I have a bad, bad habit of reading new books the day I’ve purchased them, which, in the case of a few authors, is usually the day they come out. Snuff wasn’t an exception to this rule. I think I managed to read it in under four hours; fast, but not an unbelievable pace considering Pratchett’s books are typically lighter reads. There’s not much that you need to walk away and think about before continuing to read, which was fine by me after a few weeks of nothing but heavier literature. So, since it’s late and I’ve just watched a terrible movie and had a few glasses of wine, it’s time for me to completely geek out and write up what I think about a recently-released satire/fantasy novel. Beware, this is going to be weirdly detailed considering the subject matter.
What really to say about Snuff? It was standard Pratchett. Better, I think, than his last few books. (In my opinion Unseen Academicals was mediocre and had way too many plot lines crammed into one book, and Making Money was a huge disappointment. I expected so much more from a Moist book after how good Going Postal was.) I don’t think that’s very surprising, as it was a Watch book and the Watch and Witches arcs have been consistently the best arcs he’s had throughout the entire series. In spite of being better than the prior few books, I don’t think it holds a candle to many of the previous Watch (or even Discworld) books. The Watch stories, unfortunately, are a little repetitive – Vimes seems to be put in a position where he’s not supposed to be acting in the role of watchman but then he discovers a crime (or other issue) and decides he needs to investigate. He spends a lot of his time investigating thinking about what makes a “good copper,” wondering if he’s overstepping his bounds, and fighting his baser urges to rip people who do evil things to shreds on the grounds that he is good and they are bad. Ultimately Vimes discovers who is behind the crime and manages to bring them to justice in spite of not being in his jurisdiction/having powerful people against him/being severely outnumbered (or what have you). To top it all off it usually becomes clear towards the end that not only did Vetenari approve of Vimes’s actions, he also most likely set Vimes up to discover the crime so Vetenari could pretend he had no involvement.
I can forgive this because the real interest in the Watch books is not the crime or really even Vimes’s constant battle with his darker instincts, it’s the development of the races and political relations of Ankh-Morpork that serve as the backdrop for the action. The obvious races on the Disc – golems, dwarves, the various undead – have really been covered in the Watch books, and are shown in those and others as being reasonably well-integrated with the overall human societies they are in close contact with. The newer books are dipping into creatures not frequently seen (or at least not frequently discussed) on Discworld, and this is the first Watch book to give the political and social perspective on one of the two newer species, goblins.
I think that part of the reason that Snuff wasn’t as good as many of the preceding Watch books is simply that goblins have a less stereotypical portrayal in most fantasy media. We have a pretty good idea of what the other races are, for lack of a better way of putting it, supposed to be like. Dwarves? Vampires? Werewolves? Easy. Most people, if asked, would probably be able to describe four or five characteristics of these fantasy races based on the cliches that are repeated in so many stories. The expected behaviors of the race each book focuses on, Pratchett’s take on not only how that behavior affects a society but what kind of society would develop that sort of behavior, and the development of an interesting struggle between the primarily human society of Ankh-Morpork and the race create an interesting, and usually funny, poltical backdrop for the story story that makes the books far more interesting than a simple crime novel. The problem for Snuff is that without the reader having a pretty clear idea of how goblins are supposed to act according to the standard fantasy trope, the goblin race comes across as less well-imagined than previous races. There’s simply less to work with, and it shows. Since the other political backdrop of the story – the wealthy in the country essentially setting up private laws and bullying the poor – has already been done more than once by Pratchett, the book just doesn’t come across as well-constructed as previous Discworld books have.
There were also a couple of things that got on my nerves. First, Vetenari seemed a little off. Too emotional, although that means Vetenari showed some emotion other than amused disdain or satisfaction. (I mean, he was kind of heated about the crossword puzzle, which just seemed a little out of character.) Second, while Vimes did cursorily think about the fact that he had no jurisdiction at his country house, he never really seemed to state why he thought his investigation of the goblin murder was acceptable. It seemed to be an unspoken reaction to a crime happening on his land, and therefore it being his business, but it just seemed unlike Vimes to not agonize over that point before starting his investigation rather than doing so in the middle of it. Third, I really don’t know why the Summoning Dark was necessary. It was an awesome character in Thud! but it seemed to just hand some information to Vimes. I know it is somehow connected to the goblin race, but that was never very clear. Nor did the Dark seem to stick around except for Vimes’s sudden ability to see in lighting other humans would be completely blind in. Lastly, exclamation points. Jesus H. Christ on a pogo stick, enough exclamations. For fuck’s sake, even Vetenari exclaimed more than one sentence. It just seemed very poorly edited.
So, now that I’m done bitching about the little things, there were a few things I really liked. I loved Young Sam, and the portrayal of the relationship between Willikins and Vimes. I liked that Sybil is becoming more than the stereotype of nice, overweight wife that she has frequently been in the past. Although she’s not always portrayed that way, it seemed to be standard for her character. In this book, it was the exception.
Overall, I was much happier with Snuff than with the last few Discworld books. My last observation on this is just that I’m getting the feeling the whole series is being wrapped up. Pratchett obviously has a good reason to do so, and would, I imagine, want to tie up loose ends while still as lucid as possible. So many of the major arcs are ending in ways that seem to point to the end (the last Aching book ending with Tiffany falling in love, Vimes discovering he likes vacations with his family in at the end of Snuff) that I wonder how many Discworld books are left before Pratchett throws in the towel. I only hope that we get one book with a last, epic Vetenari scene to really finish the series off – of all the arcs and all the major characters, he really is the backbone of the series and I’d like to see him celebrated a bit before the end.
Oh fuck, I am nerdy enough to write 1275 words about a fantasy-comedy novel. I can’t decide if that’s awesome or sad.