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Thud! (Discworld) by Terry Pratchett
Review by Drew Bittner
HarperCollins Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 0060815221
Date: 01 October, 2005 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK /

A long time ago, armies of dwarfs and trolls fought the Battle of Koom Valley. Although it's ancient history, neither race has forgotten... and that battle's echoes are about to rock the city of Ankh-Morpork.

Who's the only man standing in the way of History colliding with Current Events? Sam Vimes, commander of the Watch, dogged hunter of truth and devoted father, who reads "Where's my Cow?" to his son every evening.

Dwarfs in the city are becoming more militant and more clannish. They are keeping secrets, even from those close to them, like Carrot. Their leaders, who never see the light of day, are stoking the fires of dwarf anger as the anniversary of Koom Valley approaches. Beginning with a demand from the Patrician to hire a vampire for the Watch, Vimes's day grows worse when the most infamous dwarf agitator, Grag Hamcrusher, is murdered... apparently by a troll.

It doesn't help that an enormous painting of the Battle of Koom Valley, the work of a demented artist with a peculiar persecution complex, has been stolen.

Tensions between the city's dwarfs and trolls start to rise quickly. Members of the Watch grow nervous, dwarf officers unwilling to patrol with trolls and vice versa, which only fuels Vimes's exasperation. He bullies his way into the dwarf mines running beneath the city, but ends up frustrated by their bland unwillingness to cooperate.

Vimes is unsatisfied with the official explanation that a troll killed Hamcrusher, particularly after Carrot confirms that the body was moved after the murder. Carrot also reports that odd dwarf graffiti is appearing around the city, a sigil that stands for the Summoning Dark---a thing that strikes terror in dwarf hearts everywhere---as is troll graffiti about the mythical "Mr. Shine."

Vimes struggles to fit the pieces together, but it takes a meeting with Mr. Shine himself to add more vital pieces to the puzzle. While discussing ancient history with the troll, Vimes learns the rudiments of Thud!, a game like chess that pits a mob of dwarf pieces against a handful of troll pieces. The secret to the game is knowing how the other side plays.

Along the way, the werewolf Angua, vampire Sally and dwarf Cheery take Nobby's improbable girlfriend, the statuesque dancer Tawneee, out for a night on the town and later make some surprising discoveries down below.

The trail of deception and murder leads inexorably to Koom Valley. Armies of trolls and dwarfs are gathering. But even though the leaders of both races agree that they do not really want to fight, events have gained too much momentum. The only way to save the day will be to discover the truth behind that long-ago battle, something suggested by the missing painting. Yet even then, the Summoning Dark pits Vimes against his own most dangerous enemy... and if he fails, it won't matter who knows the secret of Koom Valley.

Pratchett strikes a precise and perfect note in the character of Samuel Vimes. He's a working class man elevated to nobility, whose greatest fears now center around his infant son and wife (both of whom show remarkable grit in the face of dwarf assassins). He's also a paragon of integrity, the cop that everyone on the Discworld knows can't be bought or discouraged. That integrity is put to a singular challenge in this novel and his answer comes from an unexpected source.

The grace notes with which the Discworld novels are filled are here in abundance as well. Fred Colon and Nobby Nobbs are his Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, spear-carriers who nevertheless make vital contributions and peculiar insights both. A colorless little bureaucrat named Pessimal becomes a foaming-at-the-mouth hero during a terrifying collision of dwarf and troll gangs, embodying the element of "the hero in us all" that Pratchett has used to great effect repeatedly. And the wizards of Unseen University lend a hand by making a stage coach that rockets along (literally), so that Vimes and his team can reach Koom Valley in time.

Thud! is a dynamite new addition to the Discworld series. Fans of the series will be rewarded by the way it furthers ongoing subplots, but new readers will be delighted by the complex characterizations, the engaging mysteries and the overall wonderful qualities of this novel.

Highly recommended.

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