April 4, 2023 8:14 AM - Subscribe

Koom Valley Day is fast arising, the anniversary of an ancient an historic battle between the Dwarfs and Trolls that serves as both symbol and cause of all of their mutual animosity ever since then. The Watch has finally brought on its first Vampire as an officer. It's also being audited by an inspector sent by Lord Vetinari. And a Dwarf-supremacist firebrand preaching Troll-extermination has been fund murdered in the mines. Can Commander Sam Vimes deal with all of this and still manage to be back home by six to read to his son? (Discworld #34, City Watch #7.) By Terry Pratchett.

Welcome (or welcome back!) to the newly-revived Discworld Book Club! We've been covering the City Watch subseries (Previously: Guards! Guards!, Men at Arms, Feet of Clay, Jingo, The Fifth Elephant, Night Watch) along with the "Industrial Revolution" books (Previously: The Truth, Monstrous Regiment, Going Postal.) The next book will be Making Money.


Ahh, Koom Valley. Where the Dwarfs and Trolls famously ambushed each other that fateful day so very, very long ago. It is remembered today via artwork like Methodia Rascal's 50-foot painting of the battle, the creation of which seems to have driven the artist to insanity. It is also remembered in the teachings of Grag Hamcrusher, which boil down to "the slaughter of Trolls must be considered a charity." And, of course, Trolls and Dwarfs are more than happy to reenact it in the streets of Ankh-Morpork in case anyone forgets about it.

But now, Grag Hamcrusher has turned up murdered in a Dwarf mine, and all signs point to a Troll having done him in. And the enormous painting has been stolen from its Museum, a truly baffling crime made all the more bewildering for having Sgt. Fred Colon and Cpl. Nobby Nobbs on the case. Tensions, as always, are rising.

Commander Sam Vimes doesn't need any of this. He's already being forced to hire on a Black-Ribboner Vampire, Sally (real name far too long to print here), over strong objections. Moreover, Lord Vetinari has assigned Inspector A.E. Pessimal to look over the Watch's books and ask piercing questions such as "Why do you employ Nobby Nobbs?"

Speaking of Nobbs, he's got a girlfriend now: Tawneee, a ridiculously attractive and very sweet-natured pole-dancer. Nobody understands. Sgt. Angua has been paired up with Lance Corporal Sally, which isn't great for her as she has her own ancient-blood-feud stuff going on there vis-a-vis Werewolves and Vampires, and it doesn't help that Cap. Carrot is very complimentary towards the Watch's newest member.

Vimes must solve Hamcrusher's murder quickly enough to prevent all-out war from breaking out on the streets. Doing this means meeting a mysterious, semi-mythical Troll named Mr. Shine, forcing his way into matters the Dwarfs don't consider to be within his jurisdiction, and learning about a deeply metaphorical board game. And he has to find his cow.
posted by Navelgazer (16 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I can't remember if I named one of the previous Discworld books as my favorite, but let me be clear: this one is my real favorite. So much going on in this book: the painting (and its true nature), the Chicken, Where's My Cow?, that special carriage, the Devices, and all the great new characters: Grag Bashfull Bashfullsson ("I come bearing no axe"), Mr. Shine (HIM DIAMOND), Sally (even with her mutual antagonism with Angua, I think that it's good for Angua to have a frenemy and not just be Carrot's girlfriend), Brick, and even the Summoning Dark, never sleeping. And the secret of Koom Valley, with the game that never ends, still gives me chills.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:32 AM on April 4, 2023 [5 favorites]

Here's where we sadly get into some mixed-bag territory. I can focus on the stuff I like (the mystery here is maybe the most like an actual "mystery" that we've gotten in a City Watch book, the Dwarf/Troll relations feel like something we've been building up to throughout the City Watch books. Bashfull Bashfullsson and Mr. Shine are both awesome, Thud (the game) is such a cool concept (and apparently existed in board-game form prior to the book being written. I have to try that some time!) Brick is great, and makes for a good and novel use of Detritus, etc. etc.

But it does feel a bit like the Embuggerance was starting to show its face here (though it wouldn't be announced for another two years.) I like Sally as an addition to the Watch, but there's a lot of "horny grampa" feeling in some of her scenes with Angua that is pretty jarring.

Still, I like this one! And the "Where's My Cow" climax is one of the most memorable bits in any of the books for me.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:43 AM on April 4, 2023 [5 favorites]

Oh my god the description (and my accompanying mental image) of Vimes raging through the caves bellowing "Where's My Cow" makes me laugh so hard I start to cough! Every time.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:47 AM on April 4, 2023 [2 favorites]

This part also tickles me:
“War, Nobby. Huh! What is it good for?" he said.
"Dunno, Sarge. Freeing slaves, maybe?"
"Absol—well, okay."
Say it again!
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:48 AM on April 4, 2023 [7 favorites]

OMG, yes, that whole exchange! I think Terry could only get away with that whole bit coming off of several books of establishing his anti-war bona fides, but the "here are several good reasons why people might go to war" was a hilarious bit of cold water there.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:55 AM on April 4, 2023 [1 favorite]

I agree with Navelgazer above about Sally and Angua, and I would even add Cheery and Tawneee. The rivalry for Carrot was completely unnecessary and I could have done without the entire Tawneee subplot, which could be excised with almost no impact on the main plot. (I also do not love the way Pratchett treats Verity Pushpram, just in general.) This book shows why the Bechdel-Wallace test is a floor, not a ceiling.

