book review: “thud!” by terry pratchett
the anniversery of the battle of koom valley is coming up and the dwarfs and the trolls are getting restless. the battle, which took place a long time ago and in which many died, is a big bone of contention for these races who both believe the other started it. this is a key issue, of course, because the one who started it is of course wrong or to blame – making the hatred of the race who didn’t start it justified. a dwarf is then murdered in a mine and a troll’s club is found nearby. who committed the murder? and what exactly are the dwarfs doing down there, burrowing under the streets of ankh-morpork…? the city is a time-bomb and someone has just lit the fuse…
as one would suspect, thud! explores the racial tensions that exist in the discworld. apart from examing the long-held mutual hatred between the trolls and the dwarfs, the watch also gets a vampire and as we all know, vimes just loves vampires, as does angua! in focusing on this theme pratchett takes the opportunity to flesh out the world of the trolls, introducing new character types, dealing with troll drug abuse (hilariously, but also sympathetically) and generally adds depth to them. one gets the impression that he really has a soft spot for them.
he tries a similar thing with the dwarfs, but unfortunately not with the same success. you’ve got the deep-downers (mostly in uberwald) and the city dwarfs, and here you have these fanatical dwarfs who are apparantly even more fanatical than the deep-downers, whom vimes has some street-cred with. so once again we go through the whole vimes butting his head against a brick wall motif and the dwarfs being all stubborn, which is something we’ve seen just a few too many times by now. also, the contemporary link of having them wear veils where you can only see their eyes doesn’t work – it feels forced. either that or its just bad timing or poor humour.
in thud! we also learn more about vimes. this is probably one of the key elements that makes the watch series work so well – the way pratchett has developed vimes so well. here vimes gets a gooseberry (discworld blackberry – essentially a helpful little imp in a box) and its very funny to behold. sometimes pratchett gets these things just right and here he is spot on! one of the delightful little recurring sequences is when it calls vimes “INSERT NAME HERE!” as vimes has, of course, chosen not to insert his name. and the poor little thing is so eager for vimes to insert his name too…! its precious. it so desperately wants to be helpful…! as a character this little imp really comes alive and i hope to see more of it in future watch novels. i want a gooseberry!
pratchett also develops vimes’ relationship with his son which is quite a heartwarming part of the book. as the blurb says, every day, at 6pm, vimes has to read where’s my cow? to young sam – no excuses. now you just know that’s going to be difficult! pratchett uses this element of the novel really well and explores it nicely. vimes’ relationship with his son has really centred the character and it has helped him grow and flesh out – more than he has done in night watch and the fifth elephant.
the new recruit in this watch novel is sally – salacia von humpeding (!) – who is a vampire. pratchett has introduced numerous vampires in the discworld series and somehow this one is every bit as original as the others. i liked sally a lot and she perked the story up quite a bit for me when it flagged. apart from the obvious tension with vimes there is also a little love triangle between her, carrot and angua (something that carrot is completely unaware of, as usual).
this was fun to read. there were many moments that i really liked and overall this is a fairly enjoyable discworld novel. i say fairly because, although i enjoyed many elements of it, the story as a whole didn’t leave me particularly satisfied. i personally don’t like it when pratchett tries to tackle issues too directly, his story tends to go all over the place (reaper man being the obvious exception) – i prefer it when he lets the story carry the novel’s message for him. i think here he got too carried away with the themes that he forgot the plot. i never felt the tension of vimes trying to work out who had murdered the dwarf or him trying to work out why the dwarfs were mining under ankh-morpork in the first place, because this was so clouded with musings over the racial tension.
that said, though, i still think you can find the novel very enjoyable. like is said, its fun to read and if you aren’t as critical of terry’s big-theme talk as i am then i am sure you’ll love this.
pratchett seems to have gotten over his mini-slump that he experienced with the last continent, carpe jugulum and thief of time. although not vintage pratchett i’d still recommend this to fans of the watch. for those who just dip in and out of pratchett and want something fairly recent, better options might be going postal or the truth.