Terry Pratchet is the fifth best-selling author in Britain. His new book and 39th Discworld novel, Snuff has become the third-biggest selling adult novel since records have been kept.
Commander Sam Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch goes, or rather is forced to go, on holiday. He's off to his very wealthy wife's country estate, Crundells, with its pub and a mile of trout stream, surrounded by green fields and fruitful pastures which squelch underfoot. Sam prefers the city, where it's the right sort of squelch, and where there's murder, theft, arson and all sorts of interesting things.
It doesn't take long for the country to become interesting, with a mystery to be solved and villains to be brought to justice, all in the bucolic splendour. Sam has to learn a bit about piloting a river boat, and chasing down murderers through muddy fields, while trying to be civil to the landed gentry who surround him. And it's here that the book becomes more than a merry adventure by Britain's leading satirist. For it is also very much a book about freedom and prejudice.
Pratchett has spent a great deal of time in the Discworld series deconstructing the common tropes of fantasy. He's told us the truth about witches, wizards, dwarfs, trolls, zombies, vampires, werewolves and the NacMacFeegles. In his last book, Unseen Academicals, he told us the truth about those much-maligned creatures, orcs. He showed us that under the skin of those monsters lay something that was, on reflection, all too human. He showed us that they were people, too. This time, it's goblins.
Pratchett is a self-avowed humanist, and this may be part of an ongoing project to show that humanity exists in all creatures, even if their behaviour is seen to be repugnant to us. But how far can he go? In this book, the goblins do something that is so challenging that it would seem to condemn them from the very start. But Pratchett succeeds in making even this understandable, in the context of the world of the book. He shows us that the goblins have been made slaves, murdered and hunted as animals, but that they are not animals; they are talented, sensitive and intelligent creatures who do what is unthinkable when the hardship gets to be too much. They don't deserve to be slaves. For Pratchett, no-one deserves to be a slave.
Sam has the problem of breaking up the slaving ring and solving the murders that have been committed. He's helped by a colourful cast of characters, including his manure obsessed son and his homicidal butler, Willikins. He's opposed by the gentry and their network of privilege. It's class versus sheer bloody-mindedness, and when the dust has settled, Sam has brought the Law to Crundells.
I suspect there are going to be divided opinions on this book, but it is a vintage Pratchett confection, with a very hard nut at the centre.