The 26th Discworld novel. The fifth in the Death/Susan theme, although they are not the protagonists of the story.The Auditors of Reality are at it again. This time, they plot to stop time and therefore all the messiness of life, freezing it perfectly. To do so, they approach a driven, unstable watchmaker called Jeremy Clockson - so called because he was a foundling of the Clockmaker's Guild - to build, or rather rebuild, the Glass Clock of Bad Schüschein. This Clock, built by a Mad Scientist, previously stopped time briefly before breaking and then shattered history, causing the History Monks to have to put it back together imperfectly (and incidentally explaining all the Discworld series' continuity errors). Its existence survives only in a fairytale and the memory of an Igor, the grandson of the one who helped build the Clock. In order to interact with Jeremy, an Auditor makes a human body and inhabits it under the alias Lady Myria Lejean, but in the process finds herself losing her former nature and becoming addicted to life.Meanwhile, another foundling called Lobsang Ludd has been taken away by the History Monks and is taught their disciplines - chiefly chronological kung fu. A difficult but know-it-all student, he is apprenticed to Lu-Tze (from Small Gods), spoken of with fear yet claiming to be only a simple sweeper, and thus outside the system. Via their Mandala, the monks learn of the attempt to reconstruct the Glass Clock, and know that this time there's no hope of repairing history if it strikes. Merely a birth pang of the coming doom causes the room of Procrastinators (time manipulating machines) to go haywire, yet Lobsang somehow instinctively calms them. Lu-Tze, who failed to stop the first clock, is put on the case by the Abbot, a serial reincarnator currently in the body of a baby. He and Lobsang journey down towards Ankh-Morpork...Preceded by The Truth, followed by Night Watch.
Thief of Time provides examples of:
Against My Religion: Used by an (unusually creative) Auditor to explain his irrational behavior while disguised as a human.
Animals Lack Attributes: Invoked when Susan takes a paper tube away from Jason and informs the boy that, no, the cardboard animal which the class is constructing is a polite horse. Possibly a reference to a 20th century joke campaign to clothe animals: "A nude horse is a rude horse!" was their slogan.
Anthropomorphic Personification: Time; it had previously been hinted in an earlier version of the Discworld Companion that she was female, because "Time waits for no man"... except Wen.
Arc Words: Lu-Tze reminding everyone of Rule One, which is "Never act incautiously when facing a small wrinkly bald smiling old man!" He proves it by beating the tar out of the new personification of Time.
"Rule 19: "Always remember Rule One and ask yourself, why was it created in the first place?
Berserk Button: Discussed towards the end of the novel as part of a discussion about little "exceptions to the rules". Soto's exception to his general pacifism? "Not the hair."
Bittersweet Ending: For LeJean/Unity, since she decides to kill herself rather than live as an insane auditor trying to be human once she stops the invasion. Death considers it a waste of her potential, but we do see that unlike the other auditors she has earned a soul.
Brick Joke: More like a convoluted way to get to a 'perfect moment.' At the start of the book, it's mentioned that the history and lead-up to a 'perfect moment' is not straightforward. At the very end of the book, Susan and Lobsang have their 'perfect moment.'
Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Soto - one of the best field agents the Monks of Time have - refuses to cut his hair, as he believes it to be a separate entity that simply happens to live on his head. At least, he claims to believe it anyway.
Call Back: Lu-Tze and the Abbot first appear as minor characters in Small Gods. Young monks hanging around Mrs. Cosmopilite's dress shop to seek enlightenment was a gag reference in Witches Abroad.
Clockwork Creature: One of Igor's previous insane masters constructed a "ticktock man" from wires and springs, programmed with hole-punched paper tape. It could sweep the floor and make a cup of tea, unless it bumped something - in which case it broke the furniture and made a cup of enraged cat.
Colour Coded Timestop: Not only the passages in which time is sliced are described as having weird colours, Lobsang eventually confirms that there are scrolls explaining how the world changes its colours as time is sliced.
And the reduced speed of light on Discworld - just 600 mph - makes the effect visible at even mild time slices.
