Continuing my occasional series as I work my way through Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, one book at a time.
Today’s entry is on the 34th book, Thud!
First Appearances: a number of characters like Brick, Mr. Shine, and Sally who probably would have appeared more often had Pratchett finished more Watch books.
Introduced to Discworld: dwarven curses, troll kings, and the truth about Koom Valley
Plot: The anniversary of the Battle of Koom Valley (at least the biggest one everyone remembers) is coming up, and Ankh-Morpork is tense over it as usual. A dwarf agitator named Grag Hamcrusher (“grag” being a title, not a name) is riling up the city dwarfs. That would in turn agitate the city’s trolls.
As if Sam Vimes, Commander of the City Watch, didn’t have enough troubles with all that, he has to bring in the Watch’s first vampire officer, deal with a city auditor, and find time to sit for the family portrait. The only thing that really matters is he must be home by six every day to read the book Where Is My Cow? to his toddler son Young Sam.
When Hamcrusher appears to have been killed by a troll club, the Watch must swing into action. Hamcrusher was an important member of the Deep Downers, dwarfs who rarely see the “corrupting” influence of sunlight, and the dwarfs found something in the city that could change the face of everyone’s view of Koom Valley. If Vimes, seen as incorruptable and a straight arrow by, oh, everybody, can’t solve the crime, there will be massive war between the dwarfs and the trolls again, and Ankh-Morpork will be stuck in the middle.
No pressure, right?
Commentary: The Battle of Koom Valley was first referenced way back in Men At Arms, where Pratchett revealed that it was a massive battle between dwarfs and trolls that was caused by both sides ambushing each other. That sort of linguistic impossibility is a Pratchett specialty, which may be why Discworld adaptations to other mediums are so few and far between. The big difference here is Pratchett decided to review that battle and, well, explain it.
The explanation actually works, but that isn’t the issue here at all. The Deep Downers learn the truth and it goes so against their belief system that they opt to do the very undwarfish thing and destroy the truth. Dwarfs hold words as sacred, so destroying words is a great crime for them.
The trolls themselves have something happening, though not as much. A fellow known as Mr. Shine has appeared. Mr. Shine like all trolls is made of living stone. In his case, he’s made of living diamond. This situation means he is self-cooling and is, in fact, a very intelligent troll. Most trolls get dumb when their brains heat up. Mr. Shine does not have that problem. He would be a king for their kind as a result. Even a troll as reliable at Detritus can lose his temper when faced with Vimes’ skepticism over Shine’s existence.
The title game has been floating around for a while as a somewhat Discworld-ish version of chess. Players can play as dwarfs or trolls, and a good player can do either (both sides have different rules), but Mr. Shine runs a literally underground Thud room. Learning to play both sides is essential to living and cracking the case as it turns out.
There’s also the Summoning Dark, a mysterious entity that acts as a dwarf curse of some kind. The Summoning Dark has found a host (it needs one) in an angry, rageful man, but miscalculates on what that means. Vimes is angry at lawbreakers quite often, but he has his home life to keep him calm and relatively sane, and it turns out he has an entity of his own to protect against the darkness. Not the Summoning Dark, but the dark inside Vimes himself, that would cause terrible havoc if it ever got loose.
Pratchett would go on to write one more Watch book, set in the countryside where Vimes has to solve a case all by himself. No Carrot, no Angua, no Detritus, no Cheery. In a sense, this is the last of the City Watch books. Since a number of new characters were introduced in this one, I can’t help but wonder what if anything Pratchett was planning. The new vampire copper, Sally, fits a Pratchett pattern of a new species finding acceptance in a larger group, but we see Detritus adopt a young troll named Brick, Sally is still on the Watch despite her spying for the Low King, and even Mr. Shine would seem to be an important new addition. Due to Pratchett’s death, they won’t amount to much in the grand scheme of things.
Then again, this novel saw Nobby dating a beautiful exotic dancer. While the other female characters were downright flabbergasted that a woman that attractive would date a man who had to carry a certificate proving he was human, Nobby ultimately breaks it off because she can’t cook. That’s the life of a Watchman for you.
NEXT BOOK: It looks like we’re going back to Tiffany Aching, Witch In Training, for something about the Wintersmith called, you guessed it, Wintersmith. I hope this one works better than the last one.
The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents
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