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Snuff is yet another fantastic novel from author Terry Pratchett, a master of bringing fantasy tales to life, switching with ease dark unsettling scenes of murder to giggle educing comedy with nothing but a one liner. For those unfamiliar to the Disc World series there's really only one way to explain it, on top of giant turtle floating through space stands four elephants, upon the elephants backs lyes Disc World. The Disc is a land dominated by politics and magic in equal measure, a wide variety of creatures from goblins and dwarves through to vampires and werewolves.
Set in the Disc World series the tale focuses on the Commander of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch and Duke of Ankh, Sam Vimes, as he rather reluctantly takes a country break with his wife Lady Sybil. As is so often the way for Sam he's soon embroiled in a murder investigation, class struggle and action sequences galore as he strives to protect a weak and feeble community of goblins from persecution and abuse. With the assistance of his man servant, the loyal, immaculate and dirty fighting Willikins and a young local copper Vimes sets out to solve the murder of one of the Goblin community and stumbles on startling discovery of even greater misdeeds and injustice against the goblins.
Good or Bad?
If, like me, you're already a devoted fan then you'll find this another great addition to the series with an original story with some thoroughly satisfying further insight into Sam Vimes' roller-coaster of a life. For newcomers you'll find this a great introduction into the exciting and fun Disc World novels.
As a long-time Pratchett fan I bought this on release day in hardback.
As far as presentation goes, the book is available in multiple formats, including ebook and paperback.
There are a couple of hardback editions available, including a special edition with a gold dustcover and art cards, which wraps around the cover showne above to make it look as though Vimes is peering out of a port hole. In the physical books the text is clearly printed and legible, and although initial formatting problems were reported with the ebook version, these should now have been resolved.
So on to what people care about: the plot. This is a 'Watch' book - part of the Discworld subseries that focuses on the City watch and its Commander Vimes, who has gone up in the world since he married Lady Sybil Ramkin.
I'm not going into the details because I don't want to spoil it, but much to Vimes' displeasure, he and Lady Sybil leave the ciy behind to tour the Ramkin country estates and introduce their son to the joys of the countryside. He encounteres some interesting characters even before the plot truly begins, for example, there's a wonderful parody of Victoriania and Jane Austin early on, and then he arrives at the manor. Then he discovers the goblins, the dark secrets of the community and a crime to investigate (even if technically it may not be illegal). And then, finally, he discovers the threads that lead back to the city he just left...
There are a lot of plot threads in this book - it covers class differences, parodies classical literature, and has a fair bit of the standard discworld jokes readers will know well. At the same time this is a lot darker than many of the other books - without giving away spoilers, it features murder, slavery, and genocide. Because of all the plot threads, in some parts Snuff feels a little disjointed, but it is still better than the majority of books on the market.
Snuff is not a book I would suggest for readers new to the Discworld, because in many ways it feels like a perfect closing book, the resolution to Vimes' story, simply because there is not much more to say about him after this. There are also cameos from a lot of old favourites in the Discworld series. I would say however that readers who start with "Guards, Guards" the first of the Watch series and follow it through, will not be disappointed by this latest addition to the series.
As an avid Pratchett fan, it was with a large dose of fear that I started to read Snuff. I feared that the wickedly cruel Alzheimer's disease (from which he suffers) would perhaps have started to show in his work - the Pratchett equivalent of a fat Elvis in his Vegas years. Instead, I thank his very own Church of the Small Gods that Snuff turned out to be a cracker. Here's what the story is about, and also what I thought of it.
Snuff is book 39 of the Discworld series. For those that don't know, the Disc in question is a disc shaped planet that travels through space shouldered by four giant elephants, who each stand on the back of a space travelling turtle called Great A'tuin. You've probably guessed by now that Pratchett doesn't do romantic comedies.
