The 25th Discworld novel and the first standalone since Small Gods.Building on the the themes of change started in the previous book The Fifth Elephant, another of the Disc's previous Medieval Stasis principles is broken: no movable type. There's a rumour that dwarfs can turn lead into gold - and they can, by making the lead into typeface and undercutting the engravers. William de Worde, a young scribe who makes his living writing for the illiterate and sending letters of news to distant nobles, encounters the dwarfs and ends up writing the first newspaper, The Ankh-Morpork Times for them, with the help of engraver's granddaughter Sacharissa Cripslock and the photography-obsessed vampire Otto Chriek.Meanwhile, a plot against the Patrician takes shape. The shadowy organization from Feet of Clay returns, now named as the Committee to Unelect the Patrician. They've obtained a lookalike for Lord Vetinari from Pseudopolis, and hired Mr Pin and Mr Tulip, the "New Firm" of hired thugs, to help them achieve their devious ends. It's up to William de Worde, with the help of Gaspode the Wonder Dog, to get to the bottom of their nefarious plot.Preceded by The Fifth Elephant, followed by Thief of Time.
Contains examples of:
Addiction Displacement: Otto replaces blood (and menacing well-endowed young women) with the capture of light, an odd choice for a vampire.
Ambiguous Syntax: The Ankh-Morpork Times takes a little while getting the hang of headlines. One reads, "Patrician Attacks Clerk With Knife! (He had the knife, not the clerk.)"
"The Truth Shall Make Ye Free!" (from the King James Bible). Initially appears to be a simple Running Gag as the printers keep misspelling it - successive editions having "... Shall Make Ye Fret", "...Shall Make Ye Frep" and "... Shall Make Ye Fred", yet it turns ominous when the edition that melts over Tulip and Pin reads "The Truth Shall Make Ye Fere"...
Also "A lie can run around the world before the truth has got its boots on" (which in Real Life was coined by James Watt, and used by Mark Twain and Winston Churchill among others)
Dog Bites Man.
Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: From the blurb - "William de Worde is the accidental editor of the Discworld's first newspaper. Now he must cope with the traditional perils of a journalists life - people who want him dead, a recovering vampire with a suicidal fascination for flash photography, some more people who want him dead in a different way and, worst of all, the man who keeps begging him to publish pictures of his humorously shaped potatoes."
William: I can see what it looks like. I'm still asking the question.
Man: I'm the butcher, as it happens. Well done. The baker's off sick.
Authority Equals Asskicking: Interestingly, even though it's specifically said that Big BadLord de Worde never gets his hands dirty with violence—he has men for that—he seems to be pretty good with a sword in the final confrontation. Of course, facing a vampire, that doesn't help him very much... William does mention several times that the one thing the de Wordes are expected to excel at is charging into battle.
Bad Habits: Mr. Pin dresses as an Omnian priest as a disguise, while Mr. Tulip dons a Vestigial Virgin's habit.
Beat Bag: Tulip never manages to buy any real drugs.
In a street where furtive people were selling Clang, Slap, Chop, Rhino, Skunk, Triplin, Floats, Honk, Double Honk, Gongers, and Slack, Mr. Tulip had an unerring way of finding the man who was retailing curry powder at what worked out as six hundred dollars a pound.
Begone Bribe: William pays his father a generous estimate of what it cost to raise him in order to sever any remaining ties between them. The money isn't the thing, as Lord de Worde has gold in his DNA, but instead is based on the Dwarfish tradition in which betrothed dwarves buy one another from their parents to symbolize their independence.
Foul Ole Ron and his crew are the masters of collecting Begone Bribes.
Berserk Button: William drops a scent bomb in front of Angua to throw her off his trail. As Gaspode informs him, "Vimes will go around the twist. He'll going to go totally Librarian-poonote ape-shit, the Unseen University librarian is an ape, long story. He's going to invent new ways of being angry to try it out on you."
We see Vimes looking after Angua as she recovers. Gaspode was not wrong. Fortunately for William, Vimes is The Fettered and can't do anything in recompense because his actions were technically not illegal. By the time of Night Watch, the practice is almost commonplace, although with less potent substances to prevent the Vengeance of Vimes.
Beware the Nice Ones/Beware the Silly Ones: Otto spends most of the book speaking in a VERY thick accent (even lampshades it by speaking cockney for a sentence), remenisces about Uberwäld and complains about shirts being ruined as they're covered in blood. Even in his Crowning Moment Of Awesome he's taking boxing stances and kissing people on the forehead.
