Thud! by Terry Pratchett
Published in 2005
Genre: Fantasy, satire
“It started out as a perfect day.”
A dwarf has been murdered by a troll; while this isn’t necessarily something new in the world of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, in Thud!, it is the small stone that begins an investigation that avalanches and brings Commander Vimes and his faithful City Watch into danger and mystery. Following the classic plotting of a police procedural, the murder that begins Thud! delves deeper into the history of animosity between dwarfs and trolls that leads back to a famous battle known as Koom Valley, where each side says they were ambushed by the other and every battle between the two races is considered a continuation of the original…battle. In addition to this, Koom Valley was immortalized by a painter gone insane and many believe that there is a secret hidden in the painting that will impact the worlds of dwarfs and trolls alike. It is up to Vimes and his rainbow coalition of the species of Discworld to discover the truth behind this ghastly piece of art.
A bit of background for the Discworld novices out there; there are 41 total published books in the Discworld series and of those, this is the twelfth I have read. In the series, there are a few main storylines that flow throughout and don’t necessarily do so in subsequent order. Thud! Belongs to the City Watch storyline which follows Samuel Vimes and the other members of the City Watch in Ankh-Morpork. The Watch is effectively the Ankh-Morporkian version of the police and in the first book of the series consists of then-Captain Samuel Vimes, Sergeant Fred Colon, and Corporal Nobby Nobbs. As the storyline progresses, the Watch grows larger and becomes a true police force through the devoted “coppering” of Vimes and his companions.
Pratchett writes quite a bit of satire into his books and Thud! is no exception. The idea of a secret hidden in a painting can also be found in the popular book The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, which was published two years earlier. The painting of Koom Valley is an obvious reference to this, especially with the artists who goes mad and leaves behind clues to a revelation that will shake the foundations of the world of dwarfs and trolls (not in The Da Vinci Code, silly) that are hidden in riddles and symbols. One of the symbols, known as the Summoning Dark, follows dwarfs that commit violence against other dwarfs and is attributed with driving the painter insane.
The Summoning Dark binds itself to Sam Vimes during his investigation and piles more onto his already full plate. Being the seventh book of the City Watch chronology, Samuel Vimes is the Commander of the City Watch and finds himself with thrice as many responsibilities as he had as a lowly Captain in the first book. He is married, has a young child, and devotes his life to the Watch. He makes it a point to be home by six o’clock every evening to read his son’s favorite book aloud, which is titled Where’s My Cow? For most of Thud!, Vimes fights to balance his family and work and barely scrapes by through sheer force of will. This also plays a large part in the climax of the book which makes for a hilarious and touching expression of his paternal devotion to his son.
This combination of character arc and comedy is found throughout Pratchett’s writing and one of my favorite parts of reading a Terry Pratchett book is his distinct style not only of voice but humor. The jokes in his books are very sarcastic and dry, often taking a minute or two to ruminate before causing me to exhale laughing or giggle like a small child on helium (a.k.a. the least manly noise you’ve ever heard. Imagine the noise a member of the Lollypop Guild seeing a kitten. So attractive). An example of this is when Vimes visits two members of the Thieves Guild and recounts their names while including their nicknames. One of these thieves is called Harry “Can’t Remember His Nickname” Jones. That joke works on a few levels which is another aspect of my love for Pratchett’s writing.
Pratchett also uses footnotes in his writing to add quips and witticisms. For example, there is a long running joke in the series that Corporal Nobby Nobs is so strange looking that the fact that he is human is often questioned and he is listed as his own species at one point. There is a footnote in Thud! that reads, “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.” Little bits peppered here and there in the books add a certain charm which compound my enjoyment of the story.
Thud! is a romping tale that continues the story of not only the growing City Watch but Commander Vimes himself. Silliness and profundity are found in equal shares and combine to create a book that is extremely entertaining. If sarcasm, fantasy, and very British humor are your cup of tea (hilarious idiom use, I know) then Thud! is a must.
Verdict: 5 “Near Vimes experiences” out of 5
Recommended for: Readers of the Discworld Series, those who have read Night Watch and wish to continue the adventures of the City Watch of Ankh Morpork, and Samuel Vimes.
Not recommended for: Grag Hamcrusher, The Summoning Dark, those without a sense of humor, or the morosely mundane.