Pratchett has been aiming at younger readers a lot more recently, but he returns to familiar territory in Thud! Set in the city of Ankh-Morpork, Pratchett’s favourite of stomping ground on the Discworld, where order is being brought in from the cold by the dedicated City Watch, headed by Commander Samuel Vimes, Duke of Ankh. Vimes is a simple man, unconformatable with his titles, just concerned with justice and getting home at six every night to read Where’s My Cow? to his young son.

Trouble has come to Ankh-Morpork though, and it’s not just the annual re-enactment of the battle of Koom Valley where the trolls ambushed the dwarfs and the dwarfs ambushed the trolls, or so the story goes. There are some deep-down dwarfs, hardliners, who are searching for something under Ankh-Morpork’s filthy streets, and are prepared to kill anyone who gets in their way. They’ve unlocked an ancient evil, and discovered a secret about the battle at Koom Valley, a secret they’re desperate to keep hidden.

Vimes can’t stand racial intolerence, almost as much as he can’t stand vampires, and he’s certainly not going to let his precious Watch fall apart because someone if stirring up old rivalries. Vimes is known for being a straight arrow, albeit using somewhat bent methods on occasion, which is why the unknown king of the trolls and the undisputed king of the dwarfs, as well as the ruler of the city, the Patrician, are all backing Vimes, even if he doesn’t always know it.

A familiar cast of Ankh-Morpork returns for Thud! with many of my old favourites, and not just from the City Watch. They’re joined by some equally entertaining new characters. Yet again Pratchett fills out Ankh-Morpork to be a real, living and breathing city, rather than just a backdrop to the story, and action and intrigue pile up. An aspect of the Discworld books is that they’re social commentary dressed up as a funny fantasy story. Thud! is no different, involving issues of racial intolerance and discrimination which have parallels in current tensions with Islamic fundamentalism, but the edge is taken off by Pratchett’s keen eye and wry wit, showing these huge events for what they really are: insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

One of things I didn’t entirely enjoy was that we’re constantly kept in the dark, which you’d expect for what is essentially a murder mystery, but it’s because we get obscure comments from a range of characters who seem to know far more than us but are unwilling to divulge it in anything more than a vague riddle. The story also seems far more distant than previous Watch books, whereas the city is normally as present as any character, here it’s involved in the narrative, but is far less important and it takes something away from the book, with Vimes treading into unknown waters, rather than being able to use his cunning and knowledge of the city and its inhabitants to his advantage.

Still a cracking read though, and I love the characters who make up the Watch, so I welcome any new book with them in.

I’ll be very surprised of Thud! doesn’t get turned into a proper game, look for it in the shops this Christmas. Too late, you can already buy it. Okay, so keep an eye out for a computer version!

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Reviewed: 30th September 2006

Recommended: Yes