It’s like if Atlantis caused a whole lot of international problems, right?
An island called Leshp rises out of the sea between Ankh-Morpork and Klatch and the two fishermen who see it immediately begin arguing over which nation can lay claim to it. Vimes stops a fellow from stirring up a mob against the Klatchians by offering to look into his claim of piracy on their end. There’s a war council and the Patrician explains to the various lords that Ankh-Morpork has no money or means to raise an army, on account of not wanting a standing one. He is planning to meet with the younger brother of Prince Cadram, Prince Khufurah, to attempt diplomacy between themselves and Klatch so things don’t get out of hand over the new island. Khufurah has been “officially” invited by the wizards to get an honorary degree. The Patrician informs Vimes that he’s going to be available for that ceremony tomorrow in full dress uniform. Vimes wants to know why he’s allowing for the rich to enlist their own private regiments if they want, but Vetinari notes that it’s allowed by law, so he can’t put a stop to it. Carrot is teaching young ruffians to put aside their differences and play football together. Colon and Nobby talk about the foreign folks of Klatch and how they invented lots of things (that don’t matter) and also how they’re vicious fighters (but also always cowardly running away). Carrot and Angua and Constable Shoe (a zombie) handle the attempted theft of diamond purveyor. (Angua does most of the work on that one.)
Vimes comes on to address the Watch and notes that there are far more of them than there used to be—Carrot seems to be swearing in anyone who makes a general complaint about how the Watch handles things to get their “expertise.” Vimes gives a little speech about how their job is to keep the peace and how they are all going on shift tonight to check the route for the procession tomorrow. Nobby mentions to Angua that he’s trying to work harder in order to attract a woman. That night, Carrot runs into Vimes on patrol and they hear a scream—someone’s thrown a firebomb into a Klatchian family’s house, the Goriffs, who run a curry shop in the city. Vimes puts out the fire and is stunned to find that Carrot can speak decent Klatchian. Vimes head into HQ to get some paperwork done. The fisherman on Leshp continue to fight over whose country should be in charge of the island. Vimes wakes up and is told by Willikins that he only has a half hour to get ready for the procession for Prince Khufurah. He also tells Vimes that he is leaving their employ to join Lord Venturi’s regiment to fight the Klatchians. Later, he hears Colon say that Goriffs isn’t bad for a “rag’ead,” and Vimes takes him aside to tell him off for it.
The procession is about to begin and Sybil has told Vimes to be diplomatic and on his best behavior, though he’d rather not. He meets the Prince, who has heard stories about Vimes, including the fact that they call him “Vetinari’s terrier.” Khufurah begins to quiz him diplomatically, asking if Vimes would trade his wife for camels, asking for the meaning behind the insult “towelhead,” and introducing him to a man named 71-hour Ahmed, whose function he refuses to explain. The procession begins and Vimes tries to focus on his ceremonial truncheon to stop himself from feeling ridiculous, but he gets into his usual watchman flow, lights a cigar, and winds up pausing the entire procession while looking around. Suddenly he starts to run—Carrot can tells he’s spotted someone on top of the Barbican, where no one should be. There’s a corpse when Vimes arrives, and the scent of clove (which 71-hour Ahmed had been chewing on). The body belongs to Ossie Brunt, who did manage to fire an arrow at the prince—who is currently badly injured and staying at the Klatchian embassy.
Vimes tries to play dumb in front of the officials, but Vetinari sends everyone away and asks Vimes point blank what he means by putting Nobby and Colon on the case. He makes it clear that they need a simple answer for this case, for the sake of diplomatic relations. Vetinari heads down a series of secret passageways and enters Leonard of Quirm’s workshop. They have a meandering conversation about Klatch and weaponry and Leonard’s many inventions before the Patrician decides that Leonard will undoubtedly be of use in this particular problem. Meanwhile, Vimes is gathering evidence about who really shot the prince with an arrow because it definitely wasn’t Ossie Brunt—the arrow that shot the prince came from a different direction entirely. He tells Carrot to let Nobby and Colon keep investigating that angle and not get in their way. Carrot isn’t keen on the subterfuge, but Angua’s fine with it. He advises them to get to the bottom of what’s really happening.
This book starts off with a wideview lens on prejudice and nationalism and how civilian unrest escalates, which is more on the humorous side—but then it quickly narrows its focus and things get serious. I appreciate the way it’s handled, with Vetinari telling the various lords that they don’t have the taxes to build an army out of nothing, and the way that everyone balks at their various guilds paying their fair share, and someone shouting in Sator Square about his boat being robbed of cargo he wasn’t carrying… but then we arrive at the firebombing of the Goriff family and things get real and ugly on a hairpin turn.
