Something happens to an author when they've written too many books in
the same universe. The books start accreting characters, the
characters start accreting histories, and the details of the world
just start, well, crowding the story. There's something magical about
first books, that sequels can never quite recapture, even very good
sequels. The sense of wonder dampens, because you've become familiar
with the world, and you don't need everything explained in careful
According to the Internet, which I just asked, "Thud!" is the ninth
book in the Discworld City Guards series by Mr. Pratchett. I seem to
have missed a few in there, and I suppose that sooner or later I'll
end up going and collecting them, although I'm not much motivated.
It's a fine novel. It touches on all the usual themes---racism,
authority, politics or the lack thereof, magic, hate and love, etc.
It's got the usual hopeful cynicism wherein everything's worn out and
messy and broken down and the basic goodness of people is going to win
out despite the complete lack of heroism in all involved.
Mr. Pratchett's best books, to my mind, are the ones that have the
smallest cast of characters. He tends to start out painting them with
a broad, humorous brush and then as the book goes on they settle down
and develop into real people that you give a damn about. Their
humanity starts to shine: Nobby Nobbs is an inveterate disgrace and
petty thief, but he also dances in his off time. Rincewind is an
incompetent and a coward and sometimes ends up doing the right thing
anyway. Even Cut-Me-Own-Throat-Dibbler shows cracks of value from
time to time, though you've got to look pretty carefully for it.
In "Thud!", there's no chance for it to happen. There's a lot of
interesting stuff in the book---it's full of interesting stuff, of
plot development, of neat scenes with various characters. But there's
too much, and too much history behind it, and it can't quite settle
down. And maybe some of it's inevitable.
What does the hero do when the hero cycle is over? What do they do
when they've won, and become king, and then you want to tell another
story about them? About what happens next? In the first few books
about the City Guards, they went from a ragtag nothing to a growing,
respectable source of order in the madness of Ankh-Morpork. The
stories were glorious madness in the best Pratchett style, with the
little people doing their best in the face of a society that didn't
notice them, let alone care. Now Samuel Vimes stares eye-to-eye with
the Patrician and doesn't blink. He's got connections with global (or
perhaps Disc-al?) extent and makes political decisions. And it's just
not as fun.
And maybe it's appropriate. The thing about Mr. Pratchett is, there's
just so bloody many of his books. It's like Andre Norton or Piers
Anthony or Anne McCaffrey, though I shudder to put the latter two in
the same category as Mr. Pratchett. The first taste is pure magic,
and after that we keep coming back to try to recreate it. The first
part of the hero's journey is cloaked in wonder and terror, and we
watch with bated breath as the obstacles are overcome. But once the
hero's been at it for a while, the progression is clear, and when the
trajectory of the ascent becomes unstoppable, it's no longer a
romance, in the literary sense.
That's when you have to send them off into the sunset. Otherwise, the
victorious hero hangs at the top of the arc, waiting for the romance
to become a tragedy. And Mr. Pratchett doesn't write tragedies.
"Thud!" is a fine nth sequel. We get to visit our favorite characters
again and see them continuing on their way, solving yet another
mystery. We don't get to see any one of them for very long, and the
mystery just kind of rots away in front of their combined resources,
gathered throughout the previous books. It betrays nothing, and it
doesn't need too much understanding of the previous books. If you
want another dose of the Guards, this'll give it to you and you'll
enjoy it---I know I certainly did. But the story of the Guards is
waiting for something that will never come, and we probably wouldn't
like it if it did.