A later novel strongly suggests that this is a deliberate act on Otto's part. He's SO silly and stereotypical that it's actually quite endearing and people forget that he's also got keen intelligence and supernatural powers. More importantly, they forget that vampires are scary.
Big Damn Heroes: Near the end of the novel William realizes that running off alone to confront the villain of the piece was maybe not his brightest move, even if it is his father. Fortunately for him, that's when Otto shows up.
Bond Villain Stupidity: Genre Savvy Mr. Tulip notices something is wrong when Mr. Pin fails to kill Mr. Slant (with fire, from which even a zombie would be hard-pressed to come back) and mutters something about "I think I shall let you live today."
Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: Sacharissa has been holding the fort while William's out, and when he comes back she tells him, "There's a man who's lost his watch, there's a troll who wants a job, there's a zombie who wants...well, I can't make out what he wants, oh, and there's someone who doesn't like what you wrote and wants to behead you."
Also, the (alleged) rain of dogs in Treacle Mine Road. ("It was just one dog!")
Hughnon Ridcully's Sidetracked by the Analogy moment comes up later in passing, when he starts telling everyone about the Patrician's "plan" to send shrimp by semaphore.
Buxom Is Better: Sacharissa is apparently extremely busty, and believes that a corset and a plain dress will tone those endowments down. They do not.
Bystander Syndrome: William is disappointed to learn that stories in "the public interest" (such as the plot against the Patrician) are not the same as stories the public is interested in (unlikely rumours, funny animals and such.)
Mr. Pin claims that he and "Sister Jennifer" work for the Bishop Horn Ministry to Animals. In The Fifth Elephant, Constable Visit preaches to the Watch's carrier pigeons, reasoning that the historical Bishop Horn had ministered to animals.
An incredibly subtle reference is Sacharissa Cripslock's father the engraver, who was referred to offhandedly back in Maskerade by the printer Mr Cropper (from Mr Goatberger's printing company), who in a Mythology Gag mentioned that he'd spelled "famine" with seven letters.
Deadpan Snarker: Boddony the dwarf. The vast majority of his dialogue consists of sarcastic remarks.
Death Equals Redemption: It helps if Death gives you a little post-mortem therapy to help with the redemption. However, as Mr. Pin finds out too late, redemption is only possible if you're sincere about your regret for your crimes...
First, he sees a perfect double for himself. It throws him off his game for just a second or two but that's enough for the New Firm.
Second, he's completely nonplussed by William's inquiry as to whether he'll be attending Harry King's daughter's wedding, until Drumknott fills him in on some details. To be fair, he had been unconscious for several days before that.
Does This Remind You of Anything?: The conspiracy lead by Lord de Worde(coordinated by the Committee to Un-Elect the Patrician) is clearly modelled after the Watergate scandal (coordinated by the Committee to Re-Elect the President) — to the point that Pin and Tulip literally enter the city through the Water Gate. The unravelling of the plot begins with a botched burglary (the Patrician's Palace, the DNC Headquarters) that requires a coverup far larger than the initial crime, a pair of rookie reporters (William and Sacharissa, Woodward and Bernstein) uncover a money trail that implicates politicians at the highest levels (Lord de Worde, Richard Nixon), and the most damning/exculpating evidence comes first from an anonymous tipster (Deep Bone who meets William in a multi-story livery stable, Deep Throat who meets the reporters in a parking garage) and later from secret audio recordings (the Disorganizer, the Oval Office tapes).
Empathic Environment: According to Otto, Uberwaldian weather is obliging enough to provide dramatic thunder after a portentous statement like "zer dark eyes of zer mind," so he's disappointed that Ankh-Morpork's environment doesn't care. It obliges at the climax, and once things are sorted, he invokes it joyfully.
Evil Lawyer Joke: William delivers one deadpan when attempting to prevent a fight between Goodmountain and his dwarfs and Mr Slant and his troll heavies:
William: Hold on, hold on, there must be a law against killing lawyers. Goodmountain: Are you sure? William: There're still some around, aren't there?
Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Lord DeWorde is horrified to learn that the New Firm tried to kill William. It doesn't stop him from trying to ship William to another continent to stop his interference, but it's the thought that counts.
Exact Words: Tuttle Scrope, who was earmarked to replace Vetinari, is head of the Guild of Shoemakers, Cobblers and Leatherworkers. His shop sells sex toys made from leather.