In Snuff, Commander Sam Vimes of the Ankh Morpork City Watch goes on a rare holiday with his wife, Lady Sybil and son, young Sam to Sybil's family home in the countryside. Vimes is a copper through and through and his policeman's instincts soon alert him to the fact that a crime is taking place on Sybil's estate, a big fat dirty crime that has sucked in most of the locals and needs stopping. Holiday or not, he deals with it in the only way he knows how, and "Vetinari's Terrier" (Lord Vetinari is the ruler of Ankh Morpork) soon starts acting like the little breed of dog with the proverbial bone and doesn't drop that bone until he solves the crime and brings those responsible to justice.
I thought at first that this was going to be one of his more comedic books, and was half expecting a little bit of Vimes being classic Vimes as just a sideshow to the main plot about something completely different. This was reinforced by the light-hearted gags about Vimes being a typical city dweller and being frightened by the sights and sounds of the country. I was wrong - it soon became much, much deeper than that and became a fascinating essay questioning the morality of and reasoning behind slavery and genocide. Pratchett, in case you were wondering, has definitely lost his mojo nor his genius touch with the pen. Balls to Alzhiemers.
Vimes discovers that Goblins are being captured on Sybil's land and sent to work in what are effectively death camps in faraway Howondaland, labouring on tobacco plantations to supply the smugglers' market closer to home. The locals don't really question this state of affairs, as after all, Goblins are vermin, aren't they? Vimes knows better than this and he discovers that a whole culture and race of humanoids are being destroyed in order to provide the citizens of Ankh Morpork with cheap cigars. Pratchett's ability to tell a damn good tale is as good as ever; writing as strong as this was felt by me like a slap in the chops - it woke me up and got me thinking. I was mainly thinking about how brilliantly Pratchett has always managed to (and continues to do so with Snuff) use such a silly, obscure backdrop of magical space travelling elephants and turtles, dwarves, trolls etc and write meaningful stories which are essentially about us - real people in a real world.
On those dark occasions where genocide has been carried out in our world, it nearly always starts off with the ruling classes dehumanising the intended victims, so that when the masses start to commit crimes of violence and hatred towards the "enemy", it's deemed acceptable as hey, they're not really proper people. As Pratchett says in Snuff, little crimes being made socially acceptable makes it far easier to commit and get away with big crimes. The locals on Lady Sybil's estate are led in this way to help a small handful of "nobs" (I'm sure Pratchett has his tongue firmly lodged into his cheek when referring to the upper classes in this way, the wry old so and so!) almost wipe out the Goblins in the vicinity of Lady Sybil's estate, and this outrages Vimes. Proper, serious, good old fashioned outrage. If you've ever seen that film "Taken" with Liam Neeson, you might agree with me that he goes full on "medieval" in seeking vengeance on those who have kidnapped his daughter. Vimes does likewise in first of all apprehending then bringing to justice those responsible - he kicks some aristocratic butt and I found this compelling to read (sometimes Pratchett's books can be too centred on being funny).
I'm really finding it hard to find fault with the writing - if I were in a position to have a say as to how the final book looked prior to printing, I wouldn't change a thing. Not a word is wasted, and all of the main characters were as strong as steel - they played their parts in exactly the way Pratchett fans have come to love and expect - Vetinari was more Machiavellian than Machiavelli, Lady Sybil still wore the trousers whilst Vimes tried to change the world in typical Vimes style, by being absolutely determined to see that the law is upheld, all with a good dose of his "just a boy from the streets" smarts thrown in.
I'd go as far as saying that in time, this book should be looked on as one of Pratchett's vintage, classic Discworld stories. It's got everything that Pratchett does so well - humour, observations on people and life, and a plot so strong you could build a house on it. Oh, and Nobby Nobbs and Fred Colon even make a cameo appearance - what more could a Pratchett fan ask for? If you're thinking about giving Pratchett a go, you could just about get away with reading this without having to read the preceding 38 Discworld books beforehand, but I think you'd get a lot more enjoyment and understanding from it if you have read them all.
Five stars, I couldn't give it any less, for Blind Io's sake.
RRP £7.99 (paperback)
Available on Amazon for £3.86 brand new