Terry Pratchett’s Discworld floats through its cosmos on the backs of four elephants, carried in their turn by the Great Turtle, A’Tuin. This fact has little, if nothing, to do with his latest book, Thud!, but it may be a useful notifier to neophytes about the kind of place in which it’s set. Over the course of 35 novels and several short stories set on the Discworld, Pratchett has moved from parody to satire (or so his later reviews claim), and the funhouse mirror that reflects what is laughably referred to as the "real" world has gotten smoother, though by no means less warped. Yes, I’m a fan, and have been ever since my first encounter with the earliest books, The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, in a library in Southern California over a decade after the first was published (at least in the U.K.). As a further disclaimer (or confession, or apologia), my favorite book, from everything Pratchett has written, is Night Watch. So, while I eagerly await every new Discworld book and know the pleasure they all can bring, each subsequent entry has been compared to what I consider the pinnacle of what Pratchett can do (or rather, I hope, has done). As much as I’ve enjoyed the five books that followed my favorite, I can’t say that I enjoyed any of them as much (with the possible exception of the first book in the Tiffany Aching series, A Hat Full of Sky, which I think of as in a separate category from the other Discworld books, partly due to the fact that Pratchett refers to them as "books for children of all sizes"). That includes Thud!, but there is still much to enjoy in this latest offering, not least of which are the things in it that are eerily reminiscent of the world in which we have to live.
Among other things, Thud! is about ethnic strife, the ethnicities in question being the trolls, the dwarfs, and the humans among whom they live in the Disc’s greatest city, Ankh-Morpork. The enmity between the first two groups goes back thousands of years to the Battle of Koom Valley, at which, it is said, both sides were ambushed. On the anniversary of the battle, tensions are mounting in the city, leading to the death of dwarf demagogue Grag Hamcrusher. The dwarfs want to keep things under wraps, but Commander Sam Vimes, head of the City Watch and fan (and his author’s) favorite, won’t let a crime of this magnitude go uninvestigated in his city. As if that weren’t enough, a centuries-old, 60-foot-long painting of the battle has been stolen, there’s a vampire on the Watch who’s making Lance Corporal Angua worry about losing her boyfriend (Captain Carrot, also a Watchman), and Vimes has to be home every day promptly at 6 p.m. to read Where’s My Cow? to his baby son. (A picture book of this name was released the same day as Thud!, also written by Terry Pratchett—or at least by someone with the same name.) As always, hilarity ensues, this time with fewer footnotes, but just as much stealth philosophy. For instance: the appearance of a board game (a partial inspiration for this book, also Available Now!) that combats the hatred of millennia by forcing its players to think like their enemies, and an optimistic and forward-looking answer to the enmity between the dwarfs and the trolls that is so good (and true-feeling) that you want to believe it’s possible—and may even search for hints of similar resolutions for the conflict’s real-world analogues.
With all this going for it, then, what more did I want? Less-than-transcendent Pratchett is still better and more enjoyable, more worth reading than almost anything but more Pratchett, and there are far worse things than to be found lacking when compared to one’s own other works. That said, my biggest complaint with the book is a serious one, in that, if not answered, it will mean the end of (at least) main character use for one of the most popular and beloved characters in the series, one whose struggle against his demons has made him compelling, but whose subsequent vanquishing of them, while immensely satisfying, means he’s lost the compelling contradiction in his nature. In short, while Sam Vimes has endeared himself by conquering the dangerous voice (or voices) inside himself, their absence means we will always know what he’s going to do. This doesn’t make him boring (he had a great cameo appearance in Monstrous Regiment without this being an issue), but it does mean that Pratchett will have to be supercreative if he wants Vimes to continue doing leading-man duty.
The good news is, he’s certainly up to it—witness what he did in, say, Night Watch (saw that coming, did you?): the book showed Vimes as a much younger, and much greener, cop; the older Vimes (the chronologically correct one, you might say) is also there to see himself as he was (don’t ask—just read it!), and the disconnect between them, combined with the fact that the older Vimes is now responsible for molding his younger self, drives the plot and deepens his character. There’s also the very real question of how far he’s willing to go, how bad he’s willing to be, to protect his younger self. In Thud!, on the other hand, even though Vimes’s wife and son are threatened, as far as the worst violence is concerned, the butler did it. There was actually, to this reviewer at least, no question that this would happen, or at least that whatever punishment needed doling out, it almost certainly wouldn’t be our man Vimes giving it.
Thud! notwithstanding, Pratchett himself may just agree with all this, given that his next announced projects leave behind the world of the Watch for stories about Tiffany Aching and Rincewind and his wizard compatriots (though not all will appear in the same book, obviously). Which points to more happy news for Discworld aficionados: there are many great characters on the Disc who can (dare one say it aloud?) take Vimes’s place as protagonist, and their author’s imagination and ingenuity show no signs of slowing. Wikipedia's Discworld entry lists five "Possible" and one definite future novels in the series; as these ideas spun off from work their author was doing on other books, they, likewise, will suggest yet more ideas, and in this way, an infinitely entertaining series will continue entertaining, indefinitely.
This is the first time Juliana has been published since she was in second grade. She can generally be found proofreading other people's work instead of creating her own, and needs more time for everything.