Home > books > book review: “thud!” by terry pratchett

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.

Categories: books
  1. June 29, 2007 at 7:03 pm

    After reading this book, I spend about 2 weeks amusing/consternating my boyfriend with random burst of “Where is my cow?” And yes, I’d say the whole thing 😛

    As I had predicted, I really enjoyed reading your review even though we disagree. For me, the whole thing with the Dwarfs did work, and the message did not get in the way of the plot. We also disagree on the mini-slump! “The Last Continent” yes, that is by far my least favourite Discworld. But I loved “Carpe Jugulum” and “Thief of Time”! The first chapter of “Carpe Jugulum” made me teary-eyed. You can laugh at me all you want now 😛

    I like how even though this is not a favourite of yours you focoused different aspects of the book and managed to give people a good idea of what to expect from it. So… great review!

  2. June 29, 2007 at 7:59 pm

    I saw this book in the clearance section of the bookstore the other day for five dollars (in hardback) and almost bought it, but I didn’t because I haven’t read any of the discworld novels. Is discworld something you can jump into anywhere or would you suggest a starting point? The book sounded great from cover flap, and I must say, between you and Nymeth’s comments, I’m sold 😉 There’s always things that work and don’t work in a novel, but this one sounds enjoyable.

  3. June 29, 2007 at 8:09 pm

    I really loved Thud! One of my favourite Pratchett books.

    Chris, you can jump in anywhere, but it works much better if know the characters. The first City Watch book is Guards! Guards!

  4. jean pierre
    June 29, 2007 at 9:33 pm

    nymeth, “where’s my cow?” is brilliant! i especially like it when he’s trundling through koom valley in a daze, reciting it.

    i’m glad you enjoy it as much as you do – as well as “thief of time” and “carpe jugulem”. even though i personally don’t like them i hate the thought of him having written a bad book ’cause there are so many of his that i love and got so much fun out of! perhaps i’ll have to give “carpe jugulem” another try. i did like the concept and like the witches…

    chris, where to start? hmmm… well i think fence’s advice is good, that you start at the beginning of a sequence concerning a certain group of characters – so “guards! guards!” for the watch for instance. wikipedia has that sort of thing. perhaps you can have a snoop around and see which group strikes your fancy.

    there are also some good ones you can read out-of-sequence which’ll give you a good taste, like “the truth”, “going postal” and “hogfather” (although “hogfather” does lead on from previous stuff, but i just love it so i’m mentioning it…!)

    but then, some of the best reading one can experience is whim reading, so maybe if you see a terry pratchett and you like what the cover flap says then just buy it! i didn’t start reading terry pratchett in sequence.

    thanks for stopping by fence.

  5. June 29, 2007 at 10:06 pm

    You know…I’ve never read any of the Discworld books. I just don’t even know where to start! Is there an order to them?

  6. June 29, 2007 at 10:08 pm

    By the way…I’ve been trying to figure out your banner. Is that a Chili Peppers CD on top?

  7. June 29, 2007 at 10:56 pm

    Here is another place where I have to make a confession…other than Good Omens, I have not read any Terry Pratchett. I know, I know… It certainly hasn’t been a conscious decision to avoid his work, it is more the fact that my pile of books that I want to read gets bigger every week and I am an avid re-reader. I love how some of you really loved this and others, or at least for you JP, it was just so’so. Isn’t that the way it always is with authors we love who write interesting books…different books within their repetiore speak to us differently. Eventhough I’m a Pratchett virgin, I have enjoyed the conversation!

  8. June 29, 2007 at 11:10 pm

    For everyone asking where to start, check this out: Discworld Reading Order Guide. Like Jean Pierre said, the stories are basically independent, so you don’t have to read them in order, but sometimes knowing about past events adds meaning to a story, so it’s good to take a look at the guide.

    Jean Pierre, I know just how you feel. It’d make me happy to know someone loved The Last Continent, for example, just because, well, it’s a Terry book!

    In Carpe Jugulum, what really got to me was that thing about Granny Weatherwax being the one who was there when people die, and how, even though she was necessary, the community feared her. This is of course something he has touched in other books, but I thought the way he did it in this book was so poignant.