Colourful Theme Naming: Thanks to Lejean blurting something out upon first introducing them, the other Auditors are all named Mr or Miss [Colour] — possibly a Shout-Out to Reservoir Dogs. Or else a shout-out to the British board game Cluedo (named Clue in the American version), with characters named "Colonel Mustard", "Reverend Green", "Miss Scarlett", "Dr. Black", etc.
The naming convention of the incarnated Auditors also has a certain resemblance to the Strangers from Dark City.
The theme of Auditors in human form all dressing in monochrome grey — grey clothes, grey hats, grey shoes — might be a homage to the Grey Gentlemen in Michael Ende's fantasy novel Momo, published in 1973 (alternative titles in English were The Grey Gentlemen or The Men in Grey). The villanous (and non-human) Grey Gentlemen were also called "time thieves" because they stole time from humans by persuading them to "save" time and deposit it in the Grey Gentlemen's time banks to be paid back with interest at an unspecified date.
Refer also to Michael Moorcock. In his scifi novel The Final Countdown, time-travelling hero Jerry Cornelius - another J.C. - is duped by his adversary Miss Brunner into helping to devise a supercomputer that puts a stop to human history - ending effectively the passage of time...
Continuity Nod: In reference to the Continuity Snarl mentioned below, Lu-Tze points out several issues that fans have pointed out over the years about Discworld continuity as examples of problems caused by the new patchwork history. For example, there's the opera house/theatre business and the fact that Ephebe's philosophers are so long-lived (they appear both in Pyramids and Small Gods, set about a century earlier). Also a Fandom Nod.
Leafing through his book of Memories, Death pauses when he turns to a recollection of xylophone music. In Soul Music, the raven snarks to Susan that ordinary children get given xylophones, they don't play music on their grandfather's ribcage.
Susan asks if Lobsang has "rhythm in his soul", a reference to Soul Music.
Continuity Snarl: In-universe example, this is what happened to Discworld history after the first Glass Clock struck and the History Monks were unable to completely repair it. There's even a Shout-Out to specific continuity errors fans have previously pointed out, such as some characters crossing over between Pyramids and Small Gods despite the books taking place decades apart (... probably) and the setting up of a Shakespearean-style theatre being new and radical in Wyrd Sisters when it turns out that the city has had a Victorian-style opera house for many years in Maskerade.
Crystal Dragon Jesus: Readers with an eastern philosophy bent will quickly notice that "Order of Wen the Eternally Surprised" — a.k.a. the History Monks — is Buddhism with a dash of Taoism thrown in for taste. Wen is even the name of the mythological author of the I Ching, an important Taoist/Buddhist book. (In this case, Wen falling in love with Time is probably a subtle pun.)
Defector from Decadence: Lejean decides to stop the other Auditors' plan after experiencing the sensations and thoughts that come with being alive.
Don't Touch It, You Idiot!: This book provided the page quote. Also the reaction of Qu when Lobsang starts picking up things in his workshop.
Dramatic Slip: This causes the second half of the plot. Lobsang and Lu-Tze were running to reach the Glass Clock before it struck and would have made it if not for this trope. The stupidity is later lampshaded:
I'm sorry? You were dashing to prevent the end of the world but you stopped to help some old man? You... hero!
Eldritch Abomination: Rarely for a late Discworld novel, the Things from the Dungeon Dimensions are mentioned, as statues in the History Monks' garden (they call them dhlang, demons). An Auditor statue is among them and called the most dangerous of them all, despite its unassuming appearance.
Element Number Five: As in the previous book, it is said that on the Disc the Fifth Element is "Surprise". Fitting the number, Lu-Tze has a 'Garden of Five Surprises' which Lobsang attempts to puzzle out after only finding four of them. He's convinced it's some meta explanation like Lu-Tze himself being the fifth surprise, but the actual fifth surprise is just a cheap carnival mask Lu-Tze puts on with a "Boo!" "I never said it was a good surprise..."
Eureka Moment: For the first six Auditors to become human after Lady Lejean is trying to stop the clock. For beings who hated imagination and could never lie, the way they countered her attempts to stop them were quite impressive.
Fantastic Time Management: The title character can make time flow faster or slower for himself relative to the world around him. He regularly uses this ability for mundane everyday schedule management. (And for stealing things.)
