I decided that I needed to work in some books by my favorite authors this year. Terry Pratchett, as always, delivered a funny, gripping adventure featuring a fantastic cast of characters.
In my review of The Mirrored Heavens, (I write these reviews out-of-order), I mentioned that authors often use foreign contexts to highlight universal themes. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels make good use of this conceit towards satirical ends. Discworld is a world that is very different from ours. For starters, it’s flat. And this giant pizza pie of a world is supported by four enormous elephants who, in turn, ride on the back of a giant sea turtle flying through space.
Clearly, this is not a world governed by the same rules as our own. Indeed, we find that the inhabitants of Discworld live in a world of high fantasy, with wizards, witches and alchemy, not to mention dwarves, trolls and werewolves.
“Wow Cliff,” you say, “‘Sounds nerdy!”
Well, yes, it is I suppose. Fantasy is not a genre I really read at all with Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels being the exception that proves the rule. There’s a good reason for this exception and it’s that Pratchett’s books are hilarious. The brilliance of his books is that you don’t particularly have to be a fan of fantasy to enjoy his humor for, despite the strangeness of the high fantasy world that Pratchett has created, the humor comes from what Discworld has in common with our own world. Discworld is a twisted mirror held up to our own with satiric intent.
There are currently 37 Discworld books and I am reading through the series in order at a rate of one or two books a year, which is fantastic because it mans that I will have new Discworld novels to enjoy for at least another decade. (sadly, Pratchett was recently diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s, so it’s not clear how much longer he will be able to continue writing.) The Discworld novels are very light reading which makes them perfect as palate cleansers following something particularly heavy, or even when life gets a bit funky and you’re in need of a good pick me up.
As all of the Discworld books share a universe, there are repeating characters throughout the series with the various novels focusing on one character or group of characters. So we have novels focussing on the wizards of the Unseen University, novels focusing on Death (with a capital D), novels focusing on The City Watch and etc. The City Watch novels are my favorite so I was pleasantly surprised to find that Feet of Clay was a City Watch story.
The Watch are the equivalent of a police force in Discworld’s largest and most violent city, Ankh-Morpork. They are motley crew led by the strongly principled Sam Vines, and they have oddly modern views in a decidedly unmodern world. All of Pratchett’s characters are amazingly rendered but the members of The Watch are particularly endearing which really elevates their stories above the others. Feet of Clay was no exception.
Feet of Clay is a mystery involving golems and introducing some new characters including Cheery Littlebottom, a dwarf alchemist who serves as the equivalent of a crime scene investigator. There’s a fantastic scene in the book where Pratchett pokes fun at the TV cliché of enhancing images to find hidden clues. As Discworld lacks modern technology, the scene involves an increasingly exasperated imp being asked to draw increasingly detailed closeups of the murder victim’s eye, ultimately catching a reflection of the killer. It’s a scene that gets at the heart of what makes the Discworld novels so great. Pratchett may not be answering any of the universe’s great mysteries, but the fun house mirror that is Discworld highlights the absurdity of our own world and the result is never less than hilarious.