There’s never a bad time to start another Discworld novel, so here I go with Feet of Clay, the next book in the Guards sub-series. My partner is always pleased when I get to the next Discworld, but especially so when it’s a Guards book. It’s sweet, and they’re usually right, so I tend to look forward to those ones in particular.
What starts out as an ordinary day for the Ankh Morpork Watch becomes a lot more philosophical than expected when a priest is murdered, with golems looking to be heavily involved. While the murder itself is rather mundane, golems are well known to be little more than human-shaped machinery, so their involvement makes things much more complicated. In addition to this, there is a plot afoot to try and poison the Patrician, which can only be a bad idea.
Feet of Clay is a fantastic ride from start to finish, with a cracking mystery to puzzle out, on-point lambasting of sexism and racism, and a cast that seems to get better with every book. To start with the mystery, it’s a strange sort of balance where the reader is given the majority of the clues within the third or so, but the fun comes in how the disparate pieces work together. It’s a bit jarring compared to other mysteries that I’ve read, but it does work out remarkably well.
The sexism and racism aspects of the novel intersects neatly with the two new additions to the cast, so I’ll discuss both here. The sexism aspect mostly centres around the new Watch recruit, a Dwarf alchemist by the unfortunate name of Cheery Littlebottom. The reader learns that Cheery is actually female, and follows her attempts to present as more obviously feminine, with a little help from Angua. I’ll admit, I’d heard the old nerd debate about whether all dwarfs had beards, regardless of sex, but hadn’t really given it much thought. Reading through Cheery’s gradual move from stereotypical dwarf in appearance, to her introduction of things like make-up and skirts into her wardrobe, it struck me more as a trans narrative than a purely feminine one. While there is no evidence of physical dysphoria, the decision to take on outward markers of femininity when you are a member of a species where male is the default feels more akin to a transgender person’s entry into social transitioning. Maybe it’s just that I’ve recently had some people very close to me start making that transition, but I couldn’t help but wonder at the similarity. Either way, it’s a journey that is by no means over, and I kind of had my heart in my mouth for her every time Carrot made a comment that was obviously intended to be helpful, but only makes things worse.
The racism aspect is obviously brought up as a result of the golems becoming more visible, but I’d kind of forgotten just how deep the metaphor is taken within the Discworld novels. While the Watch is now a multi-racial organisation, that has only really papered over the cracks. Dwarfs are still ignored unless they’re screaming battle cries and running at you with an axe, trolls are dumb brutes only to be commended for their persistence, and the undead mock humanity by showing them a twisted reflection of their own lives. The only thing that sets golems apart from all this is that they’re looked down on by everyone on the hierarchy, because they’re not even alive enough to get on the social ladder. It’s everything that a racism metaphor should be, real enough to make its point, but not detailed enough that it becomes a clumsy allegory for actual groups of people with blatant racial coding.
A fantastic entry into the Discworld series, Feet of Clay shows Pratchett at his best with excellent characters and a mystery that leaves the reader wanting more. I very much look forward to my next encounter with the guards. 5/5
Next review: Legends of the Exiles by Jesse Teller