After a slight delay, here’s the next in the ongoing series that I like to call the Great Terry Pratchett Re-read-athon. I have a vague recollection that back in the depths of time known as “the twentieth century”, Terry had hinted that he might stop writing Discworld books, or at least take a break from them when he got to twenty-five of them. Well, this is indeed the twenty-fifth in the series, but as you’ll be seeing, there was a distinct lack of pausing, much less stopping, which is a Good Thing, of course.
Anyway, enough of the wittering, and on with the book. This is a “one-off” story with a new central character, William de Worde, cast-off son of a rich family, who’s been making a living be selling newsletters to assorted rich clients. When the story starts, he’s been making these in very small quantities, limited by the engraving and hand-press technology of the time.
William’s world changes when a chance encounter with some dwarfs with some fancy new technology – moveable type – leads him to produce the Discworld’s first actual newspaper.
Obviously, this can only lead to trouble, which it certainly does. Things are complicated by the other little matter that’s going on – yet another plot to remove Lord Vetinari and replace him with a new leader who’ll be more in tune with the wishes of the sort of people who are doing the plotting.
The dirty work is being done by a delightful pair of hired villains, Mr Pin (not very nice to know) and Mr Tulip (also not nice to know, and with a tendency to say –ing a lot).
And what’s a newspaper for if it’s not going to expose scandals and the like? Much fun follows, and it’s one of those stories where we see some of the regular Watch characters from a different angle. Vimes, when not a viewpoint character, seems quite different, or at least that’s how William sees him.
There are some fun digressions, such as the explanation for the Bursar’s dried frog pills:
And thus the University got the active ingredient which it made into pills and fed to the Bursar, to keep him sane. At least, apparently sane, because nothing was that simple at good old UU. In fact he was incurably insane and hallucinated more or less continuously, but by a remarkable stroke of lateral thinking his fellow wizards had reasoned that, in that case, the whole business could be sorted out if only they could find a formula that caused him to hallucinate that he was completely sane.
This is given a helpful footnote pointing out that this particular hallucination is very common and indeed is shared by most people.
As the newspaper business develops in the usual Ankh-Morpork way, a vampire iconographer is added to the team. He has a slight problem with turning to dust every time he uses his salamander flash, but otherwise has some excellent ideas…
“Err, why do you need to work in a dark room, though?” he said. “The imps don’t need it, do they?”
“Ah, zis is for my experiment,” said Otto proudly. “You know zat another term for an iconographer would be ‘photographer’? From the old word photus in Latatian, vhich means -”
“‘To prance around like a pillock ordering everyone about as if you owned the place’,” said William.
“Ah, you know it!”
William nodded. He’d always wondered about that word.
So had I, so had I….
All good fun, lots of –ing laughs and an interesting step in the gradual development of technology on the Discworld.
 Remember that?
 My original hardback edition has Terry’s name and the title in shiny silver on the dust jacket and “The 25th Discworld Novel” on the cover and the endpapers