Review: Thud!, by Terry Pratchett

Russ Allbery eagle at
Mon Nov 20 19:49:26 PST 2023

by Terry Pratchett

Series:    Discworld #34
Publisher: Harper
Copyright: October 2005
Printing:  November 2014
ISBN:      0-06-233498-0
Format:    Mass market
Pages:     434

Thud! is the 34th Discworld novel and the seventh Watch novel. It is
partly a sequel to The Fifth Elephant, partly a sequel to Night Watch,
and references many of the previous Watch novels. This is not a good
place to start.

Dwarfs and trolls have a long history of conflict, as one might expect
between a race of creatures who specialize in mining and a race of
creatures whose vital organs are sometimes the targets of that mining.
The first battle of Koom Valley was the place where that enmity was
made concrete and given a symbol. Now that there are large dwarf and
troll populations in Ankh-Morpork, the upcoming anniversary of that
battle is the excuse for rising tensions. Worse, Grag Hamcrusher, a
revered deep-down dwarf and a dwarf supremacist, is giving incendiary
speeches about killing all trolls and appears to be tunneling under the

Then whispers run through the city's dwarfs that Hamcrusher has been
murdered by a troll.

Vimes has no patience for racial tensions, or for the inspection of the
Watch by one of Vetinari's excessively competent clerks, or the
political pressure to add a vampire to the Watch over his prejudiced
objections. He was already grumpy before the murder and is in
absolutely no mood to be told by deep-down dwarfs who barely believe
that humans exist that the murder of a dwarf underground is no affair
of his.

Meanwhile, The Battle of Koom Valley by Methodia Rascal has been stolen
from the Ankh-Morpork Royal Art Museum, an impressive feat given that
the painting is ten feet high and fifty feet long. It was painted in
impressive detail by a madman who thought he was a chicken, and has
been the spark for endless theories about clues to some great treasure
or hidden knowledge, culminating in the conspiratorial book Koom Valley
Codex. But the museum prides itself on allowing people to inspect and
photograph the painting to their heart's content and was working on a
new room to display it. It's not clear why someone would want to steal
it, but Colon and Nobby are on the case.

This was a good time to read this novel. Sadly, the same could be said
of pretty much every year since it was written.

"Thud" in the title is a reference to Hamcrusher's murder, which was
supposedly done by a troll club that was found nearby, but it's also a
reference to a board game that we first saw in passing in Going Postal.
We find out a lot more about Thud in this book. It's an asymmetric
two-player board game that simulates a stylized battle between dwarf
and troll forces, with one player playing the trolls and the other
playing the dwarfs. The obvious comparison is to chess, but a better
comparison would be to the old Steve Jackson Games board game Ogre,
which also featured asymmetric combat mechanics. (I'm sure there are
many others.) This board game will become quite central to the plot of
Thud! in ways that I thought were ingenious.

I thought this was one of Pratchett's best-plotted books to date. There
are a lot of things happening, involving essentially every member of
the Watch that we've met in previous books, and they all matter and I
was never confused by how they fit together. This book is full of
little callbacks and apparently small things that become important
later in a way that I found delightful to read, down to the children's
book that Vimes reads to his son and that turns into the best scene of
the book. At this point in my Discworld read-through, I can see why the
Watch books are considered the best sub-series. It feels like Pratchett
kicks the quality of writing up a notch when he has Vimes as a

In several books now, Pratchett has created a villain by taking some
human characteristic and turning it into an external force that acts on
humans. (See, for instance the Gonne in Men at Arms, or the hiver in A
Hat Full of Sky.) I normally do not like this plot technique, both
because I think it lets humans off the hook in a way that cheapens the
story and because this type of belief has a long and bad reputation in
religions where it is used to dodge personal responsibility and
dehumanize one's enemies. When another of those villains turned up in
this book, I was dubious. But I think Pratchett pulls off this type of
villain as well here as I've seen it done. He lifts up a facet of
humanity to let the reader get a better view, but somehow makes it
explicit that this is concretized metaphor. This force is something
people create and feed and choose and therefore are responsible for.

The one sour note that I do have to complain about is that Pratchett
resorts to some cheap and annoying "men are from Mars, women are from
Venus" nonsense, mostly around Nobby's subplot but in a few other
places (Sybil, some of Angua's internal monologue) as well. It's
relatively minor, and I might let it pass without grumbling in other
books, but usually Pratchett is better on gender than this. I expected
better and it got under my skin.

Otherwise, though, this was a quietly excellent book. It doesn't have
the emotional gut punch of Night Watch, but the plotting is superb and
the pacing is a significant improvement over The Fifth Elephant. The
parody is of The Da Vinci Code, which is both more interesting than
Pratchett's typical movie parodies and delightfully subtle. We get more
of Sybil being a bad-ass, which I am always here for. There's even some
lovely world-building in the form of dwarven Devices.

I love how Pratchett has built Vimes up into one of the most
deceptively heroic figures on Discworld, but also shows all of the
support infrastructure that ensures Vimes maintain his principles. On
the surface, Thud! has a lot in common with Vimes's insistently moral
stance in Jingo, but here it is more obvious how Vimes's morality
happens in part because his wife, his friends, and his boss create the
conditions for it to thrive.

Highly recommended to anyone who has gotten this far.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Reviewed: 2023-11-20


Russ Allbery (eagle at             <>

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