REVIEW: Feet of Clay
With each Watch book so far, we have seen a progression from the Watch being a joke to a competent police force. It is at this point that the Watch 'family', such that it is, becomes complete, and it is here that we also see the true format for the Watch books to come...
Two murders have taken place, and the Watch soon learn that golems are involved. Lord Vetinari has been taken ill, and there is already talk of replacing him. Sir Samuel Vimes has been denied a coat of arms because his ancestor executed the last King of Ankh-Morpork, but for some reason, Corporal Nobbs is the Earl of Ankh. With forensic alchemist dwarf Cheery Littlebottom joining the Watch, Angua feeling pre-lunar tension, and plots in the air, the Watch will have its work cut out for them to solve the mystery. Between kings of flesh and clay, strange revolutions afoot, and a poisoning that isn't a murder, can Vimes find out who is behind it all?
While Guards! Guards! and Men at Arms were Watch books, I think that Feet of Clay sets out the formula for the books to come. In other words, the first two Watch books merely set the scene. Feet of Clay is the real beginning of the full-blown holiday for the City Watch, to use Pratchett's metaphor. While newcomer Cheery Littlebottom finds his (or her, as it turns out) feet, Vimes, Carrot, Angua, Detritus, Colon and Nobby are all well established and are used in various ways. None of them are wasted, with every one of them given something to do.
This is a story where the character development goes hand in hand with the storyline. Angua and Cheery's rapport and potential conflict (given that Cheery detests werewolves), Angua's anxiety about staying with Carrot given her nature, Vimes struggling against both his inner doubt and his inner darkness (was it here that he created his inner Watchman, or back in Men at Arms?), and the whole process of discovering how Vetinari is being poisoned. And then, the whole business of Nobbs being manipulated into being a potential king for Ankh Morpork, and the golems' own little secret, with Dorfl being an interesting character, especially towards the end.
One of the things about the Watch books is that they give a strong feeling of culture and historical depth to Ankh Morpork, and thus to the Discworld novels in general. They make the city feel like it really grew, instead of being slapped together out of cliches. And the characters, while at times based on stereotypes, are either entertaining, or have true depth. Carrot, Vimes, and Angua are perhaps the most human and complex characters in the Watch. Vimes, in particular, gets some very strong defining moments, the strongest of which, I feel, is when he goes back to the neighbourhood that he grew up in, and his reaction to what happens there.
The storyline itself is interesting, in that it follows two apparently unrelated main plotlines that nevertheless, albeit by pure (but not unbelieveable) coincidence, coincide. We have the golems and what they have brought upon Ankh Morpork, and the poisoning of the Patrician. As I said, they are linked merely by coincidence, but it is not unbelievable at all, or at least doesn't feel that way in a series set on a world on the back of a turtle!
There are only two weaknesses to this story that I can tell. The first is that I agree with TV Tropes' assessment. This is not a whodunnit as much as a howdunnit, and it would have been far more surprising had the character involved turned out not to be the villain. The second is a continuity error involving Cheery not knowing about golems, and yet seeing one back in Quirm. Go figure.
This is pretty much as close as a Watch book will come to perfection. Even if some of the references aren't noticed, Feet of Clay is a rollicking good read, enjoyable and exciting from beginning to end.
Special New Utterance Rating Trial: Yay!
First words: It was a warm spring night when a fist knocked at the door so hard that the hinges bent.
Last words: (Not recorded due to spoilers)
Four minutes? That's ages! What if I get bored? I need a television, a couple of books. Anyone for chess? Bring me knitting.
-The Eighth Doctor, defiant in the face of death, in Doctor Who: The Night of the Doctor