Thud! by Terry Pratchett
How can a man maintain stability and order in a city where volatile race relations are about to boil over? In Thud! an installment of Terry Pratchett’s long-running Discworld series, Commander Vimes of the City Watch must deal with the erupting tensions between trolls and dwarves following the unexplained death of Hamcrusher, a high-ranking dwarf. Like most of Pratchett’s entries in this series, the humor in Thud! is self-contained and does not require knowledge of prior novels. It offers a mixture of satire of fantasy tropes with real-world issues and conflicts. Reliant on verbal humor and character development, the book is a good choice for fans of British genre satire such as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Much of the humor of Thud! comes from its nimble satire of fantasy creatures, delighting in nontraditional portrayals of genre standards such as trolls and vampires. In Ankh-Morpork, the city in which this novel (and most of the Discworld series) takes place, vampires subscribe to the “Temperance League” to prove they are no threat to the living, and trolls are sentient rock formations. Ankh-Morpork itself is a seemingly bottomless metropolis built on the ruins of earlier versions of itself that uses a variety of bizarre inventions and magic. It can best be considered the “Renaissance” or “Early Modern” world that a typical fantasy universe would eventually progress to.
The other appeal of Thud’s humor comes from the characterizations of Vimes and the other members of the Watch. They are a diverse and bizarre group. From Vimes himself, a determined and driven man hobbled by his prejudice against vampires and dwarves, to Carrot, an “upworld” dwarf, to Nobbs, an ugly man who has to carry around a certificate as proof that he is human, they are characters whose quirks and unusual methods of problem-solving are a rich vein of humor. Many comedic surprises wait along the way as they try to solve the mystery of Hamcrusher’s murder and are forced into uncomfortable situations amidst the politics of trolls and dwarves.
Pratchett uses a somewhat unconventional writing style, which is primarily marked by the fact that he does not use chapter divisions. This creates a sense that his narrative is a continuous flow with the only breaks being the end of paragraphs and shifts between the characters who are the narrative focus. This writing technique creates a seamless flow that can be engaging but can be difficult for readers reliant on traditional chapter breaks to begin and end reading sessions to manage. His distinct writing choice is the only difficulty most readers should have in enjoying Thud!--one of the most engaging and funny novels in the Discworld series.