Review: ‘Guards! Guards!’ by Terry Pratchett

Here there be dragons . . . and the denizens of Ankh-Morpork wish one huge firebreather would return from whence it came. Long believed extinct, a superb specimen of draco nobilis (“noble dragon” for those who don’t understand italics) has appeared in Discworld’s greatest city. Not only does this unwelcome visitor have a nasty habit of charbroiling everything in its path, in rather short order it is crowned King (it is a noble dragon, after all . . .).

Meanwhile, back at Unseen University, an ancient and long-forgotten volume–The Summoning of Dragons–is missing from the Library’s shelves. To the rescue come Captain Vimes, Constable Carrot, and the rest of the Night Watch who, along with other brave citizens, risk everything, including a good roasting, to dethrone the flying monarch and restore order to Ankh-Morpork (before it’s burned to a crisp). A rare tale, well done as only Terry Pratchett can.

(From Goodreads)

Rating: 5/5

The first time I read Guards! Guards! was three years ago. Really liked it even then, and rereading it only fuels my obsession with Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series.

Guards! Guards! is the eighth Discworld novel, and the first in the Ankh-Morpork City Watch arc. When I last read the Discworld series, I made my way by arc: I wiped out Witches and Tiffany Aching, proceeded to devour Rincewind and Unseen University, ploughed through the delightful Death-centred arc, and finally came to the City Watch books. Left the City Watch books for last, because … well, I didn’t think they were gonna be all that interesting.

Major regrets. Because holy crap, the City Watch characters are too damn fantastic (Pratchett creates amazing characters across the entire series, of course – Monstrous Regiment!!!). Coming back to Guards! Guards! as a reread, I could take my time and truly appreciate the humourous writing, the clever plot and the compelling characters.

Plot

The thing about Pratchett’s novels is that at the first glance, the plot is all over the place. You are thrown violently into the story, and once you get the hang of the ride with one character, you are introduced to another, which you can’t help but like too.

Guards! Guards! takes place very much along those lines. There is a dragon, a species that should be extinct, loose in Ankh-Morpork, and the Night Watch runs pell-mell around the besieged city, guided by Captain Sam Vimes’ unerring copper’s nose.

As the reader, you run pell-mell along with Vimes, Carrot, Colon, Nobbs and Lady Ramkin – and you are excited to be on this crazy ride. That’s the beauty of Pratchett’s pacing – you are lost and confused, but so are the characters