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Book Review: SNUFF by Terry Pratchett

Snuff is one of the newest of the many books in Terry Pratchett’s excellent Discworld series. Within the larger series there are subseries which follow particular characters. In general, you can pick any Discworld book off the shelf and expect to be able to follow it, but some can be better appreciated if you know the character history from the previous books.

Snuff is the newest book following Commander of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch Sam Vimes. In Sam Vimes’s first books he began as a poor beat cop walking the streets in his cardboard-soled boots as one of the three city watchmen. Over the other books he became Commander of the ever-growing City Watch, has become a trusted advisor of the Patrician (the semi-benevolent tyrant) and a diplomat, and started a family when he married Lady Sybil Ramkin and had a son whom they call Young Sam.

Of the many characters in the Discworld books, Sam Vimes is one of my favorites. He’s badass–he cut his teeth on the rough streets of Ankh-Morpork so he’s ready for most anything. But mostly I like him because, although he is suspicious and tough, he’s probably the most accepting character in the series of different people–taking werewolves, vampires, trolls, dwarves, and so on.

In this book Sam has been coerced by the Patrician to take a family vacation at the Ramkin’s sprawling estate in the country. Sam loves his family, but taking a vacation is against his nature. Out in the country is nature and… naturey kind of… things. Hardly the place for a man born and bred in the city. Sam is a capable character in his element. Out of his element, he’s not unlike a kid trying to play dress-up for church, trying his best to fit in even as every part of the situation chafes.

Soon he comes across a crime and then he can go full-on policeman again when he learns of the murder of a goblin girl not too far from the Ramkin estate. And then Sam is on the case, often with just himself and his thug-turned-butler Willikins and some help from the local bartender who’s a retired policeman. Pratchett has explored most of the other fantasy races before this book, but only touched passingly on goblins, so this story delves deeper into their nature and culture. I love how Pratchett can show the empathetic side of any of the fantasy races.

Since Sam is on vacation with them, Sybil and Young Sam are onscreen quite a bit too. They’re both great characters–it’s especially fun to see the two of them in the company of other country nobles while Sybil is firmly in her role as nobility and Sam is trying to do the same for his wife but having a great deal of trouble trying to keep his mouth shut about stupid things the others are saying. Unlike the others, Sybil is very smart and empathetic and she’s very likeable. Young Sam could be a story all himself, great dialog written in believable and absurd six-year-old fashion.

Although Discworld books are usually billed as comedy I didn’t always find the books hilarious, though there are certainly light moments. This wasn’t one of the funnier books, but I found the book engaging all the way through; plenty of action, mystery, comic relief, some expansion of the goblin culture that hadn’t been explored much before. The challenges that Sam had to face were well-balanced so that it never seemed too easy and having Sybil and Young Sam often onscreen both gives these characters more play and raises the stakes because it would tear Sam apart if anything happened to them . I’d recommend it, although if you haven’t read other Discworld books I’d recommend reading some of the other Sam Vimes Discworld books first to get some of his earlier character development. Wikipedia has a pretty thorough breakdown of all the different subseries if you want to know where to start. The first Sam Vimes book was Guards! Guards!, published in 1989. You can probably find it at your local library if you want to give a test run.

About David Steffen (64 Articles)
David Steffen is a writer and editor and software engineer and a voracious consumer of podcast fiction. The first piece of fiction he's edited is now available, "Taste the Whip" by Andy Dudak on Diabolical Plots(http://www.diabolicalplots.com/dp-fiction-1-taste-the-whip-by-andy-dudak/). David is also the co-founder and administrator of the The Submission Grinder(http://thegrinder.diabolicalplots.com/), a tool for writers.

2 Comments on Book Review: SNUFF by Terry Pratchett

  1. Paul Weimer // September 16, 2014 at 3:01 pm //

    Guards Guards is a good spot to get into Pratchett, and see if Pratchett is for you as a reader. I agree completely.

  2. A very enjoyable review. Thank you.

    The Discworld books aren’t exactly comedy, they’re more satire. Often laugh out loud satire, but satire none the less.

    In particular the City Watch series is used to discuss some quite weighty issues, be it slavery, gun control, racism, sexism, equality, jingoism, war and much more. I also feel that I’ve grown up around Sam Vimes and his passage from lowly copper to Sir Samuel the Blackboard Monitor. Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax are somewhat immutable, Sam on the other hand is like the River Ankh and flows with the times.

    Some of the observations and targets in this book felt particularly British to me (I’m British). The peasant folk suffering under the boot of the landed gentry is about as British as you can get. I don’t know how this translates to other cultures but for me Snuff worked on every level and is one of my favourites of Sir Terry’s more recent books and will probably stay that way until either Susan or the witches get another outing.

    I agree that Guards! Guards! is a good Pratchett entry point. As for others then Mort and Thief of Time good too, although into different Discworld sub-series. Equal Rites and Wyrd Sisters introduce the witches but I found that they got better with time.

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