Terry Pratchett Book Club: Thud! Part III | Tor.com

Terry Pratchett Book Club

Terry Pratchett Book Club: Thud! Part III

Which side do you want to play, dwarfs or trolls?


Vetinari explains to Vimes that it’s important that this case get solved; if it isn’t soon, it’s likely that the Low King will be deposed and war will break out, spreading everywhere including Ankh-Morpork. The creature from earlier is having trouble latching onto the mind it’s chosen. Brick is let go from the Watch House and decides that someone is going to try to pin that dwarf killing on him, so he decides it’s time to go see Mr. Shine. Angua and Sally make it back to Pseudopolis Yard and she gives all the information on the dead dwarfs to Carrot, along with the symbol drawn in blood by one of them. Carrot doesn’t recognize it, but Mr. Shine arrives and knows it well: It’s the symbol of the Summoning Dark. He advises them to always keep the symbol in light, and delivers Brick back to them with the information he possesses. It takes some time to get anything coherent, but Brick does admit that he saw a dwarf hitting another dwarf over the head down in the mine. He gives Vimes the facts as he can remember them, and when Vimes asks about Mr. Shine, Detritus gets very angry with him for being easy on the dwarfs but hard on his people. A rock from Mr. Shine breaks open, giving his address.

While the Watch dwarfs prepare to raid the mines and find the bodies, Vimes goes to see Mr. Shine, who is king of the trolls because he’s literally made of diamond. He runs a little cellar where trolls, dwarfs, and humans come to play Thud, and learn from one another how to think like their enemies. He wants Vimes to get to the bottom of this case too, and urges him to think hard. Detritus shows up to let him know that the war club of the trolls is being sent around, the Low King is rumored to be sending troops to Kool Valley, and Carrot found three of the dead bodies, definitely killed by other dwarfs. The dark dwarfs have fled, so Vimes tells them to send a message out on the clacks to let him know where they’re fleeing to. Vimes goes home to read to Young Sam. As he reads, he realizes that Helmclever had wanted him to get angry when they visited the mine. He hears a sound and goes to the cellar to find that the dwarfs dug into his home; Willikins killed one and stopped another, but a third makes it to Sam’s nursery and Vimes tears after the figure. Young Sam is safe, but another headed out back to Sybil’s dragon shed. He goes to her, and she uses the dragons to dispatch the next intruder. One of the dead dwarfs is green at the mouth and Willikins insists that he didn’t kill him.

Vimes brings the whole family and the dead bodies to Pseudopolis Yard, and asks Carrot what the dwarfs could be looking for that talks. Carrot brings up something called “cubes,” a device that dwarfs find in mining that contain sounds since the beginning of world, and can be reprogrammed to contain dwarfish speech and stories. Vimes thinks the dwarfs were looking for those under the city. Sally and Angua get cleaned up, and Sally convinces Angua to go out with her and Cheery and Tawneee despite her protestations. Vimes starts working through the info he’s got and wonders if the painter of The Battle of Koom Valley went mad because he had a cube. A. E. Pessimal comes in to ask a question; Vimes knows what it is, and says he’ll happily hire the man once he’s done his report for Vetinari. There are dwarfs who’ve come to see Vimes, leaders in the community, and they’ve brought a new sort of grag with them named Bashfull Bashfullsson. He wants to be present when Vimes questions Helmclever, and Vimes realizes that the impulse isn’t a bad one. He finds out that one of the dwarfs killed was Ironcrust’s son, and these dwarfs vouch for Bashfullson. Vimes asks the grag to teach him to play Thud as fast as he can.

Vimes sets up the game to play with Helmclever and asks questions as they go. He learns that they found a cube with the voice of B’hrian Bloodaxe, the dwarf king during Koom Valley. Hamcrusher had the miners killed because they had heard the cube speak lies about the battle. He tried to destroy the cube for those lies, so one of the grags—they’re not sure which—killed him in turn for the crime of trying to destroy words. They all came to the city because Helmclever went to study in the mountains and he brought the codex book with him. That gave Ardent the idea to search for the cube. The club used to fake a “troll” bashing in Hamcrusher’s head belonged to Helmclever… given to him by Mr. Shine for being so good at Thud. The deep-downers have the cube and the painting, and Vimes doesn’t have anyone fit to testify. The candles fall on the floor and when they get the light back, Helmclever has passed from fear. Bashfullson promises he will say that the Watch treated him fairly, and asks Vimes to take him to Koom Valley if (when) he decides to go. He also learns that Sybil copied the stolen painting as a young woman, and they’ve got the copy in their attic. Angua, Cheery, and Sally are called back in from their Girls Night.