  9. jean pierre
    June 29, 2007 at 11:57 pm

    thanks for that nymeth. the reading guide is perfect to see where to start.

    it also depends on your tastes. there are 5 main categories:

    1. the witches
    2. the wizards
    3. rincewind
    4. death
    5. the watch

    the witches are brilliant. as nymeth touched on they are cool for looking at how society perceives and fears magic and witches. they’re also cool for gender politics. terry also has great fun satirising and exploring fantasy themes and shakespeare with them. if that sounds good to you then go with that – which would be “equal rites”, technically, although you could go with “wyrd sisters” a parody of “macbeth” which i prefer. the ball doesn’t really get rolling with “equal rites” anyway.

    the wizards are very funny. they’re so silly. with them terry is satirising the stuffy but silly english academics. he also explores magic – not natural and mental magic as with the witches – but woooosh! zip! kaboom! squirt… magic. they’re mostly background characters for the first bunch of novels and only come into their own with “reaper man”. this is the second death novel, and if you like death and you don’t mind not reading the first one, then you can grab that!

    with death terry explores mortality and humanity. he treats him a bit like science fiction authors would treat an intelligent android. death is brilliant. he has such a good sense of humour, loves cats and has a white horse called binky! haha! you can see where pratchett is going with this… his first book is “mort” when death decides to have a vacation and gets an apprentice in. or if you want a double-team of death and the wizards you could go for “reaper man”.

    rincewind is a failed and cowardly wizard. he’s very funny and basically runs away a lot. to start with him would be to start at the very first discworld novel, “the colour of magic”. being his first its very raw but also very fast-paced and a lot of fun!

    and then theres the watch. they’re sort of hardboiled crime fiction whodunnits mixed with political intrigue. its mostly about society, cities, politics and war. they’re very cool. the first would be “guards! guards!” which is a lot of fun and parodies “the hobbit” a little.

    if thats too confusing then, as i said to chris, you could check out either “the truth”, “hogfather” or “going postal”.

    “the truth” is about moist von lipwig who sets up the first newspaper. its really fun and shows a more polished pratchett. it has this one very funny character, a reformed vampire (doesn’t drink blood) who is a photographer. every time he uses the flash he goes up in a puff of smoke and all thats left is a heap of ash with a vial of blood lying among it, with a note politely asking you to sprinkle some blood on the ashes to revive him. haha!

    “going postal” is about a con-man and petty thief who gets co-erced by the city patrician to resurrect the postal service. its a classic anti-hero, i-don’t-want to-do-this type, story… again, polished pratchett.

    “hogfather” is a wizards and death novel and comes after “mort”, “reaper man” and “soul music”, but i’m suggesting it because i love it so much! its about christmas. santa clause – the hogfather – goes missing and death has to fill in. its a mixture of a whodunnit mystery with monsters and boogie men involved. i love it because it has such a wonderful christmassy feel to it! its so heartwarming.

    or, of course, you could just grab a book on a whim – which can sometimes be the best way…!

    nymeth, i actually remember that granny weatherwax moment and remmeber feeling quite touched by it too. he does those domestic/human bits so well with the
    witches, doesn’t he? the way they interact with each other and lancre…

    carl, its nothing to be ashamed of. we can’t all read everything! terry does have a lot of scope and variety to his work, which is one of the big reason i have read all his discworld stuff. which means that there is something there for everyone who likes his stuff.

    if you’re curious perhaps you could try a really short one, like “mort” “wyrd sisters” or “guards! guards!” – they tend to get longer as the series goes on. or, you could start with the one that made me fall in love with him “the colour of magic” and “light fantastic” graphic novels. i’d read “equal rites” and it didn’t quite capture me, but when i read those two graphic novels i just feel in love with the world, because apart from it being such a fun and silly story, visually the world is just so cool. the art is really good!

    stephanie, that is indeed the chili peppers up there – “stadium arcadium”.

    the rest, if you’re curious, is deftones’ “white pony” and next to that is the film “casshern”. below “white pony” is the yeah yeah yeah’s “show your bones”. under “stadium arcadium” is a comic “sleeper: a crooked line”. to the left is jon foster’s “progressions” (you can sort of see the robot’s arm) and “sin city”. and peeping through at the very bottom, in the middle, is a comic “ascend”.