Foreshadowing: Lu-Tze reminds the abbot of how, traditionally, an apprentice sets off into the world with his master, to find his Way and, eventually, himself. Lobsang finds himself literally, as well as the Way home to Time's glass halls.
Funny Background Event: Myria LeJean/Unity in the museum; she uses a family of squatters as furniture, even offering Susan and Lobsang to "pull up a child and have a seat."
G-Rated Drug: The Auditors eventually become somewhat addicted to life; narrowing their senses down to five is easy-peasy, but they are unprepared for the sheer intensity of them. It literally drives them insane.
War: Do I like rabbit? Mrs. War: Yes, dear. War: I though I liked beef. Mrs. War: No, dear. Beef gives you wind. War: Oh. Any chance of onions? Mrs. War: You don't like onions, dear. War: I don't? Mrs. War: Because of your stomach, dear. War: Oh. Erm... dear, do I ride out for Apocalypses? Mrs. War: No, dear. You always come down with a cold. War: I thought I rather, er, sort of liked that sort of thing? Mrs. War: No, dear. You don't. War: Perhaps I would like a beer? Mrs. War: You don't like beer, dear. War: I don't? Mrs. War: No, it brings out your trouble. War: Ah. Uh, how do I feel about brandy? Mrs. War: You don't like brandy, dear. You like your special oat drink with the vitamins.
He's Back: Kaos becomes Chaos, which is something the auditors loathe, allowing the horsemen to finally turn the tide.
Historical In-Joke: One of Lobsang's instructors recounts to the Abbot how, in an attempt to embarass Lobsang into paying attention, he challenged the boy to solve the problem on the blackboard; only Lobsang was looking at the wrong problem, and instead solved part of a lesson that had been impossible even for the advanced students who it had been intended for. This is more or less what happened to George Dantzig in 1939 when he was a graduate student at Berkeley; he arrived late to a statistics class one day and scrawled down what he assumed was part of his homework assignment. Six weeks after he turned it in, his professor came to him and told him he'd solved two rather famous unsolved problems that had been giving mathematicians trouble for years.
Human Mail: Jeremy gets an Igor mailed to him in a box.
The Igor: Or rather an Igor. The Auditors hire one to assist Jeremy in making the clock.
I Know Kung-Faux: Several techniques are named, including Okidoki, Upsi-Dasi, and the mystical Déjà Fu. That last one's real.
Individuality Is Illegal: A number of Auditors takes human form and individual names, a venture that ends in bloodshed and chaos, with the last survivor deciding to commit suicide in a vat of chocolate.
Let's Get Dangerous: Death rides out to gather the Horsemen for the coming Apocalypse, but finds that each of them has, in some way, been rendered effectively useless by the qualities they acquired from being an Anthropomorphic Personification. The trope comes when they actually come to Death's aid, along with ex-Horseman Chaos, and War pushes his image as a Henpecked Husband aside (to his Valkyrie wife's nostalgic delight) to show that they're every bit as dangerous as they were prophesied to be. See Loophole Abuse for what happens next.
Logic Bomb: Used by Lejean/Unity against the orderly-minded Auditors, such as signs that point right but say "Keep Left" and signs that read "Ignore This Sign — By Order", and "Do Not Feed the Elephant" when there is no elephant.
Not to mention going metaphysical when she puts up a sign that says "Duck" when there's no reason to duck.
And no waterfowl in sight either.
The Auditors finally find a way around it by creating the new category of orders that are "bloody stupid" and thus don't have to be followed, after taking heavy losses.
Loophole Abuse: Used by the Horsemen in the climax, as they decide to fight the Auditors on humanity's behalf:
Death:Nowhere does it say to whom we must ride out against.
Mad Scientist: Jeremy Clockson, though he's described as being too sane rather than not sane enough.
Only by himself. Igor considers it to be just another type of crazy.
Magic Feather: The portable procrastinator, but only for Lobsang: he makes his own time since he's Time's son.