The dance is getting complicated with Vimes and Vetinari, is all I’m saying. Just the two bros having whole side conversations without saying words. Just a couple of guys keeping eagle eyes on each other to make certain they don’t become megalomaniacs. Just dudes being public servants at each other in increasingly labyrinthian ways that this time involve Vimes converting a Patrician’s man into a Watchman via one night of action. Now he’s got a Vetinari-grade clerk going through all his paperwork.

I hate it, is what I’m saying. It couldn’t go off better if they planned it. (It wouldn’t work, frankly.) And then Vetinari tells him to go get sleep because the future of the world is currently in his hands, and Vimes knows he’s right, so he just… does it. Vetinari gives Vimes the rundown of how the world sees him, how everyone talks of his incorruptibility and stalwart skill, and you know that when all of this gossiping got back to Vetinari the first time, his head was just a neon billboard flashing the words I DID THAT.

It becomes clear in this section that something is hanging on in Vimes’ brain, and though we can probably guess what that is, we haven’t got the full story yet. What’s clever is that the internal monologue is never so far off from Vimes battling his usual demons as to feel totally out-of-character. You can tell that’s something’s up, but it’s not overwrought. Well, okay, maybe in the places where you see the words kill and burn a lot.

The Da Vinci Code aspect of the book gets more serious at this point with the conspiracy aspect and the religious aspect and all the puzzles around art and symbols. The Discworld series gets much shrewder with parody as it goes on, and I’d argue that this is one of the best examples; Pratchett has taken the shape of something, but overplayed a completely new story onto it. You don’t need to have read or care about Dan Brown’s oeuvre to get it, but it does make things a tiny bit funnier when you do. And Pratchett’s use of those same themes is better, in fact.

The ways in which the prejudices play out in both directions on this are absolutely devastating throughout, but I think the section where Detritus gets angry with Vimes hits hardest. Because Vimes is seeing Koom Valley everywhere, but all I’m seeing is Detritus, who puts up with a lot of jokes at his own expense, who takes a lot on the chin when he shouldn’t, finally pointing out that Vimes is doing that thing the assimilating culture always does; he sees Detritus as a good officer first and a troll second. He erases that part of him so that Detritus fits better in his mind. It’s not just Koom Valley tension—it’s the difficulty of being in that position every day. Detritus finally points out the parts of him that are always there that everyone is very keen to ignore, draws a line, and says not right now. It means a lot that Vimes listens and apologizes.

Even with a specter in his head.

Asides and little thoughts:

  • Sybil on their neighbors’ shrubbery being on fire while they’re on holiday: “Well, if they’re not ready for that sort of thing they shouldn’t be growing rhododendrons.” I could scream, she is perfect.
  • Angua literally making a bondage joke to Sally about them bonding, just ugh! Let them date! This is the hill I’ll die on.
  • And on another subject, let Nobby date! He just wants someone to hang out with who maybe won’t always throw fish at him. Angua and Sally both have an unfortunate tendency toward elitism due to being part of the fancy werewolf family and a vampire respectively, and their preoccupation with getting Tawneee into her “league” is kinda gross, particularly since the league is entirely based on their assessment of her looks.


Let’s hear it for the mob, Vimes thought. Grab it by its sentimental heart.

Hell, I’m probably a spoon.

After the terror came that drunken feeling, when you were still alive and suddenly everything was funny.

“Indeed, sir? I apprised myself of its use, sir, and tested my understanding by firing it down the tunnel they had arrived by until it ran out of igniferous juice, sir. Just in case there were more. It is for this reason, I suspect, that the shrubbery of Number Five is on fire.”

Vimes detected just a soupçon of a smidgen of a reproach there.

He felt like a man crossing a river of stepping-stones. He was halfway across, but the next stone was just a bit too far and could only be reached with serious groinal stress.

A knife dropped into Vimes’s head. It slipped down his wind-pipe, sliced his heart, cut through his stomach, and disappeared. Where the rage had been, there was a chill.

Next week we finish the book!


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