Continuing my occasional series as I work my way through the late Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, one novel at a time.
This week’s entry is on the 26th book: Thief of Time.
First Appearance: Ronnie Soak, milkman and former fifth horseman of the Apocalypse
Introduced to Discworld: humanity to the Auditors
Plot: Once again, the Auditors are out to end the world since life makes things so chaotic and messy. This time, and time is the operative word here, they come up with a plan to have a young clockmaker build a clock that actually keeps accurate time. To do so, one Auditor becomes a human woman to commission the youth to build a clock that would actually stop time.
As it stands, some folks won’t go along with this. Death, for one, sees something is up and recruits his reluctant granddaughter Susan to look into things. This is relatively easy to do when Death points out that there is another person out there who is the offspring of an immortal personification. In this case, Time (a woman in human form) had a son by a mortal man, and that fellow will be instrumental in stopping the Auditors…again. Seriously, the Auditors never learn.
Furthermore, the History Monks are on the case. Lu-Tze, a sweeper in their monastery, has just been given an apprentice in the form of a talented-but-undisciplined young man named Lobsang Ludd, formerly a member of the Ankh-Morpork Thieves Guild. Lu-Tze is a legend for some reason, but not actually a monk. The Monks suspect someone is building a glass clock–again. Seriously, people never learn either.
Can Susan, Lu-Tze, Lobsang, and Death stop the Auditors from stopping the clock by starting another one?
Commentary: While there are a host of Discworld books left, at this point Pratchett started to move away from most of his established characters to work on new ones. The City Watch will still be around, but there aren’t any more Death novels. Just as with Rincewind and the Witches, Pratchett moved on to other works, mostly a series of one-shots, the con man Moist VonLipwig, and the young witch Tiffany Aching. Death himself will continue to appear in various books, but Susan does not to my recollection appear again.
That may or may not be for the best. Susan here is limited to a supporting role. While she is instrumental in saving the day, without any help from the Death of Rats, the real stars here are the History Monks. Lu-Tze had a minor, seemingly negligible role in Small Gods, so here he and his organization get more of a spotlight. Lu-Tze is one of those classic con artist types. He has a legend built around him based off deeds that he performed, but the real man seems much less impressive, a man who gets what he needs through talking his way out of situations rather than using the various time-bending martial arts that everyone expects he knows. The comedic, indeed expected, finale shows he actually does know these techniques, but prefers not to use them since his reputation and various other skills tend to mean he rarely has to hit anybody.
That said, I didn’t find the History Monks all that interesting. I think perhaps I’ve reached Pratchett-saturation, where I’ve read too many of these books in short succession, or it could just be Pratchett’s best books are behind him at this point. I know there are a few left I’ve never read before, so we’ll see how that all works out.
Meanwhile, Death has to get the Four Horseman together to ride out for another Apocalypse. Unfortunately, Pestilence, Famine, and War have all been influenced by humans and don’t ride out right away for various reasons. There is the fifth horseman, Kaos, who left the group before they got famous, and Lu-Tze is actually instrumental in getting him to help out.
But really, the Auditors may make this book what it is. Taking human forms for the first time, the Auditors find the sensations of not sharing a hive mind and having emotions and the other sensations that come from having a body rather disturbing, but none of them want to quit. The first, taking the name Lady LeJean (it sounds like “legion”), rebels against the others and helps save the day, but something about killing a human-shaped Auditor with chocolate seems a wee bit silly even for Pratchett, and almost reduces the characters to video game villains. Chocolate is such a taste sensation that the Auditor-in-human-form can’t take it and promptly die of overstimulation. This comes in handy when dealing with ones that don’t take the adjustments very well.
One minor highlight of this book is a guest appearance by Nanny Ogg as the midwife who delivers Time’s son. Seeing her from the outside makes for an interesting turn, though when one of Susan’s students (she teaches first grade from the looks of things here) writes about Nanny’s lessons later, it sure does sound like the Nanny Ogg readers know.
And while Susan may not appear again, Pratchett does end her in a good place, giving her a “perfect moment” with Time’s son. She’s far too practical to go for more than that, but she does probably deserve some sort of send-off.
NEXT BOOK: Wow, one I’ve never read before, and only available in print…Cohen the Barbarian is looking for one last adventure. Too bad his new one might destroy the world. Be back here soon for the illustrated Discworld Fable The Last Hero. It’s listed as a Rincewind book in places, and he is on the cover, but flipping through it, I am not so sure about that.
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