Pratchett’s ‘Snuff’ not his best, still better than others in genre

Like millions of other people, I would happily crawl across a large field of broken glass to read a new Terry Pratchett book.

But in the case of “Snuff” (Harper, 2011), it would have to be a medium-size field of glass. Although the book is still a very enjoyable read, it does not reach the high standard of his former works.

Pratchett, an Englishmen who specializes in comic fantasy novels, has an astonishing number of books to his credit, some for adults, some for young children and others in the young-adult genre. Apparently, “Snuff” is intended for the young-adult crowd, hence the many references to “poo.”

“Snuff,” part of Pratchett’s beloved Discworld series, presents mostly familiar characters, including Commander Sam Vimes, the hero; Lady Sybil, his wife; Willikins, Vimes’ trusty butler and strongman; and most of the cast of the Ankh-Morpork city police force. Thus, it seems fair to compare “Snuff” with the other “Disc- world” novels and not with his pleasant but less provocative youth series and books such as “The Johnny Maxwell Trilogy” (SFBC Science Fiction, 1996) or “The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents” (Perfection Learning, 2003).

Pratchett’s Discworld novels are remarkable creations. Somehow, he manages in each book to do several things at once: introduce dozens of new, highly developed characters while resurrecting many familiar and beloved faces; craft two or three amazing plots that meld together by the end; satirize our current social mores and conventions; create the highly authentic city of Ankh-Morpork; and play with the English language and its idioms with hilarious results. Not bad in a day’s work.

So how does “Snuff” stack up against Pratchett’s earlier works? It’s a complicated question.

The premise of the book is simple. Lady Sybil demands that Commander Vimes take a vacation with her and their young son to her vast ancestral home in the countryside. Vimes is uncomfortable at first, given his deep roots in the city, but soon happily finds himself enmeshed in a sinister plot that involves the systematic bullying and subjugation of an entire species – the goblins – and even the murder of a young goblin girl. Meanwhile, back in the city, one of Vimes’ policemen has fallen under the spell of a mysterious tiny clay pot.

It sounds like the beginnings of a classic Pratchett tale, but “Snuff” is curiously heavy-handed. He details the crimes against the goblin people in such repetitive, brutal detail that at times I wanted to shout, “I get it, I get it – discrimination is really bad!”

And where are the legions of colorful new characters? One of the few worth mentioning is a novice policeman, Feeney Upshot, whom Vimes takes under his wing during the ultimate chase. The chase itself is bold and exciting, but it feels somewhat overplayed and at times plain unbelievable.

Despite the minor shortcomings of “Snuff,” a fairly good Pratchett novel is still better than most other best-selling works of fiction, so I can recommend it to book clubs that enjoy fantasy and satire. If you’re not familiar with Pratchett, start with my favorites: “Reaper Man” (Nal, 1991) and “Thief of Time” (Harper, 2001). All of the Discworld books are brilliant, so you won’t go wrong diving into any of them.

Leslie Ashmore is a Mountain View resident who belongs to two book clubs.

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