Thursday, 22 April 2021

Wertzone Classics: Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

Captain Sam Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch is not a happy man. He has a thankless job, a bunch of incompetent subordinates and he doesn't get no respect or, more accurately, actually gets no respect. The arrival of a fresh, eager-eyed new recruit (a six-foot-tall dwarf named Carrot - long story) whose relaxed and literal approach to policing (such arresting the head of the Thieves' Guild for being a thief) is another headache for Vimes to deal with. At the same time, the Unseen University Librarian is upset over the theft of a book that could be used to summon dragons and, in an almost certainly unrelated incident, people over the city are vanishing, leaving behind only fine traces of ash and scorched brickwork. Yes, things are definitely afoot...

Guards! Guards! is Terry Pratchett's tribute to detective novels and all those hapless extras dressed in chainmail who's only job in films is to run into the grand hall and get cut down by the hero. No-one ever seems to ask them if they want to. The Ankh-Morpork City Watch is arguably the most popular and enduring of all of Pratchett's creations and this first book about them is one of the very best Discworld books, a solid combination of Pratchett's gifts for plot, satire, pacing, character and engaging in weightier themes of love, life, death and, er, municipal governance.

This unrepentantly eighth book in the Discworld series introduces some of its most popular characters: Captain Vimes of the Night Watch, a drunkard with a tiny sliver of civic responsibility that's just waiting to be reborn; his deputies Sergeant Colon (one of the most sergeanty sergeants ever committed to the page) and Constable "Nobby" Nobbs (a specimen who may be human only by dint of all other species refusing to acknowledge him); and their cheerful new recruit Carrot, a man raised by dwarfs and who is at all times surrounded by an impenetrable air of naivete which is more effective than full plate mail. There's also Lady Sybil Ramkin, who feels like a prototype for half the cast of Downton Abbey combined into one human being, and also the debut of the immortal Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler, fast food seller and related purveyor of gastro-intestinal distress to the masses. Established characters also return: Lord Vetinari, the Patrician, a man so deviously cunning he could have Machiavelli for breakfast and Littlefinger for lunch before polishing off all of the Borgias for dinner, and of course the Librarian, who by contrast would settle for a nice banana.

Also returning, with an increased starring role, is Ankh-Morpork itself. In the great lexicon of fictional cities, Ankh-Morpork ranks right at the very top for its sheer believability as a metropolis for fantasy hijinks. For its first few appearances, the city was just a backdrop but in Guards! Guards! it is the star, Pratchett selling the grubby city through the unabashed and wholly irrational love that Captain Vimes has for it (whilst acknowledging it's million faults, oddly the same number as its population). What was once a self-acknowledged Lanhkmar tribute act is now a very effective solo artist in its own right, and will only get better from hereon out.

Pratchett's writing takes another significant upward swing with this volume, exuding a greater level of confidence than ever before. He's funny when he wants to be, dramatic when he needs to be, even touching when it is required. The story threads are laid out, developed and then resolved with impressive efficiency and maximum comedic impact. The way the last few paragraphs hilariously resolve very minor story points from a hundred pages previously is very clever.

Guards! Guards! (*****) is not the best Discworld book, but it's certainly not far off. Funny, dramatic and just brilliantly entertaining from start to finish. The book is available now in the UK and USA.

I previously reviewed the book here.

1 comment:

RG said...

Really enjoying this series of 'second look' reviews of Sir Terry's work.

I love Guards Guards. If someone's thinking about reading Discworld, this is the book I tell them to start with.