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Snuff

Posted by Bryce Moore On Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Terry Pratchett. The man's a living legend, and his Discworld series is one of the few works out there that proves humorous fantasy has a place in this world. At this point, reviewing his books is about as useful as giving a thumbs up to a work by John Grisham, right? So why bother with a review of his latest book, SNUFF?

Plenty of reasons.

First of all, some Pratchett fans out there might not be aware that he has a new book coming out. As a diehard Pratchett fan myself, I know I wouldn't want to miss one of his works just because I was too busy being distracted by other books at the moment...hey, it happens. But let's be honest: any serious Pratchett fan should already well aware of the latest book on its way. That said, Discworld has over 35 books in it, and that sheer number alone is the main reason I'm writing this review. There might well be fantasy readers out there who've heard of Pratchett, but have no desire to devote themselves to a 35+ novel epic. It'd be like tuning into Lost for the last three episodes, right? Wrong.

Pratchett's Discworld series is a series only insofar as it all shares the same globe, and some of the same characters. In reality, the series is cut into smaller chunks, with certain characters taking the lead role in certain books. Thus, you have the Witches books, the Death books, the Wizards, Tiffany Aching and the like. Fans have their favorite characters. I personally really like the Death books and the City Watch books, and so I'm really happy to report that SNUFF is a City Watch book.

So what does that mean exactly? It means that it has Sam Vines as the main protagonist. He's the street-wise head of the of the City Watch, and he usually has a full rank of watchmen below him. SNUFF is a bit of an oddity in this regard, as Sam takes a trip to the country with his wife and son (and awesome butler Willikins). Other City Watch characters appear in the novel, but they take on fairly minor roles--many of them no more than cameos. This is all just to say that if you haven't read a Discworld novel, there's no time like the present to start. SNUFF isn't the best of the bunch, but just being a Discworld book sets it above most of the other books being published today.

Another unifying aspect most of the Discworld novels have is that they each take on a certain theme. Religion, tradition, free agency--I don't mean to say that Pratchett hammers his readers over the head with a theme (well, not usually), but each book often drives home a certain point. In Snuff, Pratchett tackles the very weighty subject of racism. What makes a person a person? In Discworld, there are many different sentient beings. Humans, Trolls, Dwarfs, Nac Mac Feegle (sort of militant Scotch Smurfs)--they all get along, more or less. At the very least, they treat each other as beings worthy of some degree of respect. Except goblins. Goblins are just about as bad as rats. They're disease-ridden, incapable of higher thought, and killing an entire group of them is no worse than getting the exterminator to come out and take care of a nasty spider problem.

The story in SNUFF involves Sam going to the country, and he meeting a colony of goblins who have been treated very poorly over the past few decades. Not that he really cares about it--until someone kills a goblin and tries to use its blood to implicate Vimes in a murder. Then it's personal. Vimes starts to get to know some goblins personally, and he discovers (surprise surprise) that they really aren't too different from humans. (Aside from the propensity to like eating turkey gizzards, that is. And the bathing habits)

It's a twisty, turny plot, with rollicking boat rides, deep caves, and some key harp music. In the hands of a lesser author, all of this would get overwhelming and dry. Even in Pratchett's well-practiced pen, the book has a tendency to bog down a bit more than some of his other Discworld novels. I think this is mainly due to how bleak the subject material is. It's hard to make something like that be humorous at the same time.

In the end, however, it's a subject worth addressing. Using fantasy characters, Pratchett's able to let his readers look at their own prejudices in a non-threatening way. Is it too much to hope that someone reading SNUFF will read about the way goblins are treated and realize that they mistreat some people based on preconceived notions? Possibly, but I applaud Pratchett for trying.

Recommended Age: 14+
Language: Light
Violence: Some, but never overly bloody. Violence happens, but Pratchett keeps the tone light enough to keep it from becoming gory.
Sex: Nothing but a few heaving bosoms.

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