Terry Pratchett, |
The followup to Going Postal has former con man Moist von Lipwig, who got the Ankh-Morpork postal system up and running, going into the banking business this time around. After all, who could run a bank better than an ex-grifter? Terry Pratchett, who seems determined to explore every fascinating detail of why human beings are motivated to do the things they do, trains his microscope on our relationship with money, probably because nothing's funnier than they way people behave when money is involved.
Prior to 2008, I would not have thought that a fantasy novel about banking would have been a very interesting one. In the last two years, after having seen the fantasy that passes for banking, I can honestly say that the subject matter couldn't be more timely.
The Royal Bank of Ankh-Morpork is the property of the Lavish family, whose internecine feuding is vicious by anyone's standards. The elderly matriarch who owns the bank has died, leaving her 51 percent share to her dog, Mr. Fusspot, and leaving Mr. Lipwig in charge of Mr. Fusspot. Since Lipwig did so well with the post office, he is once again expected by everyone, but most especially by Lord Vetinari, the city's patrician leader, to turn the underperforming banking industry into the same model of efficiency. Saying "no" is not an option, as Vetinari already "hanged" the former Albert Spangler in a fake execution, rebirthing him as the current von Lipwig, giving him a new lease on life, as well as a chance to put his brilliance with numbers and gamesmanship to use in a way that benefits people, instead of just ripping them off.
Pratchett loves Nautilus shell-style plots, and this is the most twisted one yet. Lipwig is up against the evil wiles of the Clacks corporation, as well as the machinations of the Lavish family, whose behavior makes the Roman senate of the second century look fairly kindergartenish. Specifically, it is Cosmo Lavish and his grand counterfeiting scheme that may upset the balance of everything. On top of all that, there is a mad scientist in the basement of the bank cooking up something with an Igor, a girlfriend whose actions constantly put Lipwig in danger and a bunch of bank-robbing bad guys who are casing the Royal Bank with an interest completely unrelated to its architecture.
Lord Vetinari has had a couple of interesting moments in previous stories but this time around Pratchett lets him shine, in all his bad goodness. Although there are many new characters, it's good to see that some of the older characters are still fascinating enough to explore. Lord Vetinari, it seems, has many fans. One of them is Cosmo Lavish, who actually wants to be Vetinari, so much so that he is doing everything in his power to become him. Many avid fans of Pratchett feel that it is his humor, his biting wit and his scathing observations of humanity's follies that give his books their moral density. This is certainly true in many ways; however, as far as I am concerned, it is the empathy he has for characters like Vetinari that is Pratchett's greatest strength as a writer.
Some fans may feel that Making Money is a bit of a retread. There is an undeniable sense of familiarity about the plot: sneaky, underhanded con man has a secret heart of gold that will see him through to doing the right thing, every time. Talking dogs, werewolves and vampires are in every subplot. And there are subplots aplenty, some almost too nebulous to follow, some placed at the beginning and not picked up until the very end when you've nearly forgotten they were even there, which dampens the typically compelling nature of Pratchett's stories. There aren't nearly as many laugh-out-loud moments as have been in previous Discworld novels. I can see where many fans might feel that these elements contribute to a sort of flatness that hangs up the plot, but I think there is more to the story than meets the eye.
I think it is more the case that Pratchett is growing as a writer. As he does so, he uses snort-milk-out-your-nose humor a bit less and thoughtful, more humanized wit a bit more. In my opinion, Making Money may be his best work yet because his maturity as an observer of humanity is becoming more apparent with each novel. Every artist has the right to expand and expound on themes, if they feel they can bring more to the table with each new examination. While I agree that the story's worst failing is that the subplots are not well-connected to the story, and the ending is a bit confused, there is too much humanity in Making Money for me to feel that Pratchett is being lazy and plagiarizing his own work. He simply isn't finished with the theme of hierarchial corruption within industry. This treatment is more thought-provoking, informed and, in its own way, far more polished than his earlier work. I appreciated Pratchett's concise understanding of economic theory and the gold standard. In fact, I would recommend this book to anyone who does not understand how such principles work.
I would advise reading Going Postal first, as Making Money really is not a good point to start with if you are entering the Discworld for the first time or if you have not visited it for a while. If you're on track with the history of the Discworld up to this point, then rest assured that in Making Money, Pratchett serves up a pleasant reading experience at the very least, and a sharply pointed satire at most. Either way, you won't be disappointed.
22 May 2010
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