In the twentieth part of Thud!, Vimes and the team attempt to locate where Methodia Rascal made their painting. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Well, now I understand why the small little lesson on the geography of Koom Valley was so important: the place is a BILLION times more complicated and chaotic than I expected it to be, which inherently makes Vimes’s non-plan even worse. And what a way to introduce it all: by having the town’s coroner tell Vimes, rather casually, just how many bones wash up out of the valley! It’s so common that the way magistrate Waynesbury speaks of it, you’d think he was just referring to something a whole lot less disturbing. But that’s the point. I imagine the people of Ham-on-Koom long ago gave up on the notion of finding any of this unnerving. It’s just what happens here. Seriously:
“We get a few bones washed down here every spring. Mostly tourists, of course. They really will not take advice, alas.”
Seriously, while there’s some humor in here, Pratchett is most likely referring to a very, very real phenomenon that you get in places around our world where human foolishness and natural danger collide. On video, I referenced the Grand Canyon, but Yosemite counts. There’s a hiking trail in Los Angeles that I love taking because it leads to a spectacular waterfall and set of ponds that is—unsurprisingly!!!—the source of deaths every year because of people jumping off the rocks into shallow water. (There’s another waterfall near Eaton Falls, if I recall correctly, where people die all the time because they try to climb up the slippery rocks to get to the top of the fall and… well, they don’t make it to the top.) Add on to this the complex, emotional history between dwarfs and trolls, and it is no wonder that this sort of debris, as fucked up as it is, washes down the valley.
Still, that only sort of prepared me for the actual experience of being in Koom Valley. I am still curious—and I asked this on video, too—if Pratchett was basing this valley on any real place, as I’m fascinated by what he might have borrowed from. It comes across as an incredible spectacle and a chaotic hell at the same time, in part because of the water, in part because of the limestone, in part because any step could be a person’s last as they plunge into the darkness below the surface and then become a collector’s item for people like Waynesbury. (A respectful collector’s item, I should note. I didn’t think Waynesbury was being creepy.) Pratchett does a spectacular job giving this location a physicality that’s impossible to ignore. It buzzes. It burns. It disorients because the landscape changes so much that it all blurs into a terrible sameness. You’d think that have a map of mountain lines in the distance would be immensely helpful in plotting out the spot where Methodia Rascal painted that famous painting, but nope!
Sometimes they’d come out into a clear stretch that looked quite like the scene that Methodia Rascal had painted, but the nearby mountains didn’t quite match up, and it was off again into the maze. You had to detour, and then detour around the detour.
It’s dizzying, isn’t it? I’m a sucker for a setting with grit, and Pratchett knocks it out of the park here. And this section isn’t even that long, y’all! But it’s so packed with sensory details that I began to feel nervous just reading this. How would they ever find the right spot?
Of course, I became more nervous once Cheery and Vimes actually succeeded, and WOW, THIS BOOK DOES DREAD SO WELL. There have been so many things to be tense over, but this book invokes a trope that gets me pretty much 99% of the time: a character descending into a dark hole/shaft/space, without knowing what’s at the end of their journey. (Real quick book recommendation: next year, there’s a debut book coming out called The Luminous Dead that’s like The Descent meets Annihilation and it is absolutely one of the best horror/sci-fi/queer books imaginable, and I cannot get enough of it, and it is LITERALLY this trope for like 400 pages, plus a billion other horrifying things.) But y’all, it would be bad enough if VImes had to descend below the valley; it’s made worse by the thoughts. I have a theory that the Summoning Dark has found a mind that is at least vulnerable enough to entertaining it. Why else would Vimes behave so irrationally and so at odds with his own survival? And maybe that is the point of the bit I pointed out in the last review about self-defense. What if Pratchett was showing us that Vimes was still in the right mindset to be affected by this “bloody mystic symbol”???
UGH I DON’T KNOW? It feels like the only explanation that makes sense to me. And the Summoning Dark was on its way to Koom Valley, so???? Maybe???
One other thing. I didn’t comment on the intercepted clacks message regarding Sally in the last review, and I don’t want to ignore the next little clue as to her true purpose. I don’t have a theory yet as to what she’s doing because I feel like I’m still missing a huge piece. Here, I wondered if she was sneaking out again to continue investigating matters—like she did with the well—but that doesn’t make sense, does it? Why don’t we see where she goes? Why does Pratchett hide the message from us? Why does Vimes say something to the effect that Sally can’t help herself?
I DON’T GET IT. What was Sally doing???
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