The labyrinthian twists that people go to in order to make their bigotry seem like its well-founded also gets sharp attention in the building of this story. Colon saying that Klatchians can’t be that brilliant because the desert is nothing so you can only come up with nothing, and Leonard of Quirm saying that they’re brilliant because the desert creates an urgency of thought and makes you more aware of how short life is, are perfect examples of how you can twist any fact about a people to make them seem enlightened or barbaric. The fact of the matter is that it doesn’t matter what part the desert plays in Klatchian innovation (and it might play very little part at all), but everyone wants to have reasons for why these people are either incredible or incredibly awful.
There’s a lot of thinking Vimes is doing about how his job has gotten more complex and considerably more difficult, and also how he’s falling behind on it in more ways than one. There’s the jokes about the paperwork, of course, but the continual noting of how the Watch has sprung up into a large organization full of different peoples that he can’t truly keep track of is a good starting point. And then we move on to his (rightful) embarrassment at assuming that Klatchians living in Ankh-Morpork don’t speak his language, and his own feelings of inadequacy around learning more of those languages in order to better communicate with fellow citizens. Sam Vimes spent his life learning the city with his boot soles, but he’s losing a step by being less in touch with its people.
People are Carrot’s thing, after all, for better and for worse. Carrot’s great at knowing them, but not great at understanding them. Vimes is the opposite. Together they make one fully competent community servant, when they can manage it. Which is rarely.
I do love that the Patrician has to tell Sam that Carrot gives him away by wincing when he tells an outright lie. And also that the prince decides he likes Vimes because he’s one of the few people in the procession who’s willing to talk straight with him because it is one of Vimes’ better characteristics when he gives himself the permission (and also because I love how canny Khufurah is about the whole mess). Also, that fake degree—honorary doctorates are hilarious.
Look, I’m beginning to develop an unhealthy attachment to Vetinari on this go-around through the Discworld because there are certain things he’s just right about. Like not planning because plans get in the way. Or having a genius on hand in your dungeon so he can listen to you think out loud, but also because you might need any of the things he’s designing to handle various difficulties in city management. Or the way that he stares at people to unnerve them because constant eye contact is often accidentally—or intentionally, in this case—horrifying. (Also between the “Vetinari’s terrier” comment and the acknowledgement that he’s in contact with Sybil to get Vimes to behave himself, I’m serious, how did I miss this the first time?? I’m sorry you’re all going to have to deal with me screaming about this now.)
Asides and little thoughts:
- The idea of press-ganging in reverse to make people into farmers is pretty great.
- Reg Shoe is back and he’s annoying everyone as much as ever, and I love that for him.
- All the JFK assassination shoutouts strike me as odd (since there’s very little in common from a political standpoint), but I guess since there’s a conspiracy angle, might as well…
- I’ve heard that fans got all up in arms about Carrot being dishonest around the diamond heist, but the point that Pratchett is making here—which is that even an “honest copper” like Carrot isn’t above lying when one of their own has been threatened by a civilian—is spot on. And which, more importantly, is part of the reason why blowing the whistle on your own department in police work in nigh on impossible to accomplish.
Lord Vetinari looked attentive, because he’s always found that listening keenly to people tended to put them off.
There were about fifty youths in the wide alleyway. Average age in years: about eleven. Average age in cynicism and malevolent evil: about 163.
Sergeant Colon had had a broad education. He’d been to the School of My Dad Always Said, the College of It Stands to Reason, and was now a postgraduate student at the University of What Some Bloke In the Pub Told Me.
Vimes stopped. Perplexed expressions in front of him told him that he was building a house of cards with too few cards on the bottom.
The rain fell on Leshp so hard it probably hadn’t been worth the island’s bother of rising from the bottom of the sea.
There may be a lot of things I’m not good at, thought Vimes, but at least I don’t treat the punctuation of a sentence like a game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey…
Vimes never quite understood how the civic leaders were chosen. They just seemed to turn up, like a tack on the sole of your shoe.
And if the Patrician was anything, he was the political equivalent of the old lady who saves bits of string because you never know when they might come in handy.
Next week we read up to:
The candle burned down and severed the string that released the weight that pulled the blocks out and, slowly at first, the Boat slid down the rails and into the dark water which, after a second or two, closed over it with a gloop.