Merger of Souls: Lobsang Ludd and his not-quite-twin brother Jeremy Clockson. The really weird truth, when it comes out, is that they are not twins at all but the same soul born twice due to a temporal anomaly (their mother is the anthropomorphic personification of Time, and her labour got a bit strange, despite the best midwife in the Discworld being present). The two half-souls are allowed to fuse together towards the end of the book, with Lobsang dominating, so as to take over the job of running Time from their mother.
It shows up Lobsang, who assumes the Way is more mystical, when Lu-Tze manages to use the Way to ignore the cold by wearing a masterfully crafted pair of longjohns made by Mrs. Cosmopolite. Lu-Tze is later called a master at seeing "the wisdom hidden in plain sight."
Chaos (Ronnie Soak) has an impossibly cold sword, and, like Death, the ability to be where he needs to be. He uses the sword to keep milk cold, and the ability to deliver milk and dairy products to everyone in Ankh-Morpork. Every day. At precisely 7 AM. Everywhere.
Susan, as part of her inherited powers from being Death's Granddaughter, can stop time for herself. She mentions this power is great for grading her students' work. She also uses the compelling voice to get some time off. The voice, however, won't be able to get her a pay raise.
No Medication for Me: Jeremy takes medicine to make sure he doesn't become "too sane", but then decides he thinks better without it.
Noodle Incident: Whatever Jeremy did to that guy who kept his watch fast. He has medicine now.
It's mentioned in passing that Susan has met the Tooth Fairy, the Soul Cake Duck, and Old Man Trouble. The Tooth Fairy encounter took place in Hogfather, and Old Man Trouble patronizes Biers like Susan does, but the Soul Cake Duck has yet to appear in any Discworld novel.
Oh Crap: When the Sweeper and Lobsang cut through a dojo as a shortcut, one of the students angrily stops him and challenges him to a fight when the Sweeper won't leave. Then the Sweeper introduces himself to the student, triggering this reaction.
Lu-Tze: My name is Lu-Tze. Student: Oh shee... oh shee-yit...
Old Master: Played with. Lu-Tze has a fearsome reputation among the History Monks as a powerful warrior, but over the course of the story, he reveals that most of his feats are accomplished by simple trickery. Then he puts a physical embodiment of time in a submission hold.
Order Versus Chaos: Comes down on the side of chaos, because life and emotion and free will are disorderly: that's why the auditors want to destroy it.
Reality Is Unrealistic: Lobsang witnesses a sunrise in colors (like "surgical-appliance pink") that no artist would be caught dead using in a painting of a sunrise.
Renowned Selective Mentor: Everyone is shocked when Lobsang becomes the apprentice of Lu-Tze The Sweeper. Even if they don't recognise The Sweeper in person, they are shocked by his rep, and because he never takes apprentices anymore. In fact Lobsang's apprenticeship is a punishment posting for both of them in different ways.
Rogue Drone: Lady Myria LeJean. Once she picks up a physical body, a name, and a gender, she starts seeing life as less of a blight on the perfection of the universe.
Save Scumming: The yetis have avoided extinction (three times) by working out how to perform what amounts to a quicksave and reload. Lu-Tze learned it from them later.
Schizo Tech: A key part of the backstory — when the monks repaired history, they did a somewhat patchwork job. In fact, this book manages to Hand Wave every single instance of Schizo Techin the entire Discworld series by outright stating that all of the inconsistencies were created when the time stream was essentially pieced back together by little men in robes wielding glue-sticks.
According to Pratchett, he only realized who Soak really was a minute or two before Lu-Tze did, and ran into a bathroom with a pen and a piece of paper to check to see if it was recognizeable when it's mirrored.
Secret Art: Deja fu. The monks don't know it because Lu-Tze hasn't taught them.
Lu-Tze's line after figuring out Kaos' identity is a reference to a famous Rolling Stones song.
"Jeremy Clockson" is almost certainly a pun on Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear, though the two don't share anything apart from the name (and, possibly, a fascination with engineering). This is debated here on the L-Space Wiki. It may be another case of Tuckerisation?
Alternatively, another J.C. who is described as a chrononaut on the seas of Time is Michael Moorcock's Jerry Cornelius. And Moorcock's novel The Final Countdown sets Jerry Cornelius against an Auditor-like nemesis called Miss Brunner (cf "Miss Brown") who also uses him to help build a machine that brings Time and therefore history to a dead stop.
