Weird time for Death to show up, but then I supposed he’s always around…
The Silver Horde try to corner a tax collector into giving them a tour of the Forbidden City. Rincewind and Twoflower talk about the beliefs of the Red Army and Twoflower explains that this is about their myths on how history is cyclical. The original Great Wizard of the story supposedly flew a kite that captured lightning and animated an army of clay. Someone unlocks Rincewind’s cell and the guard on the other side is dead. Rincewind releases Twoflower and the other prisoners, two of whom turn out to be Butterfly and Lotus Blossom—who turn out to be Twoflower’s daughters. Rincewind tries to bring up who their mother might be, but the thought makes Twoflower angry. Butterfly decides that since they have been freed, they should try to storm the city, even if it gets them all killed. The taxman, Six Beneficent Winds, leads the horde to a spot where they’re ambushed by ninjas. The Silver Horde handily defeats them because they’re quite old; they’ve made a career of not dying, so they’re rather good at it by now. Saveloy recruits Winds to their cause as an accountant. The Silver Horde becomes irate when they learn that Saveloy dressed them as eunuchs to smuggle them in.
Rincewind wants to know exactly what the Red Army plans to do once they’ve deposed the Emperor and had their revolution. Butterfly insists that there will be people’s governance, and Rincewind guesses that means that peasants won’t really be allowed to govern themselves. He wants to lead the group out because the situation is too convenient—the guards are all dead, weapons are lying around, there’s a map to the Emperor’s chambers. He tries to get them to go back to their cells while he scouts around, but Butterfly insists on coming with him because she doesn’t trust him. The horde bathes and then makes their way to the throne room as Rincewind and Butterfly continue their investigation and things get more suspicious. He tries to explain that they’re being set up, and when they finally come upon the Emperor’s room, this bears out—he’s already dead. But there are also a lot of guards, so he has to run for it, but someone is catching up to him. In the meantime, the Silver Horde makes it to the throne room and reveals their true plan: to steal the kingdom by installing Cohen as the new Emperor, since most people have no idea what the man looks like anyway.
The person keeping pace with Rincewind’s running turns out to be Butterfly. They split up and Rincewind continues on, waking up a room full of wrestlers and other folks on the way. It turns out that Two Fire Herb is a traitor who has been working with Lord Hong this whole time—the plan was to frame the Red Army for the Emperor’s death, but things are not going to plan as none of the Red Army is currently wandering to the Emperor’s chambers as planned. The Horde meets with the court and asks whomst among them would be fool enough to say that Cohen isn’t the Emperor (and die). They all agree to the new state of things. Rincewind finally realizes that he can hide better if he changes, and pulls on peasant garb to fool the guards chasing him. The Silver Horde starts planning to loot the place and make off, but Cohen wonders if they shouldn’t stay like Saveloy intended. Meanwhile, Lord Hong goes to the kitchen and poisons the meat meant to be served to the Horde. Thankfully, Rincewind is posing as a kitchen worker and sees the whole thing, so he warns Cohen, and lets him know who did it. This starts a fight wherein the barbarians finally decide that they don’t much like civilization (Cohen included, who had originally been in on Saveloy’s plan) and don’t want any part of this scheme. Saveloy is deeply disappointed in their throwing away the chance to accomplish something “real.”
The Silver Horde aren’t concerned about odds and plan to fight their way out. Lord Hong comes under a flag of parley. He insists that they give up and take the blame for the Emperor’s death, but Rincewind calls him out of his plan to frame them. He also notices that Lord Hong doesn’t know how many barbarians there actually are, so he makes up armies of ghosts and whatnot. Lord Hong insists that he is unbothered and now they will battle at dawn. Rincewind has the idea to go to Dibhala and create a terrible rumor about the size of their vampire ghost army. It begins to spread wildly through the Agatean army. Rincewind then runs into Death and War (and War’s kids). Death won’t tell him the outcome of the battle, however, because even he’s not sure. Lord Hong is talking with the other War Lords about the upcoming fight and insists that the old legend about the Red Army is just a folktale; he instructs their people to create a rumor that they have their own army of ghosts to counter the barbarians. In private, he dons Ankh-Morporkian clothes. Back at the University, Ridcully and the wizards are discussing how to bring Rincewind back without the journey killing him, and put Hex to work on it.
It’s a lot of running about in this section, and honestly, I miss Twoflower? He goes back down below with all the other prisoners, and I know why it’s less useful to have him about… It’s just fun when Rincewind and Twoflower are together, is all. And I want to know what the deal with his wife is. I imagine we’ll get to that before the end.
The themes of this book aren’t quite as focused as Pratchett’s usual, and it’s too bad because the things he does bother to say are poignant as ever. For instance, Butterfly believes there are causes worth dying for, to which Rincewind replies, “No, there aren’t! Because you’ve only got one life but you can pick up another five causes on any street corner!” And he’s certainly not wrong, particularly when you take into account what an absolute mess this whole affair is turning out to be. But also, more to the point, what’s genuinely upsetting is that plenty of causes don’t seem to get the momentum they deserve unless someone does die, which is probably more what Rincewind is instinctively railing against.
On the other side, we’ve got the Silver Horde being slowly introduced to the thought of perhaps running an empire by stealing it, which they’re not particularly keen on. I’m not sure that I agree with Saveloy’s summation of the horde’s need to do something real (what is real anyhow in this context, nope, maybe let’s not go down that road), but he’s generally pretty sharp about how civilization works with comments like: “… you might not yet be civilized but at least you’re nice and clean, and many people think this is identical.” Ouch.
We haven’t come to the full reveal on Lord Hong’s plan, but the Ankh-Morporkian clothes are kind of big flag to where this whole thing might be leading… We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. For now, we’ve got the work of rumor and misinformation helping Rincewind along, and even Death has no clue where this is headed.
Asides and little thoughts:
- I do appreciate that it finally occurs to Rincewind that if he would just change his damn clothes people might stop chasing him. Took a while, but you know, running was probably using up a lot of his brain power. In fairness.
- The bit where Three Solid Frogs is painting on a plate, then has to change the whole thing because Rincewind runs by, is meant to be a sendup of the Willow Pattern Plate. The irony of this is that it’s an 18th century design created by English ceramic artists who were looking at works from China. So it would’ve been more accurate to find someone in Ankh-Morpork ripping off the image to slap on pottery. Dibbler could sell tons of them.
Cohen came into people’s lives like a rogue planet into a peaceful solar system, and you felt yourself being dragged along simply because nothing like that would ever happen to you again.
A teacher to the core, Mr. Saveloy couldn’t help correcting them, even at swordpoint.
When people who can read and write start fighting on behalf of people who can’t, you just end up with another kind of stupidity.
The floors screamed under him, and behind him someone screamed Rincewind’s nickname, which was: ‘Don’t let him get away!”
He’d never essayed a sashay before, but he reckoned he was due a sashay for quick thinking.
A sufficiently complicated pictogram is worth a thousand words.
ON A NIGHT LIKE THIS, said Death, THE ONLY CERTAIN THING IS UNCERTAINTY. TRITE, I KNOW, BUT TRUE.
The soothsayer’s precognitive abilities, which were considerably more powerful than he believed, told him: this is not a good time to be clairvoyant.
Next week we finish the book!