The Discworld Reread: Book 19
All is not well in Ankh-Morpork. In itself, of course, there’s nothing unusual about that. Indeed, if things were all well in Ankh-Morpork, that’d be a sign that something’s definitely wrong. But things seem to be less well than usual. An elderly priest and a harmless museum curator have been brutally murdered; someone has poisoned the Patrician; the city’s workforce of golems are behaving in a suspicious way; and a group of plotters are scheming to return Ankh-Morpork to a monarchy. And, worst of all, Sam Vimes discovers to his horror that Nobby Nobbs might just be the long-lost heir to the Earldom of Ankh. Something must clearly be done; but what?
The City Watch has changed since the days of Guards! Guards!, when it was just Vimes, Colon, Nobby and Carrot standing against the forces of chaos (and dragons). Nowadays there are many different Watch-houses all over the city; Vimes has been elevated, kicking and screaming, to the nobility through his marriage to Lady Sibyl Ramkin; and the Watch has become much more inclusive in its admission policy. There are trolls, dwarfs, even women. Well, there’s Corporal Angua at any rate, who also ticks some other diversity boxes, what with being a werewolf. Feet of Clay, like Men at Arms, uses that as one of its less comic themes: the struggle of a traditionally very straight, white, male, human profession to accept a changing world. And we see that struggle from the other side here, in the efforts of the dwarf Cheery Longbottom to challenge expectations in the dwarf community and to express her own femininity (despite the beard).
Then there’s the shock indisposition of the Patrician, which leaves a lot of people feeling very nervous about the future of the city, and some people feeling cautiously optimistic. Vetinari has been that rarest of things – a benevolent tyrant (unless you happen to be a street performer or mime artist, in which case it’s straight into the scorpion pit with you). Without him, who could possibly fill his shoes? Or is it time to turn away from the Patrician system and to look back instead to the ancient glory days of monarchy? Anyone who’s read Guards! Guards! and Men at Arms will be aware that there’s a fine candidate for kingship in the City Watch, and our plotters know that this true heir is courageous, honest, caring and pure. Far too much trouble, therefore, and difficult to manipulate. Hence they turn their focus on another Watchman, who might be easier to use as a puppet… Enter Nobby Nobbs. The fashionable world won’t know what’s hit it.
I suppose the golem plot goes along with this, in that the golems too are trying to find a leader – a king – with tragic consequences. Discworld golems are fresh in my mind from Going Postal, which is much later in the series, but as far as I remember this might be the first time we’ve come across them: an expansion of the Discworld ecosystem in order to embrace the old Bohemian legend. As the book’s title suggests, golems might not be all that different from mortal people, in that they’re driven by words in their head and can be repurposed by changing or adding to those words. And, even though they’re meant to be inherently independent, they long deep inside for leadership.
There’s lots going on in this instalment, which features Ankh-Morpork society in all its rich variety, with the notable exception of the wizards up at the University (though we do meet a relative of Ridcully’s, who is High Priest of Blind Io). In comparison to Maskerade, its immediate predecessor, Feet of Clay feels much more like part of a series as opposed to a standalone story. As far as I remember, this is part of a growing trend within Discworld, which increasingly moves away from riffs on particular ‘contexts’ (like the cinema, Ancient Egypt, The Phantom of the Opera) and towards an examination of serious themes through small groups of recurring characters – the Watch and the Witches being foremost among them. Having said that, the next book in the series is a gleeful exception to that rule, with a very particular standalone focus and – to my delight – the triumphant return of Susan Sto Helit. Prepare yourself for Hogfather and the ultimate tale of things that go bump in the night…
Last in the series – Maskerade
Next in the series – Hogfather
It’s getting more difficult to find decent images of Paul Kidby’s art going forward, but for now enjoy these images of Sam Vimes and the inimitable Nobby Nobbs.