When Snuff dropped onto my Kindle a little after October 11th 12:01am EST, I was like a kid with a Hogswatch present. To tell the truth, I thought that I Shall Wear Midnight would be Terry Pratchett’s last book, so I was deeply pleased and grateful to see this one. And a City Watch book, too! It was like getting a Carrot-action-figure-shaped present in my stocking.
But when I unwrapped the gift, what I got instead was a painstakingly crafted sextent featuring inset carvings of scenes throughout the history of Discworld and the Watch.
Which all is to say that I got quite a different book from what I was expecting. Snuff, for all that its title resembles that of its predecessor Thud!, is a dragon of a different hue indeed. In many ways, Snuff‘s texture in terms of pacing and seriousness is far more like that of Nation than previous jaunts with the Watch. Actually, what’s probably closer is Unseen Academicals. 1
Terry Pratchett is working with one main thread this time, which means that this book is an extremely Vimes-heavy one (not the first time; consider Night Watch) and most of it takes place in the slower, meandering countryside. We see very little of the rest of the Watch, which is a shame, even if Fred Colon does manage to link the country story and the city story together. We do get to see a lot of Sybil and especially of Young Sam and Willikins, both of whom have developed nicely, even if Willikins does talk rather more than I remember him in the past. In fact, many characters tend to run in the mouth and the monologue, including Vimes and Vetinari; but I chalk it down to us becoming more familiar with the characters—that is, we are thrust into situations where we see them with their hair down more often. Or, in Vetinari’s case, waging war against the newspaper crossword lady.
The central matter of the plot is what is at the core of many of Pratchett’s books: prejudice and culture. We get an even firmer tackling of the matter of the goblin race than we did in Unseen Academicals; instead of focusing on an individual, we look at the treatment of the goblins as a people (or, rather, as other people thought of them, vermin). It’s more raw and ugly than any mistreatment thus far of any of the peoples of Discworld, even the lot of golems, who never have to contemplate much less execute the dreadful algebra of necessity that the goblins are pushed to, nor are bodily and spiritually broken on plantations. I’m glad that Terry’s wrapping up this loose end of the Discworld saga; the idea that goblins would never get just ice would otherwise be cruel even for a fictional creation.
Pratchett also takes us on a tour of the countryside, and how different it is from the city. I can’t say that I’m enamored of the field trip because of the drag on the pacing it introduces, but Sam Vimes is Sam Vimes no matter where you put him, and seeing the chemical reactions when you plonk him down in various country situations (from visiting a woman with a crop of eligible young ladies who need husbands and/or lives, to balls, to the local pub). The most interesting part for me was the development of a bond between Willikins and Vimes, and also how much terror there is in a steel-tooth comb. And it’s nice to see confirmation that there is indeed an old Lord Rust and a younger Lord Gravid 2 Rust. Now that I come to reflect on it, there was such a lot of development in the countryside, and somehow I feel like there could have been much more, but that would have led to a bloated book. And the monologues run long enough already.
In fact, the time we spend in the countryside, necessary though it is, lends a weird curve to the pacing of this book: it starts slow, only starts speeding up a bit before 1/3rd of the book has passed (what with attempted arrests of Vimes by the local “police force” and taking over riverboats on a stormy stretch of the river Old Treachery), and then slows down again where I’d usually expect the climax to be (only it’s occurred a good chunk of pages before). Don’t expect a racing adventure for all of the book—like Vimes, you’re going to be spending some time putting your feet down in the good paranoid muck of the country and, afterwards, the Quirm zoo.
I remember Pratchett once saying that Discworld was getting a bit crowded, and I can see where he’s coming from; when you build in references to all the books previous that occurred in Ankh-Morpork—and you have to, because this is all happening within the context of characters from Ankh-Morpork—you cover almost a good quarter of the book alone with that. It would have been a bit worse had events occurred in Ankh-Morpork. And I kept expecting Death to appear, but he doesn’t appear even once. This really is a different breed of Discworld novel.
In the end, I’m not sure whether Snuff is nearly the best Watch book out there 3, or if it’s the worst Watch book out there. It’s nothing like I expected, which is of course not the measure of a good book, and there’s much to appreciate. But I can’t help thinking it could somehow have been a tighter book, and that more development to the city part of the story could have been done so that all of the Watch could have been more integrated.
If I look at Snuff as a Vimes book, I’m happy. If I try to find my Carrot action-figure, I’m hopelessly disappointed. 4 Both of these are to be expected.
And maybe, because of practicalities involving the heaviness of using the world that is Ankh-Morpork’s City Watch, there can’t ever be any more Watch books. And now that we’ve experienced the countryside from Vimes’ perspective, maybe there can’t ever be any more Vimes books either. Maybe this is how the City Watch series ends—with a Snuff and a Thud!.
I’ll be listening to this book when the audio edition comes out.
Note: There’s one severe formatting error with this book: the word “people” is mashed with the word or punctuation previous to it, like “somepeople” and “thosepeople” and “end.people”. Someone at HarperCollins was almost certainly doing a global search-and-replace, because this is virtually the only kind of typo in the whole damn book.