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
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.