"Ah, your grace, it is good to see you back at last. How went your holidays, apart from lawless actions, ad hoc activities, fights, chases on both land and sea and indeed freshwater, unauthorized expenditure and, of course, farting in the halls of the mighty?"
"Point of detail, my lord: didn't fart, may have picked nose inadvertently."
Snuff is the thirty-mumblety-th (by Io, it's actually the fortieth!) Discworld book. It is a City Watch novel (or Sam Vimes novel, depending on your storyline nomenclature). For those of you to whom this means nothing, I strongly recommend doing some reading on the subject of Discworld and Terry Pratchett before continuing. I'll try to avoid spoilers for this book, but will be unable to avoid some spoilers for previous City Watch novels - so if you haven't read those, you might want to skip this review until you have.
When we last saw Sam Vimes in a novel of his own, it was the end of Thud! Snuff seems to pick up perhaps four or five years later. Young Sam is six, curious, friendly, and thanks to the popular children's author Mrs. Beedle, obsessed with the subject of poo. In other words, a healthy lad. Sam Vimes, at the very start of the book, is being packed off to a country estate for a holiday by his loving and firm wife Sybil Ramkin. In point of fact, it is the Ramkin country estate, which means it's now Sam's country estate and, despite his iron-clad populist sentiments, he is Lord of the Manor. Bereft of bacon sandwiches, forced to eat muesli for breakfast, Sam dutifully accompanies his family out of Ankh-Morpork into the *shudder* countryside.
Of course, Sam Vimes is a copper. And one thing coppers know: No matter where you go, there's crime. And where there's a crime, there's criminals. And when you see them, they'll run - and you must chase. That's what being a copper is.
The City Watch novels are, on the surface and simultaneously: a series of lovely and amusing detective stories; police procedurals for J.R.R. Tolkien and Douglas Adams fans; social commentary on historical London society, English and Fantasy sociology in general. One thing they're also about, which is obvious in one way but not so obvious in others, is the definition of humanity.
Not in the biological sense, but in the civic sense. Sam Vimes, a born and bred bigot (although mostly against anyone who's not a copper) finds himself as time goes on adding various races to the City Watch rolls. Dwarves, trolls, werewolves, vampires, gnomes, even accountants. There are stories about what it means to be human; what it means to be dwarf, and what it means to be troll. So far, there has been no creature so mean that Sam Vimes has not eventually (and with increasing speed as time goes on) realized that he considers them more human than, say, the Assassin's Guild. In the last Discworld novel, even the dreaded Orc is addressed.
And this book is no different.
There is a race that we haven't seen much of in Discworld. The goblin. They're the lowest of the low; so low that they themselves are utterly convinced they're worthless. Some of them work for Harry King, near Ankh-Morpork, but most of them live in caves, slowly practicing their religion/obsession of unggue. They don't generally bother anyone.
The problem is that some folks up on the surface think that goblins are basically chicken-stealing vermin with no rights. Rich folks. Rich folks with some power who don't live in Ankh-Morpork, where Lord Vetinari's reach seems far away and where the Law has no jurisdiction.
The problem for some of those folks is that, as it turns out, they live near Sam Vimes. And they're about to find out that the Law, in the hands of a certain A-M copper, has a very grimly liberal view of what its jurisdiction is.
As Discworld has progressed, and as Pratchett has become more and more comfortable with his world, the books have flowered. Whereas the early books are satire of standard fantasy fiction tropes, linear narrow novels in themselves, the more recent works have taken on the entire structure of society both within Discworld and within our own. Their reach has increased as has their insight. As we read about more and more inhabitants of the Disc, and read further into their lives, we read more about our own.
Snuff is a Big Book, in that sense - it's about Big Issues, like what it means to be human and what it means when that decision isn't your own. It's about the continuing evolution of Sam Vimes along a well-defined road he's been traveling for some time. But it's about other things, too - it's about pushing the boundaries of our exploration out past Ankh-Morpork but not towards Lancre or the Rim or the Hub or the other places we've seen - but into the Countryside.
It's paced well. Although you know where it's going from page three or so, it takes you there at its own speed - not rushing, not stalling, but letting the story flower. The characters - well, you know most of them. The Watch, in the persons of Captain Carrot, Sergeant Angua, Fred Colon, Nobby Nobbs, Cheery Littlebottom, A.E. Pessimal and even Wee Mad Arthur, put in more-than-cameos. As Discworld progresses and flowers, the characters seem to be showing up across books more frequently - William de Worde is here, and the Nac Mac Feegle get a mention (Crivens!).
What happens in the book doesn't suddenly shake the world, but it certainly grabs hold of an already-shaken tree and gives it a really good wobble.
It's not as funny as some Discworld books, although it isn't without humor. As Pratchett has progressed into his Industrial Revolution books, the humor has become less slapstick and more intellectually satirical - and I'm OK with that.
In sum: strongly recommended if you like Discworld. If you're a Sam Vimes fan, you won't need me to tell you to just go buy it already.
by Terry Pratchett
416 pp (U.S. Version)
Harper Publishing (October 11, 2011)