After the scene where the New Firm notice the reward posted for finding Vetinari's missing terrier Wuffles, Foul Ole Ron is seen breaking a sausage into three pieces instead of the normal two for him and Gaspode, hinting as to where Wuffles went.
One of Otto's dark light photographs hints at the fire that burns down the original offices of the Times and melts the lead in the press.
In a conversation about their respective motives, Goodmountain explains to William that he and Boddony came to Ankh-Morpork to earn each other's marriage prices: dwarf custom requires a prospective spouse to compensate their intended's parents for care and education costs, so that the newlyweds owe nothing to their families but pure gratitude note This does not preclude the parents actually owing a particularly industrious child net wages, or choosing to make a very generous wedding gift. William initially sees keeping track of familial obligations with literal debits and credits as overly cold and calculating. Later in the book, however, he indicates he'd be willing to buy himself free of his father's influences… to the tune of $20,000.
Good Thing You Can Heal: Otto gets decapitated, and it's only a minor inconvenience. His flash also reduces him to ashes several times; eventually he takes to carrying a vial of blood, which breaks on the ashes and revives him.
Have I Mentioned I Am a Dwarf Today?: One of the other residents opens his boiled egg... with a precise blow from a very small axe after hearing a racist remark from Mr. Windling. It illustrates how persistently foolish Mr. Windling must be, as there are mentions of the preparations for opening the boiled egg throughout the scene.
Hidden Depths: Due in part to his terrible childhood, where the only thing of any value in his village was the decorations in the church, Mr. Tulip has an excellent knowledge of art history and value. He can also gauge a gem's worth by sight.
Horrifying the Horror: A mutual version occurs when the New Firm visits Biers, the city's bar for the undead, in hopes of intimidating a werewolf into helping them track down Vetinari's terrier, Wuffles. Mr. Tulip's behavior has one of the residents asking if he's human, especially after he smashes a glass bottle against his head simply because he no longer needed it and putting it on a table was too much trouble. On the other side, when Mr. Pin asks the half-man, half-wolf to shift forms, the werewolf just gets bigger and hairier. The New Firm leave without their werewolf and feeling shook up — whilst the undead in Biers can be heard locking the door behind them, because they do not want Mr. Tulip coming back.
Hypocritical Humor: A subtle version, but when Vimes asks William who he's answerable to, William answers "The truth," and Vimes pointedly remarks on truth's lack of a fixed address/incentive to smack William in the face if he lies. Coming from Vimes, a man who gets on the nerves of Ankh-Morpork's upper crust mainly because, to paraphrase Rust in a previous book, he sees the law as "some sort of shining thing in the sky", that's pretty rich.
Interrupted Suicide: Subverted - the "jumper" was really just seeking attention, and has to save William when he faints from vertigo after climbing up to talk to him.
Ironic Echo: Once William's got his hands on a recording of "A lie can run around the world before the truth has got its boots on," he replays it, slightly shorter each time until all it says is "the truth has got its boots on."
He later tells his father "The truth has got its boots on. It's going to start kicking."
Let's Fight Like Gentlemen: When Otto rescues William from Lord de Worde's thug, he's childishly excited to "put zem up in traditional Ankh-Morpork puglism!" When they refuse and gang up on him with clubs, he expresses disappointment at their ungentlemanly behavior while One-Hit KOing them.
Like Father, Like Son: William doesn't appreciate the comparison. They're both arrogant, single-minded, stubborn jerks. But William tries not to be. Vocally. He's not always very good at it. Towards the end of the book William seems to have realized just how strongly he resembles his father and resolved to at least make constructive use of his arrogant single-minded stubbornness.
Literal Metaphor: One possible effect of Otto's dark light-using iconograph is to make metaphors real in the resulting pictures. When he takes a picture of William, it comes out as showing his father standing behind him looking over his shoulder.
London Gangster: Pin and Tulip. They fit the archetype, describe themselves as "the New Firm" and Ankh-Morpork is part London in its conception.
Goodmountain. It's a slightly altered English translation of Gutenberg.
The dwarfs Boddony and Caslong are named after the historic designers of typefaces Giambattista Bodoni and William Caslon (or the famous fonts that bear their names).
Mental Picture Projector: With a side-helping of Spooky Photographs: Otto's dark light pictures have... strange results, at various points showing two Vetinaris, silver rain underground, and William's father proverbially "staring over" his shoulder.
invokedName's the Same: There are brief mentions of two characters named Hermione (one a homeless beggar's dissociative personality, the other a daughter of a waste management businessman). The fourth Harry Potter book was just coming out as this novel was published.
