Book Review: Guards! Guards!

Guards! Guards!

More Terry Prattchett. This time around in Guards! Guards! he introduces a new recurring cast in the Diskworld, the City Watch, and spends most of the novel satirizing crime novels, cop movies, the British obsession with dog breeding, and an orangutan with a thing for books. The book mainly tells the story of Samuel Vimes, Captain of the Watch, who makes an arc from a drunk wallowing in a dead-end job to a street-wise detective with a sense of ownership and obligation to his city. Unfortunately that puts him squarely at odds with a secret society and the dragon they have summoned in order to enact some overly elaborate plan to overthrow the city’s Machiavellian dictator in favor of a puppet king. Vimes and the rest of the watch have to figure out what’s going on and rise to the occasion of thinking about getting around someday to doing something about it possibly.

Like with Pyramids, Prattchett seems to find his groove in social satire with a faux fantasy coating with Guards! Guards!, mixing it in with some real insights into human nature, what it means to be good or evil, and what injustices society is willing to tolerate in exchange for safety and comfort. But he somehow never gets preachy or ostentatious about it.

Samuel Vimes also gets the most elaborate character development so far in the series. We’ve seen other characters develop a bit, but not that much. Rincewind may get moments of panicked bravery, but he always returns to being a coward. Granny Weatherwax broadened her worldview a bit, but she went back to being withdrawn and distrustful of new things. Teppic from Pyramids probably comes closest in how he learns to reject tradition in favor of better judgment, but even his fate at the end of the book is pretty close to what it was at the beginning. We see Vimes, on the other hand, enter into a real crisis of conscience and seem him win some substantial internal struggles that leave him a different character than he was at the beginning.

Of course, none of this precludes Guards! Guards! from being really funny, as you’d expect from Prattchett. The social satire alone is clever and biting and funny, but the rest of the City Watch provides plenty of comic relief. Carrot is an musclebound, naive, and overly enthusiastic human who just recently learned he wasn’t a dwarf like the foster parents who raised him. Nobby is a good enough fellow to his friends, but he seems to have a habit of using his station to steal more than he keeps from being stolen. And Sergeant Colon is an overstuffed working man who shouts really well but doesn’t have any further ambitions in life. And as usual Prattchett displays his gift for turns of phrase and twisting his lines of thought around into amusing shapes. Here’s some of my favorite quotes from the book:

“You had to hand it to the Patrician, he admitted grudgingly. If you didn’t, he sent men to come and take it away.”

“Lessee…he’d gone off after the funeral and gotten drunk. No, not drunk, another word, ended with “er.” Drunker. that was it.”

“Noble dragons don’t have friends. The nearest they can get to the idea is an enemy who is still alive.”

“These weren’t encouraged in the city, since the heft and throw of a longbow’s arrow could send it through an innocent bystander a hundred yards away instead of the innocent bystander at whom it was aimed.”

“If there was anything that depressed him more than his own cynicism, it was that quite often it still wasn’t as cynical as real life.”

“They felt, in fact, tremendously bucked-up, which was how Lady Ramkin would almost certainly have put it and which was definitely several letters of the alphabet away from how they normally felt.”

“His sister had been sent down to the village to ask Mistress Garlick the witch how you stopped spelling recommendation.”

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