The title of this book was inspired by the phrase "may you live in interesting times."
This novel marks Rincewind's reappearance on the Discworld after the events of Eric. The Patrician of Ankh-Morpork is sent a letter from the Agatean Empire on the Counterweight Continent commanding him to "send us the Great Wizzard". The wizards of Unseen University, after some discussion, eventually realise the spelling of Wizzard can refer to only one man – Rincewind.
After using Hex to assist in performing a spell to summon Rincewind, Archchancellor Ridcully convinces him to go to the Agatean Empire and speak to whoever sent the message. A second summoning spell is used, which exchanges the position of Rincewind with that of a live cannon.
As usual, The Luggage is not far behind Rincewind, following him across the continents to its homeland. However, once there it gets the impression that Rincewind has relinquished ownership, and therefore the two are separated for a large portion of the book as The Luggage explores the land.
Upon his arrival on the Counterweight Continent, Rincewind is reunited with a companion of his previous adventures, Cohen the Barbarian. Cohen has brought a group of aging heroes, The Silver Horde, with him, in order to usurp the Emperor and "steal" the country. Rincewind also learns that the Empire is in a state of turmoil thanks to a revolutionary document entitled "What I did on My Holidays". Later, Rincewind discovers that this book was written by none other than his travelling companion in the novels The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, Twoflower the tourist. The Empire's capital city of Hunghung is under "siege" from the Empire's five most powerful feudal lords – Hong, Tang, Fang, Sung, and McSweeney, and a revolutionary group called the Red Army is also independently plotting to overthrow the Emperor.
Rincewind travels to Hunghung where he meets Twoflower's daughters, who are members of the Red Army. He discovers that Agatean culture is not a good breeding ground for revolution and the Red Army doesn't do much more than putting up posters and shouting limp slogans. Rincewind is cajoled into helping the Red Army free revolutionary prisoners, but they are captured and thrown into the dungeons, where Twoflower is also being held.
The most powerful feudal lord, Lord Hong, has in fact been manipulating the other four families and fomenting the Red Army to further his own political gains. His plan is for the Red Army to assassinate the Emperor, so that he in turn can mount a counter-revolution, take control of the Empire and eventually conquer Ankh-Morpork. To this end, Rincewind and the others are mysteriously allowed to escape and led to the Emperor's bedroom, where they discover that the Emperor has already been murdered by Lord Hong's soldiers.
At the same time, Cohen and his Silver Horde infiltrate the city, and penetrate the Forbidden City, home of the Emperor. Rincewind eventually finds his way to the Throne Room, where Cohen has now installed himself as Emperor. However, the city remains under siege from five armies, and the Silver Horde are called out to meet their challenge.
Rincewind, trying to avoid the battle, finds his way up an ancient hill outside Hunghung. As the battle is about to commence, a massive thunderstorm appears, and Rincewind finds himself dropped into a mysterious cave, filled with terracotta statues, the original, legendary Red Army. After locating some magic armour that allows him to control the army, Rincewind leads them out into the middle of the battlefield and begins destroying the five attacking armies, mostly by accident. Cohen is returned to Hunghung victorious, and re-proclaims himself Emperor.
Lord Hong escapes the battlefield, and returns to Hunghung for a final showdown. Twoflower challenges him to a duel, blaming Lord Hong for the death of his wife. Just as Hong is about to kill Twoflower, the Unseen University wizards attempt to resummon Rincewind, returning the cannon. Hong is killed, along with one of the members of Cohen's horde; Ronald Saveloy the civilization instructor, who had given up civilization as a waste of time and thinks heroes get a better class of afterlife. The rest of the Silver Horde is unharmed, due to many years of practice at not dying.
Due to a slight error in calculation by Hex caused by Luck's interference, Rincewind is not returned to the University. The wizards determine that Rincewind has in fact been transported to "Fourecks", an unexplored continent. At the end, it appears that Rincewind is about to be pulled into another adventure despite his best efforts.
! colspan="3" | Reading order guide |}