  10. June 30, 2007 at 1:34 am

    Wow! Thanks for all the info you guys! I now feel like I have to read some of these books because you and Nymeth are just cracking me up! I feel like I’m reading a code language with Granny Weatherwax and Where’s my Cow…

    So I offer you a very huffed and puffed thanks as I add another 20+ books onto the wishlist 😉 Seriously though, thanks for the break down on the different series…now to decide where to start!

  11. Kim
    June 30, 2007 at 7:15 am

    I’m overdue for some Pratchett. Great review. The Watch books aren’t my favorite, but your review whet my appetite for some good ‘ole Vimes action.

  12. jean pierre
    June 30, 2007 at 12:52 pm

    haha, yeah, it can seem like a code! i’m glad you find it interesting 🙂 although don’t feel you have to dive in for the whole slog. dip in and if he’s your cup of tea then you can be happy to know that there are loads more waiting.

    a good thing is that they’re all very quick reads.

    thanks kim. 🙂 i’d be interested to see what you thought!

  13. June 30, 2007 at 3:21 pm

    Jean Pierre, what you wrote is a great Discworld intro! I think I’m going to point people to this post whenever they ask me where to start! That reading order guide is useful, but your comment is a precious companion to it, as it tells people exactly what to expect from each sub-series.

    I love just that about the Witches – the human/domestic things. And I also love the relationship between Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg.

    Chris: lol, I suppose it does look like code language 😛 hopefully you’ll soon find out what it is that we’re talking about exactly!

  14. jean pierre
    June 30, 2007 at 4:00 pm

    thanks nymeth! i wrote it late last night and just noticed loads of typos (which i’ve now fixed – hopefully i spotted all the bad ones!).

    i really like nanny ogg and granny weatherwax’s relationship too. the way they do things so differently and yet respect each other so much. they’re both very wise in their own way.

    i also really like the bits that happen in granny weatherwax’s house. i can really picture her house. the actual feel of it also comes through the book. the peacefulness of it and the way it is near nature.

  15. June 30, 2007 at 5:47 pm

    Thanks for the great comment breaking everything down and suggesting places to start. There are some very intriguing things for me…the ‘death’ ones for sure. Also the story with the reformed vampire. That sounds great.

  16. Jeff S.
    July 1, 2007 at 6:05 am

    JP and Nymeth – Thank you both. I’m also guilty of never having read any of Terry’s books. I’ve heard nothing but good things over the years but there are just so many and I never new quite where to start. This is all very helpful. Much appreciated!

  17. jean pierre
    July 1, 2007 at 4:56 pm

    carl and jeff, glad you guys found the post helpful!

    otto von chriek, the vampire, is sadly only a supporting character. but i love every moment of every one of his appearances. he is absolute gold!

    death is very cool and actually a very deep character. pratchett still keeps him enigmatic, but as you read you really get to know him somewhat…

  18. July 3, 2007 at 2:13 am

    Glad that I’m not the only one who noticed the Pratchett slump since “The Last Continent” – I stopped reading the Discworld Ankh-Morpork series since “Fifth Elephant” – that was pretty lacklustre compared to most of his Ankh-Morpork series.

    But recently I’ve picked up the Tiffany Aching series and I LOVE THEM! I’ve always loved the Witches series. Tiffany Aching with Granny Weatherwax should just be the next dynamic duo. I love their little contest of will. Oh, and that white kitten Tiffany Aching gave to Granny Weatherwax – it’s so sweet!

    The Tiffany Aching series is Pratchett’s return to form, although I’m still hesitating on picking the more recent Discworld books.

  19. jean pierre
    July 3, 2007 at 9:48 am

    dark orpheus, its something one hates to say, but its true.

    the tiffany aching ones are good, aren’t they. i think one thing that makes them stand apart is that they have a lot more focus and direction than some of the recent discworld. he seems more aware that he can’t just prattle on and has to tell a story!

    perhaps my loyalty to the main discworld series is a bit misplaced…? i’d been thinking i don’t quite have time for the tiffany aching books and if a read a more pratchett it should be the main series. but even though tiffany aching isn’t as good as pratchett at its best, its a lot more reliable.

    the tiffany/weatherwax relationship is pratchett on absolute top form, though. i haven’t read “wintersmith” but maybe i should… is there more tiffany/weatherwax?

    if you’ve stopped at “the fifth elephant” i’d definitely recommend “the truth” or “going postal”. since you’re critical of “the fifth element”, which i also thought was lacklustre, i wouldn’t necessarily recommend “thud!”, even though i rather enjoyed it. its better than “the fifth elephant” but i think it has the same weaknesses.

