Feet of Clay ~ Terry Pratchett

  • Title: Feet of Clay
  • Author: Terry Pratchett
  • Series: Discworld # 19
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Format: Paperback
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  It’s murder in Discworld! — which ordinarily is no big deal. But what bothers Watch Commander Sir Sam Vimes is that the unusual deaths of three elderly Ankh-Morporkians do not bear the clean, efficient marks of the Assassins’ Guild. An apparent lack of any motive is also quite troubling. All Vimes has are some tracks of white clay and more of those bothersome “clue” things that only serve to muck up an investigation. The anger of a fearful populace is already being dangerously channelled toward the city’s small community of golems — the mindless, absurdly industrious creatures of baked clay who can occasionally be found toiling in the city’s factories. And certain highly placed personages are using the unrest as an excuse to resurrect a monarchy — which would be bad enough even if the “king” they were grooming wasn’t as empty-headed as your typical animated pottery.

Review:
This is a mystery: several murders have been committed, and the Watch of Ankh-Morpork is investigating. The Watch commander, Sam Vimes, has an additional problem: someone is poisoning Lord Vetinary, the Patrician. As both investigations proceed, the author parades in front of the readers a score of characters, each one faultier that the others.

In the lead of that parade is the protagonist Sam Vimes: a cynical policeman, a recovering alcoholic, and one of the few good guys in this predominantly gloomy book. To add to his other qualities – shrewdness and basic honesty, so rare in the city – Vimes is also an equal opportunity employer. His police force includes not only humans but also a werewolf, a dwarf, a gargoyle, several trolls, and too many fools to mention.

Stupidity seems to be very dense in the police force of Ankh-Morpork, almost like a contagious disease, touching everyone indiscriminately and spreading like wildfire. As a result, everyone is sneezing and coughing (aka acting like an idiot) in his own inimitable way. There is no stopping this malady, so common for all the races on Discworld (and Earth). Although some people succumb to harsher symptoms than others, few recover, at least few males. The exceptions are females: the vegetarian werewolf, Constable Angua, and the dwarf alchemist Cheery, the lone CSI of the Watch.

As the police searches for the murderers and the poisoners, Pratchett paints a broad picture of the city: the corporate moguls and the religious fanatics, the slaves and the nobles. Everyone is scheming, even the golems (robots), and the emerging story veers towards the macabre, with multiple blood and gore episodes, rampant prejudice, and undisguised racism. The author doesn’t spare anyone in his morbid insights and witty observations. His city feels like a black caricature of our own society, a grotesque mirror where everyone can recognize himself… if he is brave enough. The recognition had its rewards too: sometime I laughed so hard, my eyes teared up.

I must admit that there are a couple of problems in this book. One is the author’s tendency to write phonetically, whenever one of his ‘uneducated’ or ‘uncultured’ characters speaks. The result is the atrocious spelling of the above-mentioned speech chunks, so bad it was hard to understand sometimes.

The second problem concerns the start of the story. It is slow and clunky, comprised of too many disjointed fragments and introducing too many characters too fast. Fortunately, as the plot rolls on, it smoothes out, and Pratchett’s inevitable witty quotes worm their way into the text. As is common for the Discworld books, too many quotes are worth repeating, but a few I just couldn’t resist.

Vimes’s contemplations of the follies of human nature:

Royalty was like dandelions. No matter how many heads you chopped off, the roots were still there, underground, waiting to spring up again. It seemed to be a chronic disease. It was as if even the most intelligent person had this little blank spot in their heads where someone had written: ‘Kings. What a good idea.’ Whoever had created humanity had left in a major design flaw. It was its tendency to bend at the knees.  

Constable Visit, a religious zealot who usually plagues Vimes with spiritual brochures and unasked-for sermons, arrives to report on the investigation:

‘Oh. Yes. Come on into my office.’ Vimes relaxed. This wasn’t going to be another one of those painful conversations about the state of his soul and the necessity of giving it a wash and brush-up before eternal damnation set in. This was going to be about something important.

When Angua tells Vimes of a secret meeting of the golems, he responds:

‘You like the idea of them having secrets? I mean, good grief, trolls and dwarfs, fine, even the undead are alive in a way, even if it is a bloody awful way’ – Vimes caught Angua’s eye and went on – ‘for the most part. But these things? They’re just things that do work. It’s like having a bunch of shovels meeting for a chat!’

Note: the highlights belong to the author.
Recommended to every courageous creature out there, anyone willing to look into a Pratchett-shaped mirror, be it a troll, a dwarf, or a human.

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