City Watch Re-Read: Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett (1996)

This post is part of the City Watch re-read by NCA’s Gav aka @gavreads

Feet of Clay

I didn’t think I’d be starting this review by talking about Cheery Littlebottom but life is full of random asides. Part of the appeal of a Terry Pratchett book is his use of fantasy to look at society and its quirks. Sometimes he tackles serious subjects like Death (who as a character isn’t that serious) and sometimes Pratchett challenges your assumptions with a mallet, or in this case lipstick.

You see on the Discworld dwarfs look male, at least from a human perspective where only males can grow beards, they all look like your typical bearded dwarf, which was pointed in Guards! Guards!:

All dwarfs have beards and wear up to twelve layers of clothing. Gender is more or less optional.

But Cheery wants to be seen as feminine and she slowly starts altering the way she presents herself to the world. What’s nice to see in a fantasy story, especially by a man, is an obvious bias in fantasy getting looked at. 

What’s great about the Watch is that they are made up of all kinds of people who take on the mantel of Watchman which then gels them altogether and overrides some of their natural weariness around each other, which rather than stiffing their differences allows them to be explored.

The main thrust of Feet of Clay centres around two whodunits: one involves the death of an old man and the other is another attempt on the life of Patrician. Both are used by Pratchett to explore things. I think that’s what makes the Discworld such a rich playset because not only does Pratchett tell a pretty good story he goes further and uses that to take a sideways look at our world.

Throughout most of the story the Patrician lays ill taking part in a box-room mystery as others in power decide if it’s a good or bad thing for him to die. I’ll let you read and find out what they think of him. But what this does allow is scenes with Vimes, the Captain of the Watch (who is descended from the Vimes who dethroned the last King and has inherited his relatives issues with authority), and those conversations are always worth a read. As is learning why they are trying to poison him.

The mystery of the old man involves the golems (those clay feet of the title) who are seen as automatons rather than people though that opinion is challenged as the story progresses.

There are other threads like Coats of Arms, Corporal Nobbs celebrating good news, more on the relationship between Captain Carrot and Constable Angua, oh and the history of dwarf bread to name a few.

What you get from Feet of Clay is two good whodunits and a sideways look at life without feeling that your being lectured to.

I enjoyed this re-read. I’m a bit reluctant to read Jingo next. I remember it not being as good as Guards! Guards! or this one. But  I really can’t remember it so I’m hoping I’ll be presently surprised. Though as I’ve just got the new Collector’s Library edition of Mort I’m tempted to read some Death books as I’ve never finished Mort and I had a long period of reading Hogfather every Christmas so maybe it’s time to do that again? 

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Reviews of the first two titles, Guards! Guards! Men at Armsare on GavReads.co.uk

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