  20. July 3, 2007 at 3:05 pm

    There’s lots of Pratchett fans out there, huh? 🙂

    Oh yes, there’s somemore Tiffany/Weatherwax in “Wintersmith” – I think that’s where the white kitten comes in. Or was that in another book? I rushed to read all the Tiffany Aching books after “Wee Free Men” so the details overlap.

    After a while, it feels like the Discworld novels are all the same book in 31(and counting) volumes.

    I’ll try to pick up the later Discworld from the library soon. I like the sudden burst of Discworld discussion. Rekindles my Pratchett interest.

  21. rhinoa
    July 3, 2007 at 4:48 pm

    I have read the Discworld series up to Monstrous Regiment so far as well the Truckers/Diggers/Wings. I aim to get up to date with the paperbacks this year including his other series. It shouldn’t be too long until I get to Thud! although I try not to read too many in one go as they get a little too similar…

    I like them, but am not a massive fan (although I have read 27 of them!). Some are very funny and really have something to say, but others I find quite poor. When speaking to others though there is always disagreement over which are the best ones and which are the worst which is interesting. I really don’t think he is much of a writer as he very much sticks to the same tried and tested means, but this does mean if you like one you will most likely like them all!

  22. jean pierre
    July 5, 2007 at 7:55 am

    yeah, dark orpheus, they’ve all suddenly come out! he sells a lot, of course, but i haven’t seen much of him on the internet in quite a while…

    i’m glad there’s more tiffany/weatherwax! yeah, i think “wintersmith” is one i’m gonna have to read, then! 🙂

    hey, rhinoa – i’ve seen you over at nymeth’s. thanks for stopping by!

    that is an amazing about pratchett – how no-one agrees about his books. “small gods” must be the worst one i read, and yet it seems the most popular! i think it says something about how broad his appeal is and that eventhough they may feel like the same book after reading 27, there must be a difference because everyone likes different ones…

    the debate about pratchett’s literary merit is a difficult one. on the one hand i can see your argument, he’s not about to win the booker prize or anything! but then on the other i think to myself: he has tried to write in a certain style for a certain purpose and he has succeeded – enormously so. before rowling came along he was the best selling british author. he’s now the second best – no mean feat either.

    i don’t anyone (least of all himself) is about to proclaim his work literary fiction, but as carl so often reminds us, there are many genres of literature out there that fulfill different functions. some are fun and/or enjoyable to read, and some are deep and insightful, and novels that make one laugh are as important as novels that make you grow. we need them both.

    in that sense pratchett is very much of a writer.

    which are the ones you really enjoyed then? or found very funny?

  23. July 8, 2007 at 1:20 pm

    Well, I wouldn’t say that “it’s something one hates to say, but it’s true”. As everything, it is quite subjective 😉

    For me, “Thud!”, “The Fifth Elephant”, or “The Wee Free Men” ARE Terry Pratchett in top form. “Going Postal” and “The Truth”, not so much, even though I still enjoyed them. I’m sure there are many others out there who agree with me, as there are many others who agree with the two of you. But like you said, that’s part of the fun!

    Ohhh, a white kitten. I really have to read Wintersmith.

    It’s great to see that this discussion keeps going 😀

    PS: I would be the one to pronounce his work (a great chunk of it anyway) “literary fiction”, whatever that is 😛

  24. jean pierre
    July 8, 2007 at 4:07 pm

    you’re absolutely right, nymeth. i apologise. its just my opinion and its by no means “true”! 🙂

    and i’m glad to hear you liked “the fifth elephant” so much. i wasn’t including “the wee free men” in my criticism, however. i didn’t make that clear … 🙂 my criticism was directed at the main series of discworld books, not the books for “younger readers” or whatever they’re called. i really enjoyed “the wee free men”.

    one vote for pratchett as literary fiction!

  25. September 7, 2008 at 11:00 pm

    The veil thing was not a contemporary link, I don’t think – the grags wore it because they really didn’t want to leave the darkness, not because other people were forcing it on them. Note that they didn’t force other dwarves to wear them; in fact it was a status symbol.

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