Feet of Clay and The Fifth Elephant (Discworld)

Monday, November 9, 2020

Feet of Clay and The Fifth Elephant (Discworld)
Terry Pratchett, 1996, 1999

When I started rereading the Watch books, I honestly forgot how many there were. I had kind of blocked out everything between the first two and Night Watch. (And now I'm realizing I skipped one, which is what I get for trusting the list on the library app.) 

Feet of Clay is overall fine. The mysterious deaths and poisonings lead to more misleading clues and false villains than most Discworld books. The book is really about self-determination, in terms of gender, class, and, most significantly, personhood and free will in the case of the golems that the plot hinges on. I wish I had found the writing as compelling as the ideas. 

It's also notable for the introduction of series regular Cheery. Her growing friendship with Angua is both realistic and super awkward - Cheery is desperate for female friendship as she is starting to experiment with her own gender presentation, but she also has a high level of fantastic racism toward werewolves. The reader, knowing Angua is a werewolf, cringes for Cheery's obliviousness. 

The Fifth Elephant has a more exciting plot, as Vimes is tapped to play diplomat in Uberwald, homeland of all gothic fantasy creatures. There's politics, culture clash, a locked-room mystery and an extended near-death experience. Being Discworld, that last one is humorously literal. 

The subplot going on back in Ankh-Morpork is much less interesting, although I suppose it highlights the theme by being so frustrating. This book is about change - political change, cultural change, how traditions evolve or are used as ugly excuses for terrible acts. How people fight change and (in the case of the Watch without Vimes or Carrot) how groups backslide into old habits or worse in reaction to change. 

One overall note - I was amused how over the early books, Vimes sheds most of the prejudices he starts out with through sheer spite. In other words, he sees people being biogted and awful and says: well, we'll show those jerks. 

I like both these books more on reflection than I did when I started reading them. It's one of the benefits of writing down my impressions - it makes me think harder about what I read. 

Both are fun reads with hidden depths. 3 and 4 stars, respectively. 


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