A plan is being hatched to overthrow the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork and replace him with a King. In order to do that the Unique and Supreme Lodge of the Elucidated Brethren of the Ebon Night need to summon a dragon, because everyone knowns that the true King will be the man who saves the City by slaying a dragon.
At the same time Carrot Ironfoundersson, who is too tall to be dwarf (being human and all), is sent by his adopted dwarf parents to Ankh-Morpork to join the City Watch, who we first meet in the form of a drunk Captain Vimes. The somehow unneeded, until now, Night Watch get it together to investigate the appearance of dragon and some burnt human outlines in a wall, which couldn’t possibly be a dragon? Could it…
It has to be 16 years since I last read Guards! Guards! I’ve read almost all of the Disworld books (but not end of Mort, or all of Wintersmith, Making Money, I Shall Wear Midnight, and Snuff) so I’m well versed in the Discworld, and I have read a few of them multiple times when I was younger (Wyrd Sisters, Sourcery, Lords and Ladies, Maskerade, Hogfather), but I haven’t re-read any of the City Watch ones until now.
After the effect of The Stress of Her Regard had on my reading (it drained my strength enough that 80 pages from the end I called it quits) someone on twitter (I’m avoiding name dropping) said I should re-read some Pratchett and she was absolutely right!
I hadn’t forgotten what a joy it is to read an early Pratchett as such but I may have forgotten the joy of re-reading something you liked a lot. I even think I had a better time this time around. More than once I was laughing out loud and then having to explain what I had set me off, which is particularly hard when you’re chuckling to the image of Lady Ramkin as Discworld parallel valkyrie carrying off a battalion.
As an early Pratchett he’s working his way through some well trodden fantasy tropes by taking the mickey and here it’s not only the idea of a royal heir coming back to reclaim a throne but also the idea of what it is to be hero, which is played out beautifully in a scene where the various heroes for hire decide that they’d rather be in the put.
It also show’s how skilled Terry is an observer of human behaviour:
‘Human nature, the Patrician always said, was a marvellous thing. Once you understood where the levers were.’
This quote is at the beginning but is especially effected when reflected on at the end after discussion between Vimes and Patrician where they consider their respective roles in the world.
And by the end you can see why the world needs both a Vimes and a Patrician. Someone that sticks by the rules and someone who manipulates them.
It’s also novel of privilege, the brothers who summon the dragon are doing so because they want to end the oppression they feel they are suffering. Though of course when the King strips the privileges of others there will be some exceptions won’t there? They are slightly deluding themselves I think.
It’s also a love story, and a sweet one at that, but it would spoil it to say more.
I really enjoyed Guards! Guards! I enjoyed it that much that I’ve had to stop myself from reading Men at Arms until I’d written this review. If I hadn’t I think I’d have caught up with Snuff (the latest to feature Sam Vines) and not got around to reading any other books but those featuring the Watch.
For a new reader to the Discworld I think this is the perfect introduction. Not only do you see the embryonic stages of the Watch (three dysfunctional men joined by an eager forth), you get to see the City as a fully formed character. You get glimpses of the Guilds and what a clever man the Patrician is and why he is one of my favourite characters along with the Librarian (and it takes a lot of skill to understand a character who mostly says Ook!?).