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Thud! It's more than just a sound effect
on 21 October 2005
Terry Pratchett has done it again. With Thud! (I've lost track of how many Discworld books there have been), Pratchett returns to the adventures of the "coppers" of Ankh-Morpork, one of the largest cities on the Discworld. It's been a while since we've had a straight "City Watch" book, with Night Watch being a character study of Commander Samuel Vimes, and the subsequent books being standalones, I've really missed seeing the Watch in action. Thud! delivers on all cylinders, going back to some of the basics that made Pratchett what he is today. You've got your quirky characters, you've got your hilarious footnotes (something which seemed to have disappeared from Pratchett's books, much to my chagrin), and you've got Vimes leading them all, trying to be the best copper he can be, doing what's right despite what everybody else seems to want him to do.
The anniversary of the battle of Koom Valley, an ancient battle between the Dwarfs and the Trolls, is coming up, and tension in the city of Ankh-Morpork is rising. Commander Samuel Vimes can smell trouble, and he'll do anything to keep the city safe. When a rabble-rousing Dwarf from the Dwarf homeland is murdered, the Dwarfs immediately blame the Trolls, and it looks like blood will wash over the city. But not with Vimes and the rest of the Watch on the case. A sinister secret from the depths is working its way into the real world again, planning to use the animosity between the two races as its entry point, but it keeps getting stymied. Will the Watch solve the case and bring the perpetrators to justice? And just what is the secret of Koom Valley, and what does it have to do with this entity? And will Vimes be able to keep his daily six o'clock appointment with his young son to read Where's my Cow?
Previous Discworld books have been very humorous, but not laugh-out-loud funny. They've been good, but while I enjoyed them, I've longed for a Pratchett book of old. That's what I got with Thud!, with the return of beloved characters like the very tall, very human Dwarf, Captain Carrot, along with his girlfriend (and werewolf), Sergeant Angua. Pratchett is the master of making all of these characters funny without really making fun of them (ok, he does make fun of Nobby Nobbs, but that's just too easy). Carrot is earnest to a fault, honest, and very loyal. The scene between him and the Patrician at the end of the book is just priceless. Angua becomes suspicious of the female vampire that Vimes has been forced to accept onto the Watch, and the rivalry between them (the werewolf versus vampire rivalry, I mean!) is fun to watch. The rest of the characters are also extremely well done too. Pratchett has shown that he is the master of characterization, and this is yet another example of it.
The plot is a bit too mystic for my tastes (even Vimes can't force himself to believe it), but overall it worked out fine. I loved the ongoing tension between the Dwarfs and the Trolls, especially as we see it in great detail when the Trolls and Dwarfs on the Watch have to deal with it. Detritus, one of the more prominent Trolls on the Watch, really comes into his own, even forcing Vimes to back down from his prejudices at one point. All of the little plots tie together into one big one, even Vimes' insistence on reading the same children's book to his son every night at six o'clock. This did lead to one of the sequences that I had a problem with. The first time this comes up, Vimes has to make it across the city in record time in order to keep his appointment, and he gets a little help from Captain Carrot. I found this sequence forced and not very funny, feeling very out of place in this book. Yes, it does begin what becomes a prominent part of the story, but I think it could have been introduced better.
That is really the only major fault I can find with Thud!, and it's only a small sequence. There are a few other minor things that bothered me, like the disappearance of A.E. Pessimal, the man who comes to audit the Watch, but ends up being deputized and becoming a hero instead. Vimes does do something to him that ensures he will be back, but it would have been nice to see him at the end too. He was extremely funny, especially his introduction to Vimes where he comes off as a humorless git. I also found that the "girls' night out" dragged on a bit too long, but it did have its moments.
Overall, though, Thud! is worth every penny it costs. Instead of serious books with some good humour in them, we get a book that's funny but has a good serious point as well. The differences may be subtle, but they are there, and they can be seen in the footnotes. In older Pratchett books, the footnotes were some of the best comedy in the books, but he started to move away from them. Now, they're back, and with a vengeance. "This was a bit of a slur on Nobby, Vimes had to admit. Like many other officers, Nobby was human. It was just that he was the only one who had to carry a certificate to prove it." I loved almost every page in Thud!, and if you're a Discworld fan, you will too. You don't even need to have read any Discworld before, though it certainly helps if you have at least read some of the Watch books. You'll still laugh a lot, though.