Thursday, December 1, 2011

Book Review: Snuff

Among the many, many, sobering reminders that I am getting "old" is the release of a new Discworld Novel. I read my first Discworld book - Mort, as it happens - whilst studying for my GCSEs, which was over half a lifetime ago. Which is a long time, when you look at it like that.

Perhaps I shouldn't look at it like that.

Anyway, Terry Pratchett is still turning them out, and I'm still buying them; the new one, Snuff, is apparently the 39th. And the sad truth of Pratchetts' Alzheimers means that we may not get very many more, which is a shame on any number of levels, but for now, lets just have a look at this one.

First things first - I enjoyed Snuff. Its everything you've come to expect from a Discworld Novel, some breezy, accessible writing, strong characterization, some great turns of phrase and a lot of neat little gags that rarely raise the big laughs but just keep you smiling all the way through. It's big action centre-piece is nicely done, and something new for the Discworld, and its not shy of scoring a few points here and there in a quiet unassuming sort of way. It is comfortable, in the same way my slippers and dressing gown are comfortable.

And thats actually a problem. I think Pratchett went through a "rough patch" with the Discworld a few years back, where he got stuck in a rut a little and put out a series of books that really didn't do much for me. I think he's past that - and I don't think this suffers from any of the sorts of problems I had with say, Monstrous Regiment - but the familiarity of the whole thing, the comfort, leaches any threat from the text. The villain isn't really going to get to kill Vimes family (in fact he never even gets close) and to be honest Vimes is such an overwhelming character he's never really under any sort of threat at all.

In fact Vimes may be the big problem in Snuff - he's at heart a great character, and has an interesting arc through the series as a whole, but whilst the plot here is designed to take him out of his element, it doesn't really - as he just bends the environment into being his element rather than taking any meaningful journey or change throughout. The book plays with the idea that he carries a "darkness" inside but we've been here before with Vimes and he's never morally challenged on that, with a convenient Gentlemen's Gentleman on hand to clean that up for him.

Even the Patrician is getting a bit less ambiguous and more altruistic.

All that said you'd have to be some real cold-hearted piece of work to not enjoy this. Pratchett has written better books, even recently - the Moist van Lipwig stuff felt fresh and interesting, a breath of air into the franchise - but the charming, unassuming humanism common to all his works shines through. And you know what? I like my comfy slippers and dressing gown.