Monday, 21 June 2010

Guards! Guards!

While Terry Pratchett had already published ten books, Guards! Guards! the 8th Discworld book is the one where he first realises the art of art of “serious comedy”. His previous books had mostly been clever satires on fantasy clich├ęs and popular culture, but with Guard! Guards! we see the flowering of his ability to write about dark subjects yet make laugh-out-loud jokes without belittling the seriousness of the subject. It is true that he more fully realises the technique in his later instalments of the Night Watch series, but it starts here.

Like last month’s book, Guards! Guards! is a police procedural with a double-barrelled name, but with some important differences. Perhaps the most important is that the murder weapon is a not a smoking gun but a fire breathing dragon.

Guards! Guards! is a riff on the detective noire stories typified by Sam Spade and Humphrey Bogart, think Maltese Falcon with chain mail, combined with fantasy staples such as sorcerous covens and trolls. It also addresses questions like why the lost heir to the throne, raised in lowly circumstances (and they don’t get much lowlier!) always manage to arrive just in the nick of time to save the city and fair maiden.

Of course, nothing is quite what it seems.

Can Captain Sam Vimes of the Night Watch, aided (and possibly abetted) by Sergeant Colon, Corporal “Nobby” Nobbs, Lance-constable Carrot and the Librarian save their jobs, their city and their lives? They would much happier if it was just a falcon to deal with.

For those of a sensitive nature (i.e. who do not want to be seen with the classic Josh Kirby illustration), Guards! Guards! is also available with a grown-up cover. Both options are considerably better than the US covers evidenced below...


The Night Watch series

1. Guards! Guards!
This is where the dragons went. The lie...not dead, not asleep, but...dormant. And although the space they occupy isn’t like normal space, nevertheless they are packed in tightly. They could put you in mind of a can of sardines, if you thought sardines were huge and scaly. And presumably, somewhere, there’s a key...

2. Men at Arms
‘Be a MAN in the City Watch! The City Watch needs MEN!’
But what it’s got includes Corporal Carrot (technically a dwarf), Lance-corporal Cuddy (really a dwarf), Lance-constable Detritus (a troll), Lance-constable Angua (a woman...most of the time) and Corporal Nobbs (disqualified from the human race for shoving).
And they need all the help they can get. Because they’ve only got twenty-four hours to clean up the town and this is Ankh-Morpork we’re talking about...

3. Feet of Clay
There’s a werewolf with pre-lunar tension in Ankh-Morpork, and a dwarf with attitude and a golem who’s begun to think for itself.
But for Commander Vimes, Head of Ankh-Morpork City Watch, that’s only the start...
There’s treason in the air.
A crime has happened.
He’s not only got to find out whodunit, but howdunit too. He’s not even sure what they dun. But as soon as he knows what the questions are, he’s going to want some answers.

4. Jingo
Discworld goes to war, with armies of sardines, warriors, fishermen, squid, and at least one very camp follower.
As two armies march, Commander Vimes of Ankh-Morpork City Watch faces unpleasant foes who are out to get him...and that’s just the people on his side. The enemy might be even worse.

5. The Fifth Elephant
Sam Vimes is a man on the run. Yesterday he was a Duke, a Chief of Police and the ambassador to the mysterious fat-rich country of Uberwald.
Now he has nothing but his native wit and the gloomy trousers of Uncle Vanya (don’t ask). It’s snowing. It’s freezing. And if he can’t make it through the forest to civilisation there’s going to be a terrible war.
But there are monsters on his trail. They’re bright. They’re fast. They’re werewolves – and they’re catching up.

6. Night Watch
Truth! Justice! Freedom! And a hard-boiled egg!
Commander Sam Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City watch had it all. But now he’s back in his own rough, tough past without even the clothes he was standing up in when the lightning struck.
Living in the past is hard. Dying in the past is incredibly easy. But he must survive, because he has a job to do. He must track down a murderer, teach his younger self how to be a good copper and change the outcome of a bloody revolution. There’s a problem: if he wins, he’s got no wife, no child, no future.

7. Thud!
Koom Valley? That was where the trolls ambushed the dwarfs, or the dwarfs ambushed the trolls. It was far away. It was a long time ago.
But if he doesn’t solve the murder of just one dwarf, Commander Sam Vimes of Ankh-Morpork City Watch is going to see it fought again, right outside his office.
With his beloved Watch crumbling around him and war-drums sounding, he must unravel every clue, outwit every assassin and brave any darkness to find the solution. And darkness is following him.
Oh...and at six o’clock every day, without fail, with no excuses, he must go home to read Where’s My Cow?, with all the right farmyard noises, to his little boy.
There are some things you have to do.


In a recent poll on Terry Pratchett's website, Night Watch was voted the most popular book. Although it is late in the series, it is not essential to have read the intermediate books first.

Note that Sam Vimes also appears in Monstrous Regiment, but as a secondary character, so I have not included it in this list.

1 comment:

Peter Debney said...

So no one spotted the deliberate mistake, or at least was too polite to mention it. The last two books were in the wrong order.