Men at Arms is Terry Pratchett’s fifteenth …woah, really? This is the fifteenth Discwordld book? And I’m not even HALFWAY done with the series yet? And he’s still writing them? That’s AWESOME!
Anyway, in Men at Arms returns to the metropolis of Ank-Morpork, specifically the Night Watch charged with preventing suicides, such as suicide by strolling through the wrong part of town or saying the wrong thing to any of its inhabitants. Captain Samuel Vimes is relegated mostly a B-story for most of the novel, allowing Pratchett to focus more on the new recruits foisted on the Watch by the city’s new affirmative action. But since on the Disc Black and White live in harmony on account of their ganging up on Green, the race relations here have more to do with dwarfs, trolls, and the undead being added to the Watch’s ranks. Pratchett has a ton of fun with this concept, playing both sides by skewering the idea of affirmative action in employment while simultaneously lampooning people who are biased against other races without even really being aware of it.
Of course, that’s not all. There’s also some fun stuff about detective novels, investigative police dramas (Corporal Carrot of the Watch does a great Columbo impersonation), charismatic leadership, gun control, clowns, and the domestication of dogs. Speaking of which, Men at Arms gets bonus points for including Gaspode the Wonder Dog, the talking mongrel who only survives his many diseases (including Lickey End, which you only get if you’re a pregnant sheep) because “the little buggers are too busy fighting among themselves.”
All in all, another great book in one of my favorite settings with some of my favorite characters. Pratchett really shows that he’s more than a simple satirist, he’s actually a good writer capable of including characters that are subtle and nuanced while still standing in as proxies for larger concepts that the author wants to lampoon. I don’t imagine that it’s easy to do something like that.