April 12, 2023 8:10 AM - Subscribe

Ankh-Morpork City Watch Commander Sam Vimes is forced very much against his will to take a holiday, heading with Lady Sybil, Young Sam, and of course Willikins out to Crundells, Lady Sybil's age-old family estate in the country. After puttering around the rural area for a while pissing people off for either being a Lord or not being Lordly enough, he comes across a whole lot of blood, which leads him and a young local Constable down a path into the area's dark history with Goblins... (Discworld #39, City Watch #8.) By Terry Pratchett.

After a week's hiatus, we're back in with the Discworld Book Club! We've been covering the City Watch subseries (Previously: Guards! Guards!, Men at Arms, Feet of Clay, Jingo, The Fifth Elephant, Night Watch, Thud!) along with the "Industrial Revolution" books (Previously: The Truth, Monstrous Regiment, Going Postal, Making Money.) As we're holding off on Raising Steam until the end of this project, we'll now be going back to catch a few one-off stories that haven't been covered yet, and so our next book will be Pyramids.


What do we really know about Goblins, huh? We know they're not attractive-looking, to say the least, with big hairy hands, odor like the River Ankh on a hot day, and faces like a caricature of Nobby Nobbs. We know they steal chickens and generally act as a nuisance. We know they can't speak Morporkian, favoring their growls and mastications that sound like cracking walnuts. And we know they religiously collect their snot, toenail clippings, etc. in ornate homemade pots. It's no wonder that nations across the plains classify them as "vermin," or that the local pub around Lady Sybil's ancestral country estate is named "The Goblin's Head" and has one mounted on the wall to prove it.

Commander Sam Vimes is having to visit "The Crundells" for the first time, and doesn't love the idea. The female servants spin to run away or face the wall whenever he walks down a hallway, he can't resist telling a gaggle of young women awaiting their future husbands that maybe they'd be better off getting jobs, and the local blacksmith is intent on fighting him for being a member of the Gentry. Plus he runs into Lord Rust, which is never his favorite, and Rust informs him that there's nothing out here in the country for Vimes. Interesting...

(It should be noted that Young Sam is loving the experience. He's at the scatalogically-obsessed age of six, ripping through books about bodily substances by local children's author Miss Felicity Beedle, and collecting samples from every animal he can find for his own examination and experimentation. Lady Sybil is, of course, right at home, having spent much of her childhood here, and Willikins is Willikins, calm and collected wherever he may be, and ready for a throw-down at a moment's notice.)

When Sam and Willikins head out for a midnight duel with the blacksmith, they find instead a puddle blood and a few remains of a Goblin girl. The next morning, young Constable Feeny shows up at the estate to arrest Vimes in connection with the blacksmith's disappearance, and it's not long before Vimes is taking the Constable under his wing for an investigation into whatever the hell happened here, both this week and in the years and decades prior.

Back in Ankh-Morpork, Sergeant Fred Colon's cigar starts singing to him, which leads to complications, and those complications include a lot of international journeys for Wee Mad Arthur, a copper who grew up as a Gnome but is now embracing his true heritage as a Nac Mac Feegle.
posted by Navelgazer (13 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I really didn't know anything about this one going into it, and what I did know was vague and not positive. I knew it was the last of the City Watch books, focused very heavily on Sam Vimes to the exclusion of other Watch characters, that it furthered Vimes' "deification," and that it was one of the books most encumbered by "The Embuggerance," as Pratchett named his Alzheimers.

And all of that is accurate. For a few hours of listening through this, essentially nothing was happening aside from "Sam Vimes and the Cranky Old Man who Is Him." But once the plot did finally kick in, there was still a lot to enjoy here. Feeny is a fun character, and Willikins is always a delight. The Goblins were much more interesting than whatever was going on in the Crundells.

Basically, this needed a lot more editing more than anything.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:22 AM on April 12, 2023 [2 favorites]

So yeah. As I said above, my plan is to go to Pyramids next (it's the earliest book that hasn't been covered yet in Fanfare) and from there my thought was to cover some of the one-offs (Moving Pictures, Small Gods) and then onto another one of the subseries. But really, if any of y'all have particular thoughts on the reading order going forward, please let me know! I'm open to suggestions!
posted by Navelgazer at 9:44 AM on April 12, 2023 [3 favorites]

the one-offs hold fond memories for me.. both the titles mentioned above, for sure
posted by elkevelvet at 11:45 AM on April 12, 2023 [2 favorites]

Reading this one mostly made me sad because it was so clear how much the Alzheimers had taken away from him. Everything about it was just notably less complex.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 6:09 PM on April 12, 2023 [2 favorites]

As I was reading this one, I definitely had the thought "This is a fine first draft. Pity it made it to the publisher." My friends who have read PTerry's biography say there is clarification there about why he felt strongly about getting this one out before he was finished. I assume "something something rule of law. Something something respecting all sapient life." But, you know, meh.
posted by DebetEsse at 2:01 PM on April 13, 2023 [3 favorites]

yea, this was the one for me where the embuggerance became noticeable. I have been really enjoying this Fanfare club, the watch and industrial revolution books are my favourites!
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 2:20 PM on April 13, 2023 [1 favorite]

Yep, this is probably one of the worst discworld novels. The book just loves Vimes too much, and honestly has him act like a bully but simultaneously always be correct.

