When two tribes go to war it makes for quite an interesting background to a novel, especially if it’s set on the irascible Discworld and features sparring factions of disgruntled dwarves and tumultuous trolls. A new caste of dwarves has emerged, the Deep Downers, who have taken over many dwarven areas (underground, mostly) with their zealous religious dwarf doctrine. These attitudes are even sweeping through Ankh Morpork, largest city of The Disc, perniciously drilling its way to the core of the city dwarfs’ values. When a murder occurs in one of the shafts in highly suspicious circumstances, the City Watch, headed by jaded copper Commander Vimes, step, or perhaps saunter, assertively in to investigate. Since it’s a dwarf that has been killed, the finger of blame is immediately pointed at the trolls, their constant adversaries, raking up long-held resentments that go all the way back to a dispute in the dangerous, often contested area of Koom Valley. Deep-rooted prejudices are tested and rekindled in some, but a rising figurehead for troll rights known as Mr Shine, who is partly made of diamond, so can think a lot quicker than the average rock-based troll, seems to be bringing in a new enlightened era, which of course the Deep Downers are keen to repress and disrupt.
Vimes himself is keen to have as few disruptions as possible, seeing as how he has a young son to take care of, in particular at his story time at which he must be read the same story each day, and familial duties to make sure that he attends. This isn’t helped by the contribution of a small imp-based device that his wife has provided for him that interjects at inappropriate moments, leading to some wry, knowing comedy moments. The classic ‘bad cop, even worse cop’ tag team of Sergeant Colon and Private Nobby Nobbs do their best to assist the situation by using their initiative during an art robbery that they attempt to unravel to the best of their ability (their ability being considerably limited). Nobby’s love life also comes to the fore, when his amorous antics with Tawneee are revealed, in many laugh-out-loud incidents and escapades. The City Watch stumbles across the key to the unfolding mystery as Vimes ventures into the depths of Ankh Morpork where he follows a set of strange symbols through the mines that the Deep Downers have been digging. One of the new recruits, Salacia von Umperding, who just happens to be a vampire, accompanies him to use her formidable forensic skills to uncover some significant clues, which get gruesomely revealed, moments before a tunnel becomes flooded and they must escape to save their lives.
The trail leads them all the way to the Koom Valley itself, where the Watch are guests of their friend Rhys Rhysson, the Low King of the dwarves, who is attempting to modernise the dwarf outlook himself. Investigations continue as the fate of the age old rift between dwarfs and trolls is freshly opened, taking Vimes and his squad on a treacherous journey that means that he almost misses his story time with his son… almost.
That’s as much of the story as we need to retell, we think. To find out the rest, you’ll have to read it yourself, which we would strongly advise that you do. It’s a gripping read, with the bullish Vimes assuredly taking the lead in this solid, highly engaging Discworld novel. The supernatural element at work is a neat conceit, and it unravels at just the right pace to give the book a fully complete, neatly increasing trajectory that feels like you’re on a water rapid ride going through a ravine. It’s a real rush, and you may even end up slightly damp afterwards (but it’s well worth it)! A sturdy addition to the Discworld collection.