Somehow I made it my entire life as a fantasy fan without reading a single story from the Discworld universe. The first novel was published the year before I was born, so I really have spent my entire life not reading the series, despite several compelling arguments in favor of his books. Last week, I very happily remedied the situation by listening to Thud! by Terry Pratchett. I’d heard good things about the audio version, and the stars finally aligned for me when I saw a copy on my library’s Overdrive offerings on a day the lawn needed mowing. Since we live on a couple acres, I can get a good 2 hours in on an audiobook each time I mow. I can’t speak for anything else by Terry Pratchett yet (though I have already started another of his books), but Thud! was fast-paced, often hilarious, and entertaining enough that I kept finding excuses to listen: going for a run, scrubbing the showers, and weeding the garden. (Yes, really.) The story starts right in the middle of a hectic week for City Watch commander Sam Vimes. (No leisurely wind up here. It took me a few pages to get oriented, but after that I really appreciated the pacing.) Tensions are high as the anniversary of the Battle of Koom Valley approaches. Every anniversary is tense for the dwarves and trolls (and anyone who gets between them), but this year is proving to be more volatile than most. To make matters worse for Commander Vimes, someone has stolen a valuable painting from the art gallery, and he is getting pressure from above to hire the Watch’s first vampire. Even if she is a member of the League of Temperance, Commander Vimes would rather not deal with it at all–let alone right now. When a dwarf political leader is murdered (maybe) and the dwarves insist a troll is responsible (which he might be), Commander Vimes and the City Watch have a matter of hours to figure out what happened before a mini Koom Valley breaks out in the streets.
What I loved most about Thud! is the way Pratchett used traditional fantasy elements in a playful way. A human child raised by dwarves produces a “dwarf” that is over 6 feet tall but acts like a dwarf…most of the time. The natural animosity between vampire and werewolf is present in the series, personified in two female City Watch members. One is sparkly (not in the literal sense) and charismatic, white the other is hairy and feral. It’s the day-to-day practicalities of the various fantasy species that I found fascinating (and often hilarious). Pratchett’s treatment of vampires especially made me laugh. Exposure to bright sunlight causes vampires to turn to dust. As a means of preparation, many members of the League of Temperance carry an emergency kit: a dustpan, a brush, a small vial of blood (animal, of course), and a card that reads, “Help, I have crumbled and I can’t get up. Please sweep me into a heap and crush vial. I am a Black Ribboner and will not harm you.”
A previous knowledge of fantasy canon is not necessary to enjoy Thud!. The storyline moved quickly and lacked the all-too-common fantasy elements of intricate magic systems and names too obscure to remember or pronounce. If you are a long-time fan of fantasy novels (or movies), however, Pratchett’s version of the genre will be even more enjoyable. This is not a book that takes itself too seriously. That’s not to say it wasn’t solid writing; this was a man who knew his craft.
The Discworld books can be read in any order (Thank goodness, since I started with #34.), but I’m going to work my way through the books featuring Sam Vimes first because I really enjoyed his character. His butler and wife were also fascinating; I would love to read more about them. When I’m done with those, where should I go next? Do you have any favorites or recommendations in the Discworld series?