just seemed to get a little tedious for a while there. The humor in this book was great, though. It wasn’t quite on the same level as the books in the Witches subseries for me, but it was pretty close. The part about penguins being extremely confused birds because they only know how to fly under water completely cracked me up. I’m not sure what that says about my sense of humor. It’s a bit corny, I guess!
I thought this book had a little more meat on it in terms of covering some deeper themes. Several of the previous books have done that to some extent, but I thought it was more substantial in this book. As you might guess from the title and the premise, there are quite a few thoughts about the nature of religion, how it affects people, how it gains power, and how it’s used. There were also some thoughts about war and slavery.
So overall I enjoyed it, but I thought it dragged a bit in the middle. I enjoyed it enough to round my star rating up to 4 stars on Goodreads.