Sunday, December 31, 2000

Review: "The Truth" by Terry Pratchett

"The truth shall make ye fret."

Misprint or not, a lot of people in the city of Ankh-Morpork are learning that statement is accurate. In Terry Pratchett's "The Truth" (HarperCollins), the Discworld's largest city has gotten its first newspaper, and it's shaking things up.

William de Worde writes a newsletter for a few select clients when he runs into - or rather, is run over by - a group of dwarves who claim they have discovered how to turn lead into gold. They're not lying. They've invented moveable type, and de Worde's life is about to change.

Meanwhile, the Patrician has been imprisoned for murder, but de Worde doesn't think the facts add up. So, he embarks on the Discworld's first investigative report. Along the way, de Worde has to tangle with a competing tabloid-style publication, a couple of very unique professional hit men, the city watch and even his own father.

"The Truth" is Pratchett's 25th foray into the Discworld and goes a long way toward re-establishing his status as the king of comic fantasy.

After a number of disappointing and unfunny books like "Jingo" and "The Last Continent," Pratchett's last two offerings - "The Fifth Elephant" and "The Truth" - have re-invigorated the series with the same satire and sharp parody that his devoted readers have come to expect.

A former journalist, Pratchett has a remarkable grasp of how the newspaper business really works, and he uses that to great comic effect in "The Truth." Fantasy or not, the book does paint a fairly accurate portrait of the day-to-day life of a journalist.

This book also offers something the Discworld has needed for the past few years - new faces. Long-time fans may be disappointed in the change, preferring to read more tales about old friends like Rincewind the Wizzard, Granny Weatherwax and Sam Vimes and the city watch. But, despite recent successes featuring Sam Vimes ("The Fifth Elephant") and Granny Weatherwax ("Carpe Jugulum"), it seems these characters may be running out of stories.

While favorite characters from past Discworld novels - like Vimes, Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler, Foul Ole Ron, Gaspode the Talking Dog and, of course, Death - do pop up in "The Truth," the spotlight is on new characters. And some of them are quite entertaining.

De Worde, the son of a rich Ankh-Morpork socialite, wants to prove that he's different from his father, but instead finds out he's more like his family than he'd like to admit.

Otto Chriek, a vampire photographer, reduces himself to a pile of ash every time he takes a flash photo.

But most interesting are the two hitmen, Mr. Pin and Mr. Tulip. Mr. Pin is the brains of the operation, and the more intriguing Mr. Tulip supplies the muscle. Tulip is a brutish, foul-mouthed thug with a very fortunate speech impediment and a surprisingly keen eye for art. Unfortunately, the ending of this book seems a bit final for this pair, but as long-time Pratchett fans will attest, anything is possible on the Discworld. What else would you expect on a disc-shaped world perched on the back of four elephants who fly through space on the shell of a giant turtle?

As always, there are a number of inside jokes that only regular readers of the Discworld books will fully appreciate, but unlike most series, no prior knowledge is required. "The Truth," like all of Pratchett's books, can be enjoyed by newcomers to the Discworld as well as well as regular visitors.

"The Truth" is the best entry in the Discworld series in years, rivalling Pratchett's early works like "Sourcery," "Reaper Man" and "Equal Rites." It's nice to see Pratchett back at the top of his game, and it's nice to know there are more good things to come on the Discworld.

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