Terry Pratchett


"Thud!"

(Reviewed by Shanna Shadowfax MAR 6, 2008)

History tends to repeat itself, even on the Discworld. And the anniversary of Koom Valley is approaching-the ancient battle between Trolls and Dwarves that has been repeated and remembered ever since, creating enmity between the two races. Tensions are high, especially in the city of Ankh-Morpork, where both races live in increasing numbers. As if this wasn't enough for the Commander of the City Watch to deal with, he's got a dwarf murder to solve, a new recruit who is also a vampire and a city Inspector to deal with-and, in true Pratchett fashion, nothing is quite what it seems on the surface.

The Discworld has always included dwarves and trolls as part of its inhabitants, yet in some of the earlier Discworld books, one would hardly recognize those races as they appear in the most recent city watch books. The City Watch books, particularly, Men at Arms, Feet of Clay and The Fifth Elephant have led readers away from the simple stereotypes Pratchett set down in the earliest books. These Discworld stories have added depth, understanding and complexity to these two races. THUD! takes that exploration and understanding even further by looking at the history of Koom Valley with new eyes, and a new Discworld novel. Of course, Pratchett never just tells a story, as any veteran readers will know. Pratchett is as much a writer of satire, an observer of the human condition around him. And the stories he writes have many echoes in the world around us. THUD! creates echoes many readers will recognize: ancient enmities, racial intolerance, old battles revisited, and the desire of a father to spend time with his son.

I haven't met a Discworld book that I don't like. Pratchett is one of the rare authors I've come across who is consistently a good read. I can't give this book less than 5 stars. That being said, this book was not Pratchett's absolute best. There was some sense that the opening chapters were a bit less streamlined, too much going on. But my biggest issue was with the character of Sally, the vampire. Pratchett spends less time on her than he usually does on setting up a new character. The kind of care he spent introducing previous Watch characters, such as Angua and Cheery just isn't as evident here. While the vampire girl is a part of the plot, her own story doesn't become realized here, and the conflict between Angua and Sally seems to be only touched on, rather than really explored. This is also not the best book for a new reader to cut their Discworld teeth on. Many of the established characters are only given a cameo appearance before we move on to the real story.

That said, the "real story" is very good indeed. The payoff is worth it. And like any Discworld novel, I can't really go into the inner workings of the story itself without revealing too much. You're just going to have to read it for yourselves. If you're new to Terry Pratchett, or the Discworld series, I suggest you backtrack before reading this one and begin with Guards! Guards! the first book that features the city Watch. While these books are not a full-fledged series and can be read independently of one another, it's still helpful to have a sense of how the characters and settings were built up in earlier stories. If you are a devoted Pratchett fan, you already know the Discworld series, but you might want to check out Where's My Cow? the picture book that Commander Vimes reads to his son in THUD!. I've ordered my own copy and can't wait for it to arrive. The only other downside of THUD! I know of is that it ended, and now I'm stuck waiting for Pratchett to hurry up and write something else.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 171 reviews
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"Monstrous Regiment"

(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer NOV 12, 2003)

"And then there was the young-male walk to master. Young men swung everything, from the shoulders down. You have to try and occupy a lot of space, Polly thought. It makes you seem bigger, like a tomcat fluffing his tail. She'd seen it a lot at the inn. The boys all tried to walk big in self-defense against all those other big boys out there. I'm bad, I'm fierce, I'm cool, I'd like a pint of shandy and me mum wants me home by nine...

Let's see...arms out from the body as though holding a couple bags of flour...check. Shoulders swaying as though she was elbowing her way through a crowd...check. Hands slightly bunched and making rhythmical circling motions as though turning two independent handles attached to the waist...check. Legs moving loosely and apelike...check...

It worked fine for a few yards until she got something wrong and the resultant muscular confusion somersaulted her into a holly bush. After that, she gave up."

Read excerptPolly Perkins has a dilemma...her homeland of Borogravia is at war (again) with the neighboring country of Zlobenia, a war that has taken away all the young men of the town, including her brother Paul. Now, since the national deity Nuggan hath declared a woman writing or running an establishment an abomination (along with crop rotation, oysters and the color blue), she needs to go and get her brother back so that he can inherit the Duchess and keep it in the family. So she decides to commit another abomination...she slices off all her hair and dresses up as a boy and goes off to join the army in the hopes of finding Paul. Sergeant Jackrum, whose name seems to strike fear in the hearts of those he meets, is only too happy to accept her...but then, he also signs on a vampire, a troll, a zombie and a youth whose worship of the Duchess, the leader of the land that everyone prays to in place of Nuggan, borders on the fanatical. The first night of her enlistment Polly (now called Oliver, or Ozzer) is handed a pair of socks by a mysterious benefactor in order to help her get a bulge in the right place (she's all right in other places since nature, luckily for her in this case, has failed to provide her bulges where she usually should have them) and before she knows it she's thinking with her socks...speaking out, fighting, and learning how to deal with ruperts (officers) with the best of them.

