Sunday, January 25, 2009

Thud! by Terry Pratchett

First published in 2005.

Once, in a gods-forsaken hellhole called Koom Valley, trolls and dwarfs met in bloody combat. Centuries later, each species still views the other with simmering animosity. Lately, the influential dwarf, Grag Hamcrusher, has been fomenting unrest among Ankh-Morpork's more diminutive citizens--a volatile situation made far worse when the pint-sized provocateur is discovered bashed to death . . . with a troll club lying conveniently nearby.

Commander Sam Vimes of the City Watch is aware of the importance of solving the Hamcrusher homicide without delay. (Vimes's second most-pressing responsibility, in fact, next to always being home at six p.m. sharp to read Where's My Cow? to Sam, Jr.) But more than one corpse is waiting for Vimes in the eerie, summoning darkness of a labyrinthine mine network being secretly excavated beneath Ankh-Morpork's streets. And the deadly puzzle is pulling him deep into the muck and mire of superstition, hatred and fear--and perhaps all the way to Koom Valley itself. (book back blurb)

Terry Pratchett's right up there with Neil Gaiman in the fantasy worship department. His is another name that I heard most often when starting all of my fantasy research so it was only natural that I picked up one of his books. At random. I knew of Discworld and I knew he'd written a bunch of books for that particular series. Thankfully it's not an ordered series, not really. I have no idea where Thud! falls in the Discworld order but I know it's not at the beginning nor the end and I didn't have any problems understanding what was going on. I'm almost positive, from what I've heard, that that was Pratchett's intent with this series. If you read them in order, then yes, they'd make a little more sense and you'd get a few more jokes but if you read them all mashed up, you wouldn't get lost in the mire. Those are my kind of series!

The only notion I had going into reading his book was that he’s [Pratchett's] funny. He’s certainly not the snort your soda type of funny but it’s a dry, British wit that if you don’t get the satire, you’re just not going to get it. I got it and thought some of his lines were absolutely hilarious. Tawneee’s nose going blort when she blew it tickled me in just the right way (but not that way, if you catch my drift, pervert).

It’s a sardonic, bored-with-life-but-never-coming-up-short-with-things-to-mock type of funny that really makes you appreciate the humor. Anyone can slip on a banana peel or miss-sit on a toilet seat and have it be funny but the poignant words and the near intricacy of Pratchett’s funny bone is remarkable. This is the type of humor that takes true talent. It’s all in the order of the words, how he chose them, what he chose and then just how they spring up on you, as if from out of nowhere. There’s little to no build-up and the hilarity is often told in something of an aside, an off-handed comment that’s there and gone before you know it. Poosticks, for example. Poosticks!

On the fantasy side, it’s pretty high fantasy but without all of the floofy, tweedle dee, prance around in a tutu throwing glitter with pixe farts type of high that tends to come with such a sub genre (to be obnoxiously stereotypical). It’s a work that’s very grounded in a world that isn’t our own but could be, surrounded by magical creatures of all kinds that had acclimated to society as if it were part of their normal evolutionary track. It could have rightly been a parallel world that could have existed in place of our own and we really wouldn’t have noticed save for a few trolls (I could roll with that, but I’ll leave it for now).

Perhaps it’s the satire itself that makes it seem so real. The discord between the trolls and the dwarfs could easily mimic any kind of racial or political divide that exists now. Or perhaps it’s the parody, Pratchett taking the stereotypes of a token butler and putting them all into Willikins gives him an astounding air of Ben Stein calm mixed with Jason Statham ass-kicking. Be it the satire, the parody or the drive for Vimes to be a good dad to his son regardless of the obstacles in his way, or all of these elements and then some combined into one, it all probably plays a part into this fantastical reality of Pratchett’s.

I don’t know if I’ll read this one again for a while, though, because I feel this kind of humor in book form is good the first time through and each subsequent time it’s read its impact lessens if read too consecutively. The voice is amazing, I love the way it’s written but I’ll probably only put one more read into it before putting it down and not coming back to it for a while. A book like this needs its time to sink in order to really appreciate everything it has to offer before getting picked up again. It needs its space but deserves to be read more than once throughout its lifetime.

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