Rating: 3 & ½ Stars
It’s been a while since I read a new Pratchett novel, having missed the last one. Not that it matters; Discworld is the kind of place that tends to stay with you. Give it an inch, and it will take over your whole head.
Those readers who are familiar with the series know that it has three main branches – Wizards, Witches, and the Watch. I’m partial to the last, since I’m an admirer of the city of Ankh Morpork, that great smelly melting-pot of humanity and other related species. That’s really the thing, isn’t it; scratch the surface of a human and you’ll never know what will raise its snarling head – it could be a werewolf, vampire, zombie, or any one of the denizens that populate Discworld. ‘Human’ as we understand the term is but a thin veneer. That’s something that doesn’t escape the sinister but elegant mind of Havelock Vetinari, the Patrician of Ankh Morpork. Samuel Vimes, on the other hand, is more your average Joe, or at least, he’s trying very hard to be one, against all evidence to the contrary.
Vimes, the cynical, tough copper is now, thanks to the machinations of fate, the Duke of Ankh Morpork, Commander Samuel Vimes etc. etc. The titles are rather tiresome, but they do allow Vimes the privilege of being the confidant of those in high places. In ‘Snuff’, he finds himself on an enforced vacation, rusticating and playing the role of country squire. But as the saying goes in the Watch, where there’s a copper, there’s a crime, and sure enough, he gets a whiff of it before long. When the Commander decides to serve justice, he is not stingy-handed about it.
I miss the old Vimes – he was well-suited to the mean streets of Ankh Morpork. Now, his legend seems to be snowballing beyond control. It leaves me wondering - my word, what will be thought of next to add to his glory and redoubtable reputation? This apotheosis of Vimes makes me uncomfortable, because it can only be achieved by the sacrifice of Vimes, the common man.
I also miss the old Pratchett. Though I won’t say he’s lost his edge, his most recent books definitely lack the cheeky, sideways Brit wit, the sparkling zaniness that transformed the lowly craft of punning into high art. There seems to be an extra dose of sentimentality as well. All this does not necessarily mean that the new books are lesser, only that they are different. On the plus side, if the younger Pratchett showed off his wicked humor and impudent intellect, now he reveals his heart. Either way, it’s a win-win situation for his fans.
‘The Secret River’ by Kate Grenville
The best fantasy is never divorced from the sorry truth of reality. Grenville, in her award-winning book, paints a haunting picture of the ethnic conflict in newly colonized Australia. Pratchett talks in terms of species conflict. By any name, bigotry dehumanizes all parties involved.