“ Genre: Sci-Fi & Fantasy / Author: Terry Pratchett / Kindle Edition / Publication Date: 2011 / Publisher: Transworld „
Pre-purchase, Snuff had me worried, I'll admit. Recent Discworld novels have been OK but nothing special and there were a few indications that Terry Pratchett was starting to run out of new characters or directions in which to take existing ones.
Snuff had me doubly worried once the plot information was released. It takes Commander Sam Vimes of the Ankh Morpork City Watch out of the city he knows so well and away from his regular Watch colleagues, such as Sergeant Colon, Nobby Nobbs and Captain Carrot. Instead, it has him visiting a country house in the company of his wife and son, discovering a mystery which he must resolve despite being "on holiday".
Taking characters out of their natural environment and away from their usual support cast is always risky and the worlds of both film and literature are littered with examples that haven't worked. Thankfully, Snuff doesn't add to this collection and is arguably one of the best Discworld books for quite some time.
Yes, some fans will bemoan the fact that their favourite Watch officers (particularly the brilliant Colon/Nobbs double act) are sidelined, although pleasingly, several do appear in brief cameos. The dynamic within the Watch and its various odd officers is always a great source of comedy and it certainly is a shame to lose it. However, this potential vacuum is amply filled by beefing up the role of a number of other characters. Specifically, the larger-than-life Lady Sybil Ramkin (Vimes' wife) is given increased coverage to great effect; the poo-obsessed Young Sam (Vimes' son) crops up occasionally to provide childish humour and words of wisdom. Best of all, Vimes' psychotic gentlemen's gentleman, Willikins, plays a much more prominent role.
These more than make up for the loss of Vimes' Watch colleagues and the dynamic between them is just as amusing, Sam Vimes is still his slightly cynical, world-weary self but we also get to see another side to him: the doting father and husband. Focussing on the relationship between Sam and his wife allows Pratchett to make some highly amusing observations about marriage and relationships between husbands and wives - a rich vein of humour that he has not really touched upon previously. Throw in the usual mix of odd, dysfunctional and downright strange characters and you have a cast that more than makes up for any weaknesses caused by the absence of the full Watch.
The plot is excellent, too. It has a strong narrative, a real sense of progression (some Discworld novels can be a little odd, where you only know in general terms what is going on) and an air of a mystery gradually being resolved - in other words, all the elements that make for a good Watch story. There's no doubt that the overall tone of Snuff is a lot darker and more adult than many previous Discworld novels, but this is no bad thing. Snuff takes in issues of state-sponsored murder, slavery and even recalls the horrors of Concentration Camps. Pratchett has always used the Discworld and humour to shine a light on some of the darker elements of our own world, but it's done more consistently and more overtly here. There are even times when Snuff comes perilously close to (heaven forbid!) making you think...
Don't run away with the idea that Snuff is a serious book, though. Just as he has always done, Pratchett uses his plot and characters to make some serious (and usually very accurate) observations about human nature, but this is never done at the expense of the humour. Snuff is a very funny book, one of the most consistently funny Discworld novels for a good few years. There are regular instances where you will find yourself laughing out loud, and scarcely a page goes by without you at least smiling at something.
The humour is the usual Pratchett scattergun approach, taking in word play, misunderstandings and an acerbic look at the way the world is. Much of the humour is generated from the relationships between the various characters and their respective outlooks on life, but there are several lighter moments, based around slapstick style humour. Basically, whatever style of humour you enjoy, the chances are there will be something in Snuff that will make you laugh. If you are a long-time fan of Pratchett's books, then you will find it one of his most consistently funny titles for years.
That consistency is important. A criticism of previous Discworld books has been that the humour has fallen down at times. Discworld novels often start off very funny with the humour tailing off towards the middle and end as the plot starts to take over. Snuff is different. Whilst (inevitably) there is a greater emphasis on the plot as the book progresses, the humour continues throughout and you will find yourself laughing or smiling almost as much towards the end of the book as you were at the start.
Of course, you do need to have read at least some of the previous Watch books to fully appreciate the characters and their outlook. There are several references to Vimes' previous adventures and the assumption is that you will know all about them. In fairness, this is a perfectly reasonable assumption to make. This is Discworld book number 39 (eek!) after all, so if you join a series 39 books in, you can't expect to understand everything! Whilst all the Discworld novels are, to some extent, readable as standalone books, there are titles which build on each other - and the Watch series is an example of this. If you leap in mid-series, you can't expect to be in full possession of the facts and only have yourself to blame when you find yourself all at sea.
The Kindle edition of this is an absolute steal. At the time of writing, it's on Amazon for just over £5. The printed version is a bit more expensive with a retail price of £18.99 (although it can be picked up online and in some high street shops). Whichever version you buy, it's well worth the money and is one of the best and funniest Discworld novels for years.
ISBN: 978-0385619264 (hardback); 038561926X (Kindle)
(c) Copyright SWSt 2011