WarningMight contain spoilers.

If Unseen Academicals is a lesser Terry Pratchett work, this is quality Pratchett. It hits all the right notes. Moist von Lipwig is one of his finest creations, and Adora Belle Dearheart is the only foil there could be. Reacher Gilt might not be the greatest Discworld villain, but he suffices, which means he’s an excellent one by normal standards. (I enjoyed how his questions unsettle even his Igor.) The Patrician feels more like himself. It’s an especially interesting book because it’s about people but not the people: it’s about society, structures, and how both con artist and conned trap themselves in their roles.

Anghammarad’s death is most affecting, thanks to the brief nature of his appearance and the reverence of the very narration as it tells us, The chill of time radiated off him. Even Moist is affected by his presence and death, although he knows just how to capitalize on that otherworldly air, too:

‘And you will decide if he is a postman?’

This is a novel about the evil of unbridled capitalism practised by men who move figures around without creating value. It involves both the Watch and wizards without being overwhelmed by either. It trucks in banshees, golems, stamps, and pins. It was published four years before Lehman Brothers destroyed the world’s economy through the same sort of naked greed… and I simply could not put it down or stop laughing (when I wasn’t overwhelmed by emotion). That’s what Terry Pratchett does. He makes it absurdly difficult to avoid devouring the book in a single day and wishing there were a thousand more.

I naturally want to quote the entire thing, but I’ll settle for this simultaneously poetic and pragmatic paean to invention and engineering—one paragraph of a story written more than a decade before technology became a dirty word, long before anyone had even thought the words ‘surveillance economy’, back when technology was still the stuff that brought dreams to life:

But what was happening now… this was magical. Ordinary men had dreamed it up and put it together, building towers on rafts in swamps and across the frozen spines of mountains. They’d cursed and, worse, used logarithms. They’d waded through rivers and dabbled in trigonometry. They hadn’t dreamed, in the way people usually used the word, but they’d imagined a different world, and bent metal round it. And out of all the sweat and swearing and mathematics had come this… thing, dropping words across the world as softly as starlight.