The new character I love is actually AE Pessimal. This is part of Pratchett's "you don't have to be what you were born or brought up to" Discworld throughline, and I'm always here for that... also for Vetinari missing the mark, for once. ("Small man? Very clean shoes?") The series is better for the Patrician not being wholly infallible.
posted by humbug at 9:55 AM on April 4, 2023 [5 favorites]

Yeah, A.E. Pessimal is wonderful, and pretty necessary in a series about Good Coppers. A.E. Pessimal isn't exactly Internal Affairs but he's close enough that it's great to see Vimes realize the necessity and value of such a thing. Plus A.E. Pessimal is just a delight throughout (and ditto about Vetinari actually being surprised for once!)

I like how the theme of "If you do it for a good reason, you'll do it for a bad reason" stretches out beyond Vimes' dedication to Young Sam and into things like violence and other blurred lines. The ending here, with the Summoning Dark, is more mystical than the City Watch books normally go, but I like it for the magical realism of Vimes, again, bellowing out his recitation of "WHERE'S MY COW?!" in the caves while in a barbarian rage (nice touch to have this moment viewed from the POV of the dwarves, btw) while Young Sam, ten miles away, can sense that his dad is reading to him, even if he's not there.

And I don't hate all of the Tawneee/Sally/Angua stuff. For one thing, it gets us some more Cheery, and I'll always be grateful for more Cheery. While the "mud wrestling" bit was uncomfortable (and oh did you know, vampires are naked when they transform back into human form. But only Lady Vamps. For reasons) I enjoyed a lot of the Girls' Night Out, and how Angua largely got over her initial loathing of Sally while never quite shaking the instinctive werewolf aversion to the smell of her. It stretches credulity beyond the breaking point to think that Nobby would be the first "jerk" that a pole-dancer ever met who ventured a try at asking her out, of course, and it bugged the hell out of me that he dumps her at the end for not being able to cook (fucking really?) but I found the intervention scene to be pretty cute, but yes, it could be excised and the book would lose little. Still, though, Stephen Briggs manages four great and distinguishable "female" voices in those scenes, which is a delight to listen to.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:22 AM on April 4, 2023 [1 favorite]

I think for me this is the first of the watch books that isnt just great. Its still good, but it felt like a bit of a retread, and the tendency to deify Vimes, which really ruins Snuff for me, appears here to some extent
posted by Cannon Fodder at 11:41 AM on April 4, 2023 [1 favorite]

I'm pretty in line with the prevailing thinking here, looks like. Fuck Alzheimer's.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:28 PM on April 4, 2023 [4 favorites]

"Pessimal," by the way, is Latin/Latatian for "the actual WORST." I suspect Pratchett chose that name from sort of a Vimes-eye view of the character, at least initially. Plus the connection to "pessimistic."

I have no explanation for "AE," but for ex-medievalist me it evoked the common "euouae" music-scribe shortcut for "saeculorum amen."
posted by humbug at 3:31 PM on April 4, 2023 [1 favorite]

This is one of my favourites, not least because it has the mine sign that just means underground that is literally the sign for the, uh, London Underground.
posted by Sebmojo at 4:14 PM on April 4, 2023 [5 favorites]

Oh good lord. I never realized that. Thank you!
posted by humbug at 8:08 PM on April 4, 2023

this is one of my least favourite Discworlds - the "horny grandpa" stuff was an unwelcome surprise, and while the Deep Dwarves seem like an attempt to satirise Wahhabist Islam, I don't think it's all that successful, and it's not nearly as insightful as he usually manages. I also don't really like the overt magic mixing with Vimes, because part of his charm as a character is that his significance is as a cautionary tale, that everything he has is despite the role that fate would play for him.

I do like A. E. Pessimal, though, and I enjoy the specific way that Vimes manages to relate to him by working out how to rotate him into a copper-shaped hole.
posted by Merus at 11:26 PM on April 4, 2023 [2 favorites]

Not gonna lie, the WHERE’S MY COW climax makes me both laugh AND cry (my first tears for a Pratchett moment), though that’s possibly because I currently spend much of my time reading bedtime stories to my own toddler. Relatability doing its dirty work on me.

That does a lot of work shoving this one near the top of my list, but I also generally enjoyed the shape of the story. Vimes’ dueling Dad Nature versus his dark side, too, and the dismantling of a sacred place/event, all good stuff.
posted by TangoCharlie at 7:29 PM on April 6, 2023 [2 favorites]

Have just re-read this one, and not a lot to add to what others have said, except that I'd remembered them going to Koom Valley much earlier - it's really a tiny part of the book, but the most distinctive. The mean streets of A-M are getting a bit samey by this point. It feels like there are lots of bits that could have been made more of - the museum, for instance. I did love Sybil's school version of the painting, which just happened to be in the Watch attics, and the long set-up for the chicken joke which explains Methodia Rascal's access to the cube.
posted by paduasoy at 3:32 PM on May 9, 2023 [2 favorites]

I did love Sybil's school version of the painting, which just happened to be in the Watch attics

I actually love this because it totally makes sense in continuity: The Watch operates out of Pseudopolis Yard, which Sybil gifted to them, and which used to be her childhood home.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:06 AM on February 23

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