For months, I’ve heard nothing but praise about a particular character in Terry Pratchett’s beloved Discworld series. That character is Moist von Lipwig, the con artist extraordinaire and perpetually reluctant agent of the cunning Patrician, Lord Vetinari. I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for tricksters, especially when they find it in their hearts to win one for the little guy. That’s why I decided to start reading every Moist von Lipwig book I could find, starting with Going Postal.
After escaping an execution for his latest con, Moist finds himself in the office and at the mercy of Lord Vetinari. The Patrician offers him a second chance by becoming Postmaster of the failed Ankh-Morpork Post Office, which flopped after failing to compete with the clack towers that now dominate Discworld. Moist soon finds himself falling back on his old habits, using confidence tricks to revive the Post Office with the help of his golem parole officer, a group of aging postmen and stamp collectors, and the lovely chain-smoking Adora Belle Dearheart. Meanwhile, Moist has to endure the attention of Reacher Gilt, head of the Grand Trunk and a master con artist in his own right.
As a character, Moist is an excellent protagonist, forever tiptoeing the line between being sneaky and being decent. Half the time, he thinks he’s pulling a trick on someone, only to realize that he’s actually doing some good in the world. But it explains why Vetinari chooses him for the job; Moist is someone who can create grand illusions that enthrall others, which means he can inspire people to turn away from the cutthroat clacks industry.
I also like the love interest Miss Dearheart, whom I found myself comparing to another Discworld love interest: Sacharissa from The Truth. However, there’s a key difference between the two; the former is a bit vulgar and comes from a broken past, while the latter is desperately trying to fit into polite society while helping run a newspaper. Also, Adora comes with a clear understanding of golems and their rights, which ties her in nicely with the stoic parole officer Mr. Pump.
The conflict in this story felt a lot stronger than in The Truth, which had a similar premise but a more vague threat against William de Worde. Here, the status quo has some very clear defenders, like the savage Reacher Gilt and his Board of Directors. Most of the well-to-do gentlemen are given colorful personalities, making for a well-rounded cast of sympathetic antagonists to Moist’s headline-grabbing antics.
Lately, I’ve begun to notice a pattern in the Discworld novels. Maybe it’s because magic permeates this fictional universe, but it seems like every focus of a novel has its own personality and will. In Hogfather, it’s the power of children’s beliefs; in The Truth, it’s the newspaper press or “The Truth” itself; and in Going Postal, it seems to be the dead letters, who cry out to Moist to “Deliver us!” in mad visions and dreams. Compared to the first two, the power of letters and postmen in this story is much more concrete, as it’s Moist trying to restore them against the failure-prone-but-too-big-to-fail clacks towers. And when Moist pulls trick after trick out of his sleeve, you join the rest of Ankh-Morpork in eagerly seeing what’ll happen next and how old Reacher’s going to feel about it.
As both a Discworld novel and an introduction to a very fun character, Going Postal is really quite good. It’s got plenty of wonderful jokes and parodies everything from secret societies to the Internet, but it also balances the humor with some touching romance, plenty of drama, and a nice bit character development for the always-entertaining Moist.
Bibliography: Pratchett, Terry. Going Postal. New York: Doubleday, 2004.