And Jeremy and Jerry are variations on the Biblical name Jeremiah - a harbinger and a prophet of bad news, hailed by Christians as one of the Biblical prophets of the End Times, ie the end of human history in the Apocalypse.
The stance used to stop falling is called Stance of the Coyote, anybody else reminded of a certain cartoon coyote?
Lu-Tze being a simple sweeper might also be a Shout-Out to the wuxia novel Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils, where the most powerful character is a sweeping monk in the Shaolin temple who only appears in a few scenes and is never named.
His name is also a distortion of Lao Tzu, the legendary founder of Taoism.
The Procrastinators are so called after the saying that "procrastination is the thief of time".
Death breaks it to the Angel of the Prophecy of Tobrun that the Omnian Church has written him out of canon, deciding that the prophecy was actually a metaphor for the struggles of the early Church, which is a reference to a similar controversy over the Biblical Book of Revelation.
In the same vein, the idea of Kaos being the Fifth Horseman and riding in a chariot stems from a controversy over whether, when the Book of Revelation says "And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him", is this a description, or is Hell (or Hades) supposed to be a separate entity, making five in total?
Kaos' helmet has eye-slits that look like butterflies' wings, in a reference to the Butterfly Effect in chaos theory (which was also mentioned in Interesting Times) and/or the shape of the Lorenz attractor◊.
Super Reflexes: The History Monks use "slicing time" to give themselves enhanced perception and response. Lobsang was taken by the monks because he could do this despite being untrained in their arts.
Technician Versus Performer: Though timekeeping is not exactly an art form, this describes Jeremy and Lobsang's differences to a T. Note how high-strung and terrifying exact the "technician" Jeremy is, while Lobsang is such a performer half the time he has no idea what he even is doing, but his talent is spilling over everywhere.
That Makes Me Feel Angry: The Auditors in human form reporting their emotions without knowing the term for it. Including pain...
Theme Naming: The Auditors with colours, so much so that they run out of colours and start calling themselves Mr. Taupe, for example.
Third Line, Some Waiting: The main plot focuses on Lobsang/Lu Tze and Jeremy/Igor/Lady LeJean, with Susan and Death as C-plots.
Time Stands Still: Deconstructed with slicing — a small pocket of space around the slicer is still subject to the ordinary passage of time, so it is necessary to move around so that the air around you doesn't get used up and cause you to suffocate. Also, touching a fast-moving object like a crossbow bolt is a really bad idea.
Further deconstructed when it's mentioned that this is what happens when you do it right. If you screw up slicing, your sorry-ass feet get sliced to ribbons on the grass. And then you suffocate.
And then there's what happens if you master the basics and try to go for the high-level stuff. Going for the sweet spot at high slicing levels (where there's a valley in the energy required) and missing is not recommended. The guy who discovered the first valley theorised there existed another, even closer to the point at which no human would survive. It's still only a theory because, attempting to discover it, he imploded.
Title Drop: "So easily does a thief of time repay his debts!"
Tuckerization: While the book was being written, a chance to appear in the book as a character was offered as a prize in a charity auction. The winner, Marcus Soto, appears as a history monk (the one with the Hair).
Uncertain Doom: Because no one knows what happens after death if the Glass Clock kills you.
Unusual Euphemism: One of the Auditors starts spouting absolutely ---ingorganic modifiers and interjections after discovering how unpleasant it is to have a body and failing to express her frustration through normal human expletives.
World's Most Beautiful Woman: Assuming she qualified as a woman at all, Myria LeJean/Unity. Though they don't really get human standards of beauty, the Auditors copied her features from what was considered the most beautiful painting of a woman in the world ('Woman Holding a Ferret', a reference to 'Lady With an Ermine'), then improved upon them by erasing imperfections, adjusting symmetry, that sort of thing. One can't help but picture Photoshop or something as applied to reality.
You Can't Thwart Stage One: Lobsang has to try and outrun a lightning bolt about to hit the glass clock, which would stop the flow of time. He fails, time stops and the auditors plan succeeds. The heroes must now work to set things right again.