Making Money, the newest Discworld book by Terry Pratchett, is honestly a bit of a disappointment – one of the weaker Discworld books to come along in some time.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s still a Discworld book by Terry Pratchett, and as such, automatically better than ninety-five percent of the books out there. It’s still cleverly written, full of trenchant insights and often-brilliant gags, and Pratchett by this point knows the exact point at which a running gag becomes played out and thus always economizes them expertly. Which means that Making Money is, if nothing else, a really fun read.
But Pratchett now occupies the unenviable position of being forced to compete against himself, against some of the true works of genius he’s produced, like Night Watch and Small Gods and The Truth and Interesting Times, books which contained all of the great writing and deep insights and hilarious gags, but which also had deeply ambitious sense of scope and powerful moral arguments lurking just beneath the amusing surface.
Making Money is the second book to feature Moist Von Lipwig as the protagonist. Now, on the one hand, this is good, because Moist’s character was one of the best things about Going Postal and a welcome addition to the Discworld ouevre – the long-awaited “happy rogue” character, the criminal mind with a heart of gold, the Discworld equivalent of Han Solo in more than a few ways. Except Going Postal made it clear to both us and to Moist that his prior crimes were just that – crimes. So the character, instead of being flighty and silly, worked, and Going Postal became an excellent book about the dangers of the unfettered free market, with an excellent villain to boot (and one of the simplest and most time-honored methods for determining the best Pratchett books is to judge them by the quality of the villains).
The problem is that following up Going Postal is difficult, because in shifting Moist from the Post Office to the Royal Mint, you’re not really doing anything particularly new with him – and indeed that’s the biggest problem with Making Money. As a story, Going Postal worked because it was half process story (“how will Moist invent stamps and stuff?”) and half econo-politic screed. Making Money is a small bit of process story (“how will Moist get Ankh-Morpork off the gold standard and introduce paper money?”) and a bit of screed and… well, there’s also a bunch of stuff about golems, kind of. But mostly there’s no there there. The book barely even has a villain – Cosmo Lavish is honestly just pitiable rather than menacing.
Ultimately, the book distinctly feels like Pratchett marking time – an amusing fantasy novel about banking and monetary policy because at the end of Going Postal he hinted that there would be one. At the end of the book, Vetinari remarks that he’s going to need a new chief taxmaster, and that feels more like the spiritual sequel to Going Postal; contrasting the danger of the anarchic, selfish free market with the danger of the authoritarian, grasping government.
As Discworld books go, a weak B grade story. Recommended hardcover purchase only for completists (such as myself, of course). Still, however, better than ninety-five percent of what’s on the bookstore shelves, mind you.