Monday, November 21, 2016

Snuff by Terry Prachett

Reviewed by Patrick

            Snuff is novel number 39 in Terry’s Pratchett’s expansive and beloved Discworld series, making it the third to last entry in series as a whole and the final entry in the “Night Watch” subseries. If that all sounds too complex, please don’t be intimidated; Pratchett’s Discworld novels can be read in any order with no loss of understanding. It’s the most accessible fantasy series I’ve ever read, and one of my personal favorites. 

            As is typical of an entry in the “Night Watch” subseries, Snuff follows Samuel Vimes, a street-wise copper who rose from nothing at all to become Watch Commander of the entire city of Ankh-Morpork, a bristling metropolis that serves as the central location for much of the Discworld series’ action. Snuff is something of an exception, as it takes place in the countryside. You see, Vimes’ boss, the affable-yet-Machiavellian Lord Vetinari, and Vimes’ beloved wife Lady Sybil Ramkin have forced the workaholic Vimes to take a family vacation to their country estate, nestled in a sleepy farming hamlet with a number of dark secrets (as is standard among sleepy hamlets, frankly). Of course, Vimes, being something of a justice-obsessed tidal wave crammed into a lanky human frame, can’t abide these hidden evils, and sets about to bring them to light as soon as he learns of them, aided by his wife (a force of nature in her own right) and his hyper-competent (and deadly) butler Wilikins.

            Though I am a long-time fan of Discworld, it was only recently that I picked up 2011’s Snuff; it sat waiting on my bookshelf for five whole years, for reasons even I don’t know. I finally decided to pick it back up, a year on from Pratchett’s passing. However, Snuff is just as engaging and endearing a novel as any other Discworld work, and I felt like hardly any time had passed at all since I last visited Pratchett’s universe. Pratchett is often rightfully compared to fellow British author P. G. Wodehouse, both being possessed of scathing wit and excellent comedic timing; Vime’s butler Wilikins is very much a loving nod to Wodehouse’s Jeeves, in fact, were Jeeves in constant possession of dozens of lethal weapons and a pair of well-hidden full-sleeve tattoos. 

But Pratchett’s works are far broader in scope than Wodehouse’s, digging deep into the dark places of the world in order to try and make sense of them, and to bring comfort to those who have faced that darkness, willingly or not. Snuff is no exception in this. One of the central themes of Snuff is the exploitation of the weak and vulnerable by the wealthy and powerful (especially along racial and ethnic lines), and the obligation we all have to do what is right, to not turn a blind eye and pretend we never saw anything. It is not, however, a simple story of good versus evil, of light versus dark; Sam Vimes carries a chunk of living darkness in his soul, in fact, an eldritch companion acquired earlier in the series’ timeline. It is vengeance given sentience, neither evil nor truly good, and Vimes must always keep it in check , even when he knows it has a point, or maybe even several points at once. He chooses to never yield to what is easy instead of what is right, and this reflects one of the core tenets of the Discworld series: that evil is always a choice, never something inevitable. 

All in all, Snuff is an excellent choice for any first-time visitor to Discworld, though it is one of the latter entries in the series, and it is a deeply enjoyable return to Sam Vimes’ side for any veteran reader. The novel deals openly with violence and slavery (the latter through a fantastical rather than historical lens), but it balances this with a number of heartwarming sequences, and is deeply funny throughout, as is typical of Pratchett’s work. In fact, Pratchett’s ability to balance the heart-rending with the inspirational and the hilarious is possibly his most defining trait as a writer, and I encourage anyone and everyone to pick up his works, if they haven’t already. Young or old, new to fantasy or a fan since long before Tolkien, Discworld has something for everyone, and, again, Snuff is as good a place as any to start!

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