Continuing my occasional series as I work my way through the late Sir Terry Pratchett’s delightful Discworld series, one novel at a time.
This week’s entry is the 25th book, The Truth.
First Appearance: William de Worde, and the dedicated staff of the Ankh-Morpork Times.
Introduced to Discworld: Newspapers
Plot: By a series of weird accidents, young William de Worde, estranged son of Lord de Worde, finds himself going from a news correspondent to various foreign bigwigs on the comings and goings of Ankh-Morpork to head of the city’s first newspaper. His staff includes the granddaughter of his old engraver, a bunch of dwarves who own and operate the press machine, a troll who acts as a doorman, and a vampire photographer who somtimes turns to dust if the flash is too bright.
It turns out there’s trouble afoot when a pair of thugs, Mr. Pin and Mr. Tulip, come to the city looking to make some money off a long plot involving replacing Lord Vetinari as the city’s Patrician. Who hired them? What is their plan? Why does Mr. Tulip keep saying “__ing” as a random adjective?
Normally, the whole crime would be a job for the Watch, but the Watch can’t find any clues. So, it somehow falls to William and the rest of the Ankh-Morpork Times staff to save the day, especially when the vital clues may be in the paws of the Patrician’s missing dog, Wuffles.
Commentary: Pratchett had some books that don’t really fit into the other cycles quite so easily. This one is one of them. Sometimes referred to as the “Industrial Revolution” series, a new technology often comes to Ankh-Morpork and the city gets caught up in it. In this case, the technology is newspapers, and while the Times prides itself on its integrity, the rival Inquirer outsells them with supermarket tabloid-style material.
Generally, these books bring in one-off characters until Pratchett came up with Moist von Lipwig, so this novel is the one chance the readers have to get to know William de Worde and the others. I believe William may cameo here and there in the Watch books, but he never really gets another starring role. Pratchett even uses the series’ history to site other examples from works like Moving Pictures and Soul Music when the Patrician comes to the Times office to make sure there’s not chance the printing press will come to life and nearly destroy the city, as has happened many times in the past.
Pratchett makes the most of these characters most likely not getting another starring role. William is the estranged son of an aristocrat. He loves words and all but worships the truth. Watching him start up his newspaper often leads to confusion from the city’s powerful when they realize William is writing things down and putting them in the newspaper. Many seem to be under the impression that William isn’t really allowed to do that. Except, there’s nothing illegal, so many quickly learn to fear him.
One fellow who really doesn’t come to fear him is Commander Vimes of the Watch. The Watch gets a decent supporting role here, which gives the reader an interesting view of them. Vimes is usually the protagonist of his own novels. He’s not a bad guy here, but William clearly doesn’t want to deal with him all that often. When Vimes suggests late in the book the two are on the same side, William replies that no, they aren’t. They’re on different sides with the same objective. Seeing Vimes in a more antagonistic role is a nice change of pace. Vimes is never the enemy, but the relationship between the Watch and the Times is clearly uneasy.
In other respects, I couldn’t bring myself to really get into Mr. Pin and Mr. Tulip. Pratchett sometimes gives a character a distinctive verbal tick that the character can’t stop using, and often I find it more annoying than funny. Mr. Tulip drops an “__ing” every few words, and it doesn’t really do much for me, especially since the temptation there is to fill in the blank. The two also seem way too evil for a standard Discworld series. That at least half of the “New Firm” gets what is coming to him at the end makes up for this a little. They also seemed a bit too competent, truth be told. That competence flies out the window eventually, but they seemed far too dark for this series for my liking.
One thing Pratchett does for certain is confirm that the talking dog living with the lowest beggars in the city is, in fact, Gaspode. That’s been hinted since it seems unlikely that there would be a second talking dog in the city, but here its confirmed that the fellow who does the coherent talking for Foul Ole Ron and the others is the same dog that sometimes helps the Watch. He sure did get back from Uberwald in a timely manner since he was there during the adventures of The Fifth Elephant. That Pratchett uses him to parody All the President’s Men is an especially nice touch.
And yeah, if there’s a new business venture in town, you know Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler is involved somewhere. It’s a mild surprise he’s not trying to run the newspaper. The Patrician even doublechecks that during his visit at the start of the book.
NEXT BOOK: A rogue History Monk wants to build the perfect clock. That would be bad for the time stream. Its up to Death and the other History Monks to put a stop to this. Be back soon for Thief of Time.
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