by Terry Pratchett



316pp/16.99/May 2001

Thief of Time
Cover by Josh Kirby

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Several years ago, Terry Pratchett including a short piece in the Discworld novels about the monks of history.  Although a clever idea, it was secondary to the plot of that novel and was thrown away, not to be revisited until Thief of Time, in which the monks of history are not only brought back on stage, but, in fact, given almost the entire novel.

In his recent books, Pratchett has been experimenting with new characters and locations.  In The Truth, he focused on William de Woorde and his printing press.  Although Commander Vimes, the Patrician and other familiar characters appeared, they did so in supporting roles, giving Pratchett a little more leeway to explore his new creations.  The same is true with Thief of Time.  Although the Sweeper, Lu Tze, and his apprentice, Lobsang, are Pratchett's primary focus, there are also plotlines involving Death, as one of the Five Horsemen of the Apocalypse and his granddaughter, Susan Sto Helit, who he wants to stand in for him while he rallies the troops.

Pratchett has many targets for his satire in Thief of Time, many of them cinematic in origin.  Lu Tze's relationship with Lobsang comes right out of any martial arts movie, although Lu Tze's advice does not necessarily conform to any statements made by any oriental philosopher.  A brief parody of James Bond also appears when Lu Tze and Lobsang set off from their hidden valley to try to save the world from imminent disaster.  Perhaps the main target, however, is education.

Throughout the novel, Lu Tze is trying to educate Lobsang, who does not always relish his lessons.  Even more prominent are the scenes which show Susan trying to control and teach the children in her classroom while dealing with the school bureaucracy in the form of Madame Frout.  Initially viewed through the eyes of Madame Frout, a practitioner of a new style of education whose goal is to help children feel good about themselves, Susan is seen as a throwback to an earlier style of education which placed more emphasis on actual learning.  It is clear which Pratchett feels is a better approach.

Thief of Time does not have as many humorous moments as many of the earlier Discworld novels.  Nevertheless, is ranks among the best of the series, partly because Pratchett examines the world with a more philosophical viewpoint than many of the more humorous novels.  The freedom of exploring new characters also allows Pratchett to explore new ways of making statements which have previously been embodied by more familiar characters, which may have caused the assertions to lose some of their power.

Pratchett demonstrates his continued growth as an author and as a humorist in Thief of Time.  He is comfortable enough with the humor, his message and his style that he doesn't feel the need to put excessive humor in the book, but instead relies on the humor which he can include naturally.  Lu Tze and Lobsang could easily have been written as one-joke creations, but Pratchett has depicted them as fully realized characters in Thief of Time (something he was not able to do in his early novels) and attach a variety of different humorous situations and characteristics to them.

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