That said, I think the plot is actually quite good, and the Goblins are really well handled throughout. This isnt a waste of your time, but unlike most Discworld novels, which excel at portraying character, this fails with Vimes
posted by Cannon Fodder at 12:25 AM on April 14, 2023

It's hard for me to write about this book, because it's the book where Terry's rage at injustice actually completely fails him. On the one hand, good for him? If he was dealing with the Embuggerance in a state of less rage, that's good, and what I would want for him! (I think that's partly why Raising Steam is the way it is; PTerry's just out of anger. Which, sure, I absolutely do hope he passed peacefully.)

But wow, it makes this an incoherent book, thematically.

This is the book where both Vimes and Sybil get their noses rubbed in the generational injustice at and around Crundells... and neither actually does a damn thing about it. Crundells at the end of the book is basically the same as Crundells at the beginning, barely a change in the most ridiculous of the underclass's self-protective rituals, aaaaaaaaand... we're supposed to be okay with that? Because I'm not.

And I know what Pratchett is supposedly going after here (it's not like he's subtle about it!), the Austen and the Upstairs, Downstairs and the Downton Abbey, 'cos I love that stuff, gross though it often is. (I quit DA after the totally gratuitous rape, though.) But he doesn't actually go after it! He lays it out and then leaves it alone because he's more interested in the goblins -- and, as noted, because he's more interested in deifying Sam Vimes.

More flaily plot in need of editing, yes, the Fred Colon subplot is utterly pointless, and I like Wee Mad Arthur but he should have been cut. The entire river sequence -- both of them, actually -- what even is that? Why is that?

And Constable Feeney's Ma is just straight-up racist caricature. I have trouble letting that horror go by even considering the Embuggerance, because where the hell were the editors? This undercuts everything Pratchett is trying to do with the goblins in this book. Racism isn't okay because it's you doing it, PTerry. Racism isn't okay because you think you're doing it in a benevolent, amusing way, PTerry.

I do like Tears of the Mushroom, but Young Sam's parents need to teach him some damn boundaries, because the way he treats her -- particularly the forcible hugging -- is not actually okay, and mirrors the unresolved-throughout problems at Crundells.
posted by humbug at 6:14 AM on April 16, 2023 [4 favorites]

I was very fond of all the ideas in this book, at the least. Except maybe the young constable knowing martial arts because his grandmother was from Not-Thailand, but that could have been fixed, albeit with a lot of narrative work. (On preview: humbug, you're right.) But I could tell that not only Vimes had become OP, but Willikins also. Not that Willikins wasn't fun, definitely a Michael Caine character, but it was increasingly out of true.

As to his disability, I hated to presume it was the problem -- extremely popular authors who don't have to listen to editors hand in worse books all the time. And I was more or less entertained. I realized only later that I wasn't asking as much of Pratchett as I might have of another author because I was fond of him and wanted to believe the best.
posted by Countess Elena at 1:32 PM on April 16, 2023 [3 favorites]

Oh wait, I forgot that Precious Jolson was in this book. My memory tried to protect me from that. The only black woman as such in the text since Witches Abroad, and ... well.
posted by Countess Elena at 1:36 PM on April 16, 2023 [2 favorites]

Sharing the general disappointment with this book.

One thing I remember thinking, especially when I got to the piloting-a-riverboat sequences, was “Oh shit, he’s going to kill Vimes.” Because there seemed to be no reason to describe a moment of perfect happiness that intensely, and at that length, if the character is going to live happily ever after in any case. So I spent the last pages tensed for how it would happen, and then Vimes just… didn’t die.
posted by Pallas Athena at 1:26 AM on April 17, 2023 [1 favorite]

I think he made the goblins TOO good, too innocent and pure. It's easy to go 'this is unjust!' when people are being mean to music-playing green child-standins... What would have sat better with me is, "Yes, they're gross and not like us and they don't do anything good for us... BUT THEY ARE STILL PEOPLE AND YOU WILL TREAT THEM AS SUCH."
posted by The otter lady at 5:27 PM on April 18, 2023 [5 favorites]

The 'good enough to be worth saving' theme runs through Unseen Academicals as well, with Nutt; I'm really not sure if Pratchett was meaning to say people need to prove they have value by doing things for others, or if he was saying people shouldn't have to do that. I wish the Embuggerance hadn't taken its toll on him.
posted by The otter lady at 10:15 AM on April 22, 2023 [1 favorite]

« Older The Mandalorian: Chapter 23: T...   |  Book: Alexandra Petri's US His... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments