In the Canon:-Edit
This character does not exist in the canon of Pratchett characters. She is entirely the invention of author A.A. Pessimal.
In the Pessimal Discworld:- Edit
Joan was a very mature student at the Assassins' Guild, and holds the record for being the oldest candidate to successfully complete the gruelling and arduous Mature Students Class. She was forty-eight when she graduated.
Bringing together three such disparate characters as Johanna Smith-Rhodes, Alice Band and Emmanuelle-Marie Lapoignard les Deux-Epées for a novella intended to describe how they were initially recruited by the Guild and the training they had to undergo in order to become full Assassins, it began to become clear that something was missing from the mix, something that would balance and bring together three independently-minded and strong-willed young women. The missing part of the recipe became self-evident when I considered exactly what sort of classes would be taught in an Assassins' School that was about to recruit its first girl pupils. In the regular educational system, most girls (and to be fair, some boys) are taught a variant on the theme of Domestic Science, Home Economics, Cookery or Home Ed. How would such things be taught the Assassin way, and what sort of woman would teach them?
A figure started to emerge, based partly on my former mother-in-law Margaret S********* of Stockport, who would be pleased to be described a an old-time classroom monster who taught Dom Sci for forty years at a Catholic secondary school and brooked no insolence whatsoever from the pupils. (Generations of St Annes' pupils probably recall the name with abject quaking terror). Physically, the British character actress Dame Joan Sanderson, who played upper-class matriarchs and mem-sahibs, and terrified Basil Fawlty with her portrayal of the selectively deaf woman guest at Fawlty Towers, contributed the spare figure and diamond-eyed glare. The Matron from my old school is in there too.
Joan, with her thirty-odd years of teaching experience and common-sense view of the world around her, became my fourth lady Assassin. The three younger women looked up to and respected her, and she became the older sister, the favourite aunt, the calming influence, the one any of the other three would turn to if she needed advice. In return, the younger women got her through the more physical aspects of the course, such as edificeering, in return for her tuition in areas such as poisoning and stealth entry.
She remains onr of the elder stateswomen in my Assasins' Guild, and has progressed to the Dark Council: a whisper has emerged from later stories that Vetinari's deep plan for her is that she is to become the first ever Mistress of the Guild of Assassins. We will see.
She was born a few years more than fifty years ago in the city of Ankh-Morpork. A little over forty years ago, she was one of the first pupils at the newly-established Quirm Academy for Young Ladies. She still speaks fondly of her schooldays even now, much to the irritation of Alice Band, who was one of the school's problem children. At school, she was a model and dutiful pupil, who developed a deep crush on her teachers Miss Delcross and Miss Butts, and an according determination to grow up to be as inspiring a teacher to others as they were to her. (This resolution did not, however, survive her first exposure to classroom life).
She witnessed the glorious Revolution in Ankh-Morpork with a mixed belief that something needed to be done to curb the excesses of clearly insane Patricians, combined with a real fear and anger that it was not the middle-class intelligensia who were leading the fight, but the great unwashed from the manual working classes. In short, she manifested all the native prejudices of the hard-working petit bourgeousie: those people who view themselves as the hard-working mainstay of any civilisation, pressed upon from top and bottom. From above by the upper classes, living on unearned income and prestige garnered not by the current title-holder but by some illustrious forebear many generations before. And from below, ground down by the underclass, those who were either too lazy or too ignorant to work their way into the middle classes, and who blamed the inequality of wealth distribution on social unjustness rather than their own inability to do a hard day's work, who insisted taxation of those who jolly well worked for a living should compensate for their own inadequacies. (The younger Joan, by some cross- galactic link, let's call them empathy particles, is vocalising the prejudices of a Margaret Thatcher here, who successfully tapped on similar fears and ugly prejudices in the British middle classes to get herself ten years as Prime Minister). Seeing a revolution of the underclass damn nearly succeeding, she was one of the many who fell in behind the new Patrician, Lord Snapcase, to prevent such an outcome ever happening again.
