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BOOKS - REVIEWS: Thud!, by Terry Pratchett, Doubleday, pounds 17.99.

Byline: Reviewed by Alex Sarll

The dormant racial tension in a great cosmopolitan city is stirred up by fundamentalists, leading to deaths underground; Terry Pratchett has always used his Discworld as a vehicle for topical commentary, but never before has it felt quite so uncomfortable.

He's still funny too, it's true, but here the most effective comedy is of a dark strain bred by the absurdities of the situation and of human (and dwarf, and troll) nature; the more obviously jokey jokes, such as portable music imps called iHums, tend to feel forced.

They're not needed, not when there's such bleak mirth to be had from considering the ways in which a moderate's condescension to a fundamentalist is often tinged with awe, or the ways in which a fundamentalist's principles depend on the pragmatism of less orthodox assistants.

Take it out of a real world setting, dress it as fantasy, and it's easier to appreciate the ridiculousness of a tolerant society's attempt to fight the intolerance it has sheltered, and vice versa. These are deadly serious questions, but that doesn't mean they can only be considered seriously.

The novel of ideas can be hard going; Pratchett's success with the form in his later work owes much to his having already established a strong cast of characters that they're not drowned out by his themes.

Thud! belongs to Watch commander Sam Vimes, an emphatically good cop, but one aware how much darkness he carries within. He was also the protagonist of Night Watch, until now definitely Pratchett's darkest novel and probably his most accomplished; in light of Thud!, it seems increasingly likely that he's the character for whom Pratchett will be remembered
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Oct 8, 2005
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