And the waste management businessman, a product of a life spent up to the elbows in, er, waste, is called Harry...
Theres also Foul Ole Ron "Bugrit! Millennium hand and shrimp!"
Narrative Profanity Filter: Played with. At first it seems as though Mr Tulip's use of "----ing" is a 19th-century-style censoring of the F-word, but it turns out that what he's saying is actually just a glottal stop and then "Ing!" When Sacharissa decides to try out swearing, she clearly can't reproduce the glottal stop correctly.
William: Of all the bone-headed, stubborn, self-centered, arrogant—
Otto: But you make up for it in other vays.
William: I meant my father.
Not So Invincible After All: Mr Slant is a zombie and already dead, and has also escaped being involved with other anti-Vetinari plots in the past, so he has previously been presented as having Joker Immunity. Then we have a slowly, lovingly described scene where Mr Pin ties a burning rag to his spring-gonne and the text talks about how dry Mr Slant is...
Still a Karma Houdini for Slant, as William never actually turns in the recording to the police and Slant's only "punishment" is getting blackmailed into acting as the Times' lawyer. Possibly forever.
Pay Evil unto Evil: The majority of the protagonists' successful denouement involves taking the New Firm's payment for themselves and using it to pay all necessary bills, breaking into a rival's pressroom and holding him at crossbow-point, and plenty of blackmail.
Poor Communication Kills: The New Firm is much less effective than they should be because their employers neglected to mention a lot of things. They are not -ing happy about this.
Production Foreshadowing: Some of the first chapter's text (particularly the example of the fill-in-blanks letters home that William sells) was first published in The Discworld Companion nearly a decade earlier, ending in "it seems the future may hold great things for young de Worde". Evidently Terry Pratchett was planning this story for a long time.
That he was. The original working title for this book? Interesting Times, which ended up coming out as a vastly different book the same year as the first edition of the Companion.
Red Herring: The story introduces a new member of the Canting Crew of beggars, the multiple-personality-bearing Altogether Andrews. On his first appearance his personalities are listed and one of them, Burke, is mentioned with trepidation (the beggars saw him once and never want to see him again), which makes the reader think he will be involved later on. In fact nothing comes of this apparent Foreshadowing.
Reincarnation: Pin and Tulip both get this after death. Mr Tulip (who had Hidden Depths and true (though empty) belief and waited to reincarnate until he felt true repentance for his actions) comes back as a woodworm in William's antique desk, happily enjoying fine works as he did in his previous life. Mr Pin (who tried taking Tulip's symbol of belief and treated it as though it were a 'Get out of eternal punishment for being an evil git free card' without needing to repent) is reincarnated as a potato in his former likeness that was destined to fry.
Running Gag: Mr. Wintler and his humorously shaped vegetables, Sacharissa's chest size, typos of "The Truth Shall Make You Free", Mr. Tulip's abuse of the phrase "----ing" and bad habit of getting stuck with Beat Bags.
A Scientist Did it: When Vetinari wonders aloud what makes it so that frozen ink isn't as dark as unfrozen, Hughnon Ridcully waves it off with a vague "science, probably".
Harry King went from a poor kid who collected trash to sell to the owner of the largest waste processing center in the city.
William tries to be one, as he has renounced his father's wealth, but he still makes his living with the writing skills from his fancy expensive education.
Sewer Gator: Ace salesman CMOT Dibbler briefly peddles a kind of "Fung Shooey". He is so good at it that one buyer discovers the Dragon of Unhappiness literally comes up through a lavatory which has been celestially mis-aligned and bites the believer in the bum.
Shame If Something Happened: Vetinari at one point uses this phrase about William. Drumknott considers drafting a contract with the Guild of Assassins until he realizes Vetinari is using the phrase literally and isn't intending to cause any "something".
They call themselves the "New Firm," which has to be a reference to Neverwhere's "the Old Firm" (where there's a New, there must be an Old), though the characters themselves and the general idea behind them are based on a common archetype, not direct Expys.
A possible one to The Hobbit, as one character mentions one winter so cold the river froze, allowing wolves into the city (swerving from the story when it turns out the wolves were quickly killed and eaten).
Harry King's name may be a reference to E.G. Kingsford, who made his eponymous charcoal out of scrap wood from Henry Ford's factories.