So she did not complain too loudly when Snapcase got embroiled in one pointless war after another. Not even the one where her fiancee Harold, a junior officer in a Rust cavalry regiment, was killed in a battle in a faraway land. She never married nor - for a long time - sought the company of other men. The memory of her Harold remained too near and sacred to her to be sullied. At this point, Joan accepted a teaching contract at her old school, QAYL, and spent almost ten happy years here, teaching Domestic Science, Elocution and Etiquette, which gave her a very sound grounding as an educator. With this experience and some family money, she was able to return to Ankh-Morpork and set up as a private tutor in Elocution, Deportment and Etiquette, targeting the newly-rich who wanted to buy the correct accent and manner to go with their new-found business fortunes. In a wholly benevolent way, this was the first thing that drew the Assassins' Guild to take an interest in her. As the Guild took a proportion of scholarship and charity pupils every year, there was a need for otherwise promising student Assassins drawn from poor and lower-class areas to have additional training to enable them to pass for young gentlemen of better birth. Students from foreign countries, with heavily accented Morporkian, also needed more personal attention to iron out the quirks of their native speech than the Guild could give.
Joan therefore went onto the Guild School's payroll as a subcontractor rather than an employee: a supernumerary teacher, whose job it was to iron out such little bumps in the School's less socially advantaged pupils. Indeed, graduate pupils taught by her regard her lessons, even today, as some of the most vivid and terrifying of their time at the School.
Life might have continued indefinitely like this, except for the fact that Joan's younger sister, who had contracted a marriage she dissapproved of, was beginning to show mysterious and ill-explained bruises and wounds. When this led to the miscarriage of a child, raw anger took over and she went to her employers with her life savings, trying to take out a contract on her brother in law. Doctor Cruces and Lady T'Malia heard her sympathetically, but declined the contract, on the grounds that the Guild did not concern itself with matrimonial and domestic disputes. (The words "petty" and "bourgeouis" hung heavy and unsaid on the air).
Spurned by the Guild, Joan took action herself. The circumstances in which she inhumed for the first time are described in the novella The Graduation Class. But in the warm exhilaration of having done it - and having got away with it - she realised she could do this again. And again. And again. She deliberately targeted bad husbands, wife-beaters, child-molestors, rapists, and other people she thought the Disc would be cleaner without. The fees she took from battered or aggrieved wives enabled her to create her own cookery school, and indeed, it was from her evening and part-time pupils that a paying client group emerged who would willingly pay to be rid of an abusive husband.
The Press, most notably the Tanty Bugle, dubbed the feared serial-killer The Marriage Guidance Counsellor, and both the City Watch and the assassins' Guild devoted a lot of time and energy to tracking her down. And in the end, Joan became over-confident and was caught. Resigning herself to death, she was surprised whe the wily Lord Vetinari offered her an Angel, in the form of the Mature Students' Class at the Assassins' Guild.
With the help of fellow trainees like Alice Band, Emmanuelle-Marie Lapoignard les Deux-Epees, and Johanna Smith-Rhodes, she passed, and became an officially licenced Assassin. Joan is distinguished by being the oldest person ever to become a Licenced Assassin. She is currently Head of Bursary, Scholarship and Day Pupils at the school and a keen advocate for their interests and welfare. She has succeeded in abolishing a wholly un-necessary School rule that Scholarship pupils must wear a different cut and colour of uniform so as to mark them down, in the eyes of richer and more fortunate pupils, as charity cases. As she pointed out to the Dark Council, of which she is now a member, why discriminate? In so many cases Scholarship pupils have proven their worth to be at this school in a way full fee-payers have not.
She is tipped to become the first-ever Mistress of the Guild of Assassins. Lord Downey is never entirely comfortable in her company and suspects he is in the presence of a better poisoner than he is.
Mr Mericet and Mr Nivor also vie for her attentions in a late-flowering romance. She didn't plan it this way, but is grateful for the attention.
She appears in these stories:- (all available on FanFic)
- The Graduation Class
- Murder most 'Orrible
- Slipping Between Worlds (cameo)