Snuff by Terry Pratchett
9 July, 2012
Oh, how I missed thee, Ankh Morpork City Watch. I don’t know what’s wrong with me because I got my hands on Snuff , the latest volume in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld saga, almost 10 months ago and didn’t devour it straight away. Pratchett is one of my favourite writers and I love, love, love his Discworld books, especially those that feature the City Watch. I think I was waiting for a suitably rainy day where I could glory in spending the whole day reading and lazing around in bed. No chance. Considering I’m not married and have no children, it’s surprisingly difficult to find any me-time.
So in Snuff , Sam Vimes, Commander of the City Watch, Duke of Ankh, His Excellency and Blackboard Monitor, is ordered to go on holiday with his wife Sybil and young Sam by Lord Vetinari himself. Sybil has arranged for them to go to her country pile where she grew up so that young Sam could get to play and learn about nature and what he will inherit. A city man through and through, nevertheless Vimes cannot say no to Sybil and soon finds himself in the middle of nowhere, master of all he sees. But even in the distant Shires, he is able to sniff that something is wrong and people are hiding something. When Vimes is set up and comes across the corpse of a goblin girl, he uncovers a ghastly secret that will haunt him. Together with his trusty (and deadly) manservant Wilikins and local constable Upshott, Vimes plans to catch the murderer and overturn the social hierarchy of Ankh Morpork and the Shires. For Sam Vimes is a policeman first and foremost and always gets the killer.
In Vimes, Pratchett has created a character that is the Everyman. Born in poverty and working hard to rise through what was a decrepit and corrupt police system in Ankh Morpork, Vimes transforms from a has-been alco-cop into the city’s most upstanding and yet subversive citizen and finds friends, love and titles without compromising himself or getting an inflated ego. But not without a lot of soul searching, of course.
And using Samuel Vimes, Pratchett is able to make acute observations about the state of our world and society such as poverty, prejudice, and in the case of Snuff, slave labour and people trafficking. I love the way Pratchett is able to make you think about shifting morals without pontificating too much, and he does give some powerful punches to pierce our comfortable existance.
Saying that, there is also much to laugh about and silently chuckle in Snuff. One of my favourite things about Pratchett’s novels is the variety of species that populate Discworld that subtly overturns the received ideas of fantasy characters. In this instance, Pratchett introduces goblins who are ugly and stinky on the outside but with hidden inherent virtues. Simple, yes, but touching nonetheless.
And we get to spend time with Lady Sybil, a kind, no-nonsense Lady who runs a dragon orphanage and is the love of Vime’s life, and their little son Sam who is currently obsessed with the latest children’s bestseller, The World of Poo .
Of all the different story arcs in the Discworld novels (Death, the Witches, Unseen University, etc) my favourite is still the City Watch arc which always has some sort of darkness bubbling beneath the jokes, something I grew up reading and feel like I’ve matured with. I like.
With the increasing exposure of Sir Terry in the media in recent years, I’ve come across many people wanting to try the Discworld books but feeling rather bewildered with the 28 titles in the series. I would suggest that instead of starting right at the beginning with A Colour of Magic, why not start with Guards Guards (City Watch arc), Wyrd Sisters (the Witches arc) or Mort (Death arc where Death is a beloved character). It may take you more than one book to fall in love with the Discworld and its inhabitants, but once you’re hooked, it’s for life!