Sidetracked by the Analogy: Vetinari begins talking to high priest Hughnon Ridcully about what a wondrous thing the Clacks are for communication, using an example with a merchant being able to order a cargo of prawns from Genua via clacks. Ridcully, thinking in a way common to the family, spends the rest of the conversation trying to figure out how the prawns would travel from tower to tower and starts wondering if possibly the claws allow them to grab on to the towers as they're tossed.
Small Name, Big Ego: Mr. Tulip and Mr. Pin, big time. They believe they are absolutely the latest, greatest thing in crime and that Ankh-Morpork's underworld is full of lily-livered amateurs. They never catch on that Ankh-Morpork is to evil and corruption what guns are to bullets and the only reason the city's criminals no longer try to upset the status quo is that is they're up against two of the most fearsome forces on the Disc: Vetinari's intelligence and Sam Vimes's dedication to the law.
Sacharissa's "It gives me the humorous vegetables" (Read: willies).
Mr Tulip describes a musical instrument thusly: "It's not a —ing harpsichord, it's a —ing virginal. One —ing string to a note instead of two! So called because it was an instrument for —ing young ladies!" to which the response is "My word, was it? I thought it was just of sort of early piano!" (also qualifies as Getting Crap Past the Radar. See also Verbal Tic below).
Stink Bomb: William deploys an epic one to incapacitate the Watch werewolf's nose.
Suicide By Sunlight: More like suicidal behavior involving sunlight which gets Otto disintegrated twice while taking flash iconographs.
Supreme Council Of Vagueness: The Committee to Unelect the Patrician (a reference to the Committee to Re-elect the President from the Watergate affair).
Sympathetic P.O.V.: From William's point of view, Vimes and the Watch are antagonists obstructing free speech, whereas in most previous Ankh-Morpork novels they've been the protagonists.
This gets even funnier several books later, when Moist considers William "a pompous windbag with a bum stuffed full of tweed." He likes Sacharissa, though. Vimes himself has a rant in Thud!! about how the Times seems to know about goings-on in the Watch almost before he does.
Pterry may be deliberately setting up three of Ankh-Morpork's most influential political voices (Commander Vimes, Moist von Lipwig, and William de Worde) to dislike and/or distrust one another, as this is how Vetinari always keeps power-blocks within his city from uniting to challenge his authority.
Vetinari: In return, however, I must ask you not to upset Commander Vimes... (cough) more than necessary.
William: I'm sure we can all pull together, sir.
Vetinari: Oh, I do hope not. I really do hope not. Pulling together is the aim of despotism and tyranny. Free men pull in all kinds of directions. It's the only way to make progress.
It helps that none of them want the top job. Vimes hates exercising or interacting with any kind of authority outside of the Watch. William says that there have been far worse rulers than Vetinari and fights to clear his name (and he wouldn't want to be Patrician because it would make him too much like his father). Moist throws himself in front of a pie because, as a known felon, he would not survive in a post-Vetinari city. Vetinari's installed powerful figures who both owe him their success and want him to stay exactly where he is.
Theme Naming: Many of the dwarf printers (aside from the leader Goodmountain, which is an Anglicization of Gutenberg) are named after fonts - Gowdie for Gaudy and Boddony for Bodoni, for instance.
Otto: You only have to talk to Villiam for any length of time to see that, in a vay, his father is alvays looking over his shoulder.
We Need a Distraction: As De Worde notes, a vampire flailing in pain because of his own flashbulb is always the center of attention.
The Worf Effect: Rocky is hired for stopping a barbarian tavern brawler attacking the staff. When Sacharissa goes to the de Worde estate, William tells her to bring Rocky for no particular reason. When they stumble upon the Vetinari double, Rocky gets punched unconscious by Tulip.
Rocky's lack of martial prowess is set up when he is first interviewed for a job. He tells William that he quit boxing because he kept getting knocked down.
Wrong Genre Savvy: Unusually, Vetinari. At the start (see Continuity Nod above) he confidently predicts that the printing press will have some sort of occult power behind it and will be a passing fad followed by Reset Button. But now the dynamic of the series has changed, and Medieval Stasis is slipping away, as noted by William de Worde at the end. Vetinari actually seems subtly disappointed when his predictions were dashed.
Given that the main question he asked was whether Dibbler had any part in the operation, it's likely that he wasn't so much Wrong Genre Savvy as Multiple Genre Savvy: he knows that if Dibbler gets involved, everything goes to hell. If an industry starts up without Dibbler's participation, as with the clacks, it's probably okay, so his questions about curses could've been asked merely to determine which genre applied.