A terrific novel. It’s part of the City Watch sub-series, and of course, Sam Vimes, the commander of Ankh-Morpork City Watch, is the protagonist. In this novel, he faces a serious crisis. The city streets thrum with unrest. The dwarves and trolls are ready to turn the entire city into a battlefield. The anniversary of the Koom Valley is approaching.
What was Koom Valley? As all of the Discworld know, it is the site of an historic battle between trolls and dwarves. It happened hundreds of years ago, but the aftereffects still ripple across the Discworld today. The hostilities explode. The tempers fry. And then, a prominent dwarf is murdered. Of course, a troll did it. Didn’t he?
While Sam Vimes and his Watch investigate, some self-righteous dwarves obstruct the investigation. It seems, they don’t want the truth to come out. They want history to repeat itself. They want a bloodshed. Besides, the dwarfs are mining under the city, searching for something mystical. Secrets raise their ugly heads. Politics stir. Young enthusiasts bash each other’s craniums. Even Lord Vetinary is concerned by the Watch’s progress.
The book isn’t a light satirical romp, as most of the earlier Pratchett’s books are. This one is scary in its intensity. The parallels with the current political situation, with the religious and national conflicts all around the world lead into the gray area of doubts. Sadly, we don’t have our own Sam Vimes to bring around the lasting peace.
Still, some scenes of the book are hysterically funny. As the weathered policemen Fred Colon and Nobby discuss art, the reader’s eyes tear from laughter. When they discuss war, it’s not so amusing. When Sam cogitates about a “malign idiot”, a belligerent spiritual leader of the dwarves who incites his compatriots to take up arms, it’s not funny at all.
Young dwarves listened to him, because he talked about history and destiny and all the other words that always got trotted out to put a gloss on slaughter. It was heady stuff, except that brains were not involved.
Sam doesn’t consider himself a hero. Here he disagrees with the majority of Discworld, as well as with the devoted fans of the series, but his contemplation of police work, while a bit self-derisive, has some truth in it.
Coppers stayed alive by trickery. That’s how it worked. You had your Watch Houses with the big blue lights outside, and you made certain there were always burly watchmen visible in the big public places, and you swanked around like you own the place. But you didn’t own it. It was all smoke and mirrors. You magicked a little policeman into everyone’s head. You relied on people giving in, knowing the rules. But in truth, a hundred well-armed people could wipe-out the Watch, if they knew what they were doing.
I'm shivery just thinking about it, about all those terrorists and suicide bombers who effectively killed the little watchmen in their heads. I guess I'm not very optimistic, and neither is Sam Vimes, but he is an honest copper and he has my deepest admiration and utmost respect. I salute you, Sam Vimes, and I bow to your creator.
A wonderfully powerful book.