Meanwhile, Samuel Vimes (the star of Pratchett's last book Night Watch ) has been sent by Ankh-Morpork to assess the situation between the two countries and assist where necessary to protect Ankh-Morpork's interests.

Consistently engaging, this newest Discworld work is a cross between Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe Series and all the silly ballads where a woman dresses as a man to go to war. Polly is a wonderful heroine, filled with guts and initiative that she blames on the socks she has tucked in her pants...but, in truth, are all qualities she has on her own and has only just begun to tap. It wasn't as if she was a wall flower, pre-socks, either...she worked hard to run her father's inn, and so she isn't afraid of labor and understands a lot of what men say and do when they don't think women are watching. Sometimes, the richest moments are when Pratchett uses his satiric wit to poke fun at perceived gender roles, even as Polly's attempts to be a good man endear the reader to her. The fact that people don't recognize her as a woman very easily is also funny...she's both pleased and insulted, just as anyone would be.

The mixture of fellow solders -- each with their own little secret -- is also a place for humor as well as intelligent story building, such as how Maledict, the vampire, deals with his need for blood. Instead, he transfers his desire to coffee, which, when it gets stolen, leads to some fun results. The building of camaraderie between this unlikely troupe of would be heroes is fabulous.

Pratchett has a way of dealing with all aspects of his story in realistic ways, even as he pokes fun at it...the army life feels about right. Jackrum's instructions on how to handle officers, the quarter master's instructions on food (especially the hierarchy of food...when regular viands run out, the Borogravia army turns to its horses...then, when they are gone, people swap legs for a tasty treat) and the way the "men" act together is all deftly handled for a read that's hilarious, but not a caricature.

Filled with cleverly woven plotlines, characterization and action, Pratchett's prose never fails to please. He understands very well how to create a read that is uplifting as well as exciting.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 168 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Monstrous Regiment at MostlyFiction.com

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"Night Watch"

(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer DEC 22, 2002)

"The graves were just visible in the tangled vegetation. In front of them stood Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler, Ankh-Morpork's least successful businessman, with a sprig of lilac in his hat.

He caught sight of the watchman and nodded to them. They nodded back. All three stood looking down at the seven graves. Only one had been maintained. The marble headstone on that one was shiny and moss-free, the turf was clipped, the stone border was sparkling.
Moss had grown over the wooden markers of the other six, but it had been scraped off the central one, revealing a name:
John Keel

And carved underneath, by someone who had taken some pains, was: How Do they Rise Up

Sam Vimes is a good man. The type that you would want to be your mentor, the type you would want to have at your back in a fight. Over the years he's risen from poverty to the Commander of the City Watch, and to the title of Duke, at that. His beloved wife is about to give birth to his first child. Still, on this anniversary of a rebellion that took the lives of seven of his fellow officers of the Night Watch, he's wondering what happened to the times when he could be a copper, and not a politician. When the murderous Carcer, who is described as "of two minds, but instead of being in conflict, they were in competition. He had demons on both shoulders, urging one another on" is finally cornered, Vimes goes in to help. Read excerptA chase ends up on the roof of the library of Unseen University, where a temporal disturbance sends them both back 30 years into the past. Now he has the chance that few people have, to make changes that will, hopefully, turn the tide and restore the futures of those seven men.

Calling himself John Keel, he takes over the Night Watch, trying to whip the team, including a younger and very naive Sam Vimes into a cohesive force. If it works, and he manages to serve the purpose that he was sent to the past to accomplish, he can return home to his life and spouse...but, if he changes time, will there be a wife to return home to? Sam, because he is a good, decent man, is willing to risk his own future happiness on the chance that maybe, just maybe, if he ever does get back to his own time, there will be seven less graves in the Small Gods Cemetery.

I have been reading the Discworld series for years, and every time I get to the end of one of these books (and you don't have to read them in order) I tell everyone that it's his best book ever. I said it about Soul Music; I said it about The Fifth Elephant. And yes, I'm about to repeat this habit...and for very good reason. This book is indescribably rich. It is filled with jokes that are funny because they are entirely too true, satire that is without cruelty, just an acceptance of the world, and an understanding of humanity that comes off as realistically optimistic. Sam is the ultimate copper...he wears thin boots, loving the feel of the streets beneath him, able to read the stones that pave them like Braille. He isn't beneath fighting dirty in a battle, or using cunning tricks to fake out a prisoner into telling what he knows, but he does it with the grim knowledge that there are boundaries, and to cross that boundary at any time makes you no better than those who you're trying to arrest. He comes back to a time when the city is ruled by a madman, when people out after curfew are arrested and taken to a torture house. His ways of getting around some of these things, and the way he takes his vows to protect the citizens of Ankh-Morpork more seriously than the orders from his commanders, show us his cleverness as well as his compassion. He is also a very sensible person, and his voice is actually comforting as he tries to survive in a city unkind towards strangers, knowing that somewhere Carcer is out there plying his own plans. He is someone with a no-nonsense approach to things, with a sharp wit and the willingness to do the job in front of him, all of which is incredibly alluring. One example, and a favorite scene, is when he's trying to train his motley collection of cops to fight. He says to them:

"Never, ever threaten anyone with your sword unless you really mean it, because if he calls your bluff you suddenly don't have many choices and they're all the wrong ones. Don't be frightened to use what you learned when you were kids. We don't get marks for playing fair. And for close up fighting, as your senior sergeant I explicitly forbid you to investigate the range of coshes, blackjacks, and brass knuckles sold by Mrs. Goodbody at No. 8 Easy Street at a range of prices to suit all pockets, and should any of you approach me privately I absolutely will not demonstrate a variety of specialist blows suitable for these useful yet tricky instruments."

It is an interesting idea that we might be able to go back and fix things. A couple of times Pratchett has played with the fringe ideas of quantum theory, where, for example, there can be a billion Cindys writing this review right now, and one of them might not like the book, and is, in fact, quite manically insane. Or there are a billion yous right now, and one of you, driven mad by the fact I didn't like the book, are about to go off to murder your spouse. Aha, you say, I'd never do that. Well, that's quantum theory for you. Arguments within arguments, and you never know what's true. The point is, what Terry Pratchett does with the ideas of time, the elasticity of it, is a very different theory from the "If you step on a butterfly you may disappear because you've just killed your father and now will never be born" type of time planning. It's amazing to see how things resolve themselves, to see how time changes to accommodate the changes Sam forces upon it, while keeping to its own plans.

Do you have a right to change time for the lives of seven men? Do you have the right to choose not to? Its hard to say. I suppose you just do the job that's in front of you.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 175 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Night Watch at MostlyFiction.com



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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

The Disc World Series: Other Books: For Young Adults: The Tiffany Aching Series- For Young Adults: More Young Adults: Johnny Maxwell books - For Children: Collaborations:

 

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Book Marks:

 

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About the Author:

Terry PratchettTerry Pratchett is a British author of humorous fantasy books, science fiction, and young adult books (which are none the less devoured by his adult fans). He is most famous for his Discworld series of books. He was born in 1948 in Beaconsfield, Bucks and attended Wycombe Technical High School. His first short story was published commercially when he was fifteen-years-old. Having got five O-levels and started A-level courses in Art, History and English, he decided after the first year to try journalism, and when a job opportunity came up on the Bucks Free Press, he talked things over with his parents, and left school in 1965. While with the Press he still read avidly, took the National Council for the Training of Journalists proficiency class and also passed an A level in English while on day release. He published his first book, The Carpet People, in 1971.

He left the Bucks Free Press and started work for the Western Daily Press on 28 September 1970, he returned to the Press in 1972 as a sub-editor, and on 3 September 1973 joined the Bath Chronicle. At this time he also produced a series of cartoons for a monthly journal Psychic Researcher describing the goings-on at the government's fictional paranormal research establishment, Warlock Hall. In 1980 Terry was appointed publicity officer for the Central Electricity Generating Board (now PowerGen) with responsibility for three nuclear power stations ('What leak? -- Oh, that leak'), where he was working when we published the first of the Discworld novels, The Color of Magic, in 1983. In 1987, after he finished writing Mort, Pratchett decided he could afford to devote himself to full time writing.

Regarded as one of the most significant contemporary English-language satirists, Pratchett received the British Fantasy Award for best novel (Pyramids), in 1989, he was named an Officer of the British Empire "for services to literature" in the Queen's Birthday Honours of 1998, and received an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from the University of Warwick in 1999. As far as Britain is concerned Terry is now the decade's best-selling living fiction author, with over 21 million copies worldwide and having been translated into 27 languages. According to British BookTrack's weekly bestselling chart, over 60 titles have been constantly in the top 5,000 bestselling titles, and the author with the most titles in this listing is Pratchett with twelve, namely The Colour of Magic, Guards! Guards!, Pyramids, Soul Music, The Light Fantastic, Reaper Man, Interesting Times, Sourcery, Men At Arms, Equal Rites, Mort and Wyrd Sisters.

Terry also works for the Orang-Utan Foundation and went out to Borneo with a film crew to see orangutans in their native habitat, and among the praise that Terry Pratchett's Jungle Quest received was a comment by Sir Alec Guinness in his diary (published the following year), that it was - apart from one other programme - "the most impressive thing I've seen on the box this year." Terry has also done a year's stint as Chairman of the Society of Authors, and was chairman of the panel of judges for the 1997 Rhone-Poulenc Prize.

Terry Pratchett lives in England with his family, and spends most days at his computer, writing.

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