Snuff by Terry Pratchett
Release date: October 11, 2011
Snuff is Terry Pratchett’s 39th Discworld novel. In it, we go back to one of my favorite characters. After decades of loyal service, Watch Commander Samuel Vimes is putting down his badge and riding out of the great and dingy city of Ankh-Morpork. His wife, Sybil, has put her foot down. The time had come…for Vimes to take a vacation.
“There was no point in arguing with Sybil, because even if you thought that you’d won, it would turn out, by some magic unavailable to husbands, that you had, in fact, been totally misinformed.”
But on his country estate, Vimes finds a field soaked in blood, loses a blacksmith, and encounters a storyteller with a secret past. Now he must face creeping goblins, dark conspiracies, and sunny weather.
Before I go on, I’m going to call a time out. If you haven’t read the Discworld books, stop right there, grab a pen, and write this down:
“Reminder to self: read The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett (Discworld #1) or Guards! Guards! (first Watch book) as soon as humanly possible.”
And of course, this book also has an underlying thread of social criticism, woven quietly into the narrative in that wonderful and distinctive Pratchett manner. I don’t want to give too much away, but the serious side of the awesome that is Snuff (type of tobacco? part of candle wick?) invites the reader to take a good, hard look at themes of imperialism, exploitation, and indigence. As with all of Pratchett’s books, this one delivers the dark side of humanity as well as the light.
Wandering into opinion-land, I’m gonna be honest (and do my best to avoid spoilers in the process). I had trouble getting through Snuff–and that led me to a near existential crisis. Had I outgrown some fun-loving part of myself that fell in readerly infatuation with everything Pratchett ever? Was I an illiterate sheep wandering away from the flock and about to be eaten by wolves in monocles?
And so, after reading Snuff (to sniff? to extinguish?), I went back (and by “back” I mean, I went to the local library) and stocked up on Pratchett books. I read Wintersmith (2004), I Shall Wear Midnight (2010) and Monstrous Regiment (2003), and Going Postal (2004)–and loved them. I currently have Making Money (2007) as an audiobook on my Sansa for a soon-as-possible listen.
I love these characters and how they grow and change in the stories. I adore Tiffany Aching (Wintersmith, I Shall Wear Midnight), the young witch who’s trying to figure out how to be good at her job and still live her life. Con artist hero Moist von Lipwig in Going Postal is great; he wants nothing more than to not take the job, and ends up both turning the post office around and falling in love. Polly in Monstrous Regiment went and–
You get the drift. Back to Snuff.
Snuff (to put an end to something brutally? To kill?) is written from the perspective of Sam Vimes, the hero of over seven Discworld novels. When I saw that the story was about him, my anticipation to read the book shot up past boiling point and fizzed small colorful exclamation marks over my head. It’ll be about everyone’s favorite policeman, His Grace, His Excellency, The Duke of Ankh; Commander Sir Samuel Vimes. He’s been an Ambassador for Ankh-Morpork, he’s been knighted, and he’s walked into the darkness and taken a part of it with him (it even talks, you know). He’s just plain awesome.
But, that’s just it. We know Sam Vimes. We know the story’s challenges are nothing to him; he’s faced worse. He has Superman’s morals and Batman’s tenacity. Vimes, having any real trouble solving the murder? Vimes, making mistakes? Vimes, giving in to temptation and going over to the dark side? Naaaw, not my Sam Vimes.
That surety drained the tension from the story and smothered character growth. I won’t tell you if I was right about Vimes, but I did come away thinking that maybe there is such a thing as having too much faith in a fictional character.
All that said, do I recommend this book? Absolutely. It’s a must-have for any Pratchett fan.
And the meaning behind the title, Snuff?–all of the above.
Galley pdf received courtesy of the publisher.