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Thud!
Reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont, © 2005

Format: Book
By:   Terry Pratchett
Genre:   Fantasy
Released:   September 2005
Review Date:   December 01, 2005
RevSF Rating:   6/10 (What Is This?)

For the thirtieth of the Discworld novels, Terry Pratchett turns to recent events in Britain as an inspiration. As the book begins we learn that the city of Ankh-Morpork is full of ethnic tensions. Some Deep Dwarves have arrived in town and are railing against the perceived corruption of the more cosmopolitan and multi-cultural city Dwarves. The result is that many Dwarves suddenly rediscover the old ways and the old ways involve walking around in full armour and generally looking to pick a fight with the local trolls. Watch Commander Sam Vimes suddenly finds himself having to deal with the murder of one of these Deep Dwarves while juggling the arrival of a vampire into the Watch and his duties as a father. However, it quickly becomes clear that there is more to the murder than meets the eye and something or someone might be trying to manipulate the trolls and dwarves into re-living an ancient battle.

Thud! is clearly inspired by The War Against Terror (which gives us the acronym TWAT — not nearly as romantic as WWII), with the different ethnic groups in Ankh-Morpork slowly turning against each other as fundamentalist ideologues preach hatred and racial exceptionalism. The problem is that while this is clearly a brave piece of writing, Pratchett actually doesn't have that much to say on the topic. The ethnic tensions disappear because the Dwarves and Trolls start to see things from each other's perspectives and realise that they have more in common with each other than they might have previously thought. There's even a liberal preacher who spins the ancient religious texts to promote peaceful co-existence rather than war.

It's all a bit lightweight and fluffy, especially when you compare it to books such as Jingo or The Night Watch, which took aim at political targets and pulled no punches. It just seems that Pratchett missed a trick here, especially given that the sub-plots are not robust enough to fill in for the anaemic central plot line. (Speaking of missed tricks, isn't it a pity that the British opted to name their terrorist atrocity 07/07? Given that it took place in London on the seventh of July, I would think that "Double '07'" would have been much more appropriate.)

The final act of Thud! is also a mess. Occasionally Pratchett uses the old trick of having magic somehow solve all outstanding plot difficulties. Thud! sees Vimes possessed by something, fighting through a drug-like haze and then coming to realise that he'd resolved all the various plotlines that were hanging around. This is weak writing, especially when your book clearly aims to serve as some kind of political commentary. Is Pratchett really suggesting that we take a load of LSD and get in a fight and that this will resolve all problems with Islamic fundamentalism? I'd hope not, if only because it clearly didn't work for the Americans in Vietnam.

The other irritating element to this book is the attention lavished firstly on the Where's My Cow? book that Vimes reads to his son and secondly the board game Thud! that involves dwarves playing as trolls and vice-versa. The problem is that both of these products are available to buy in the shops and are quite poorly integrated into the story.

When you combine all of these elements of anaemic plot, poorly thought-out politics, under-written ending and adverts, you build up an image of a book that was rushed out in time for Christmas in order to help sell other products. "Cut My Own Throat Dibbler" eat your heart out!

Don't get me wrong — a weak Terry Pratchett novel is still a Terry Pratchett novel. There are enough little jokes and fun ideas to keep you chuckling to yourself and to make the Discworld seem that little bit more real and interesting. But when compared to his high standards of recent years, this is undeniably a dip in quality. If you're a Pratchett fan like me then you'll lap it up, but if you're a less-forgiving reader then I would consider giving this book a miss and waiting for the next one, which will be along soon I am sure.

Rev SF contributor Jonathan McCalmont seems to have some Christmas issues. I blame the LSD.

 
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