Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

guardsYou, er, want us to attack him?
Of course, you idiot!
But, er, there’s only one of him.
And he’s smilin’.
Prob’ly goin’ to swing on the chandeliers any minute.  And kick over the table, and that.
-The argument with the Palace Guard, who are all-too-aware of the usual conventions

It’s astounding how quickly I’ve become sucked into the Discworld.  It wasn’t all that long ago that I’d picked up Mort, and now, I’ve picked up a small horde of these books!  One of the things I’ve noticed is that we’ve got perhaps four or five different settings (for lack of a better word) that Pratchett covers.  First off, there’s the stories about Death.  An interesting character, sure, especially for the big truths of Discworld (take that as you will); then there’s the witches led by Granny Weatherwax; then the most inept wizard on Discworld, Rincewind.  There’s a bunch of miscellaneous books.  But the ones that really got my attention centers on the City Watch (specifically, the Night Watch) of the self-proclaimed greatest city on Discworld, Ankh-Morpork.

It’s not exactly what you look for in fantasy cities.  The place is so corrupt that the law enforcement mostly relies upon the guilds to take care of offenses (it’s a bad idea to be an unlicensed thief, for example).  It’s a city without a king, but run by a Patrician named Havelock Vetinari, a schemer without peer.  However, there are individuals in the city who feel that maybe it’s time for a king to rule again-as long as the king is under their control.  And how better to find a “rightful king” than by having him slay a dragon?  Of course, the next trick to to get a dragon to the city.

Meanwhile, the tallest dwarf on the Disc named Carrot Ironfoundersson (he was adopted) is sent to the city by his father to mix a bit with his own people.  He’s steered towards joining the Night Watch, but he has far too noble an idea of just what the Watch is.  However, Carrot is just so filled with…well, righteousness that it doesn’t even enter his head to just do as the other officers do (all three of them).  And what a trio they are:  Sergeant Colon, a fellow who you could tell by looking would never promote any higher up; Corporal Nobbs, who barely qualifies as being human; and Captain Vimes, who runs the Night Watch half-drunk, but has a core sense of decency which hasn’t been let out nearly often enough.

Things start hitting the fan when the dragon makes an appearance….

This was a great book!  The secret society working to bring forth the dragon puts a new spin on crazy password rituals (not to mention demonstrating how low one can get in terms of intelligence).  Lord Vetinari is a fellow who thinks about twenty moves ahead of everyone (his dungeons are proof enough of that).  Nobbs is one of those folks who believes that if it ain’t nailed down, it’s his (and if he can pry it loose….).  But the characters who really stand out for me were Vimes and Carrot.  Carrot is one of those folks who just reek of being the Ultimate Boy Scout, but a little slow with metaphor; and Vimes is the classic hard-bitten detective (or he would be, if it were a different genre).

The city of Ankh-Morpork was also about as interesting as any of the characters.  One character observes that no invader has ever conquered the city, mostly because the city tends to absorb the invaders and make them its own.  It’s a place where laws are more of a guideline than an actual rule (although a certain character has a little trouble with that concept).  It’s a place where an orangutan could be a Librarian of the Unseen University for wizards, and know secrets that very few Librarians were permitted to learn.  And it’s a place where sometimes you have to work to get to the million-to-one chance…because it might just work.

The book is loaded with wit; finding a quote for this review was difficult because frankly, there were just too many good ones (like the one about the games the gods play, or the secret behind the dungeons, or the problem with throwing the book at a criminal).  Yet for all the humor, the plot of the book hangs together, and makes for an extremely satisfying read.  For anyone who felt sorry for and rooted for the men who, as mentioned in the book’s dedication, “rush into the room, attack the hero one at a time, and be slaughtered”, this one’s for you.

(2015 note:  last week, Terry Pratchett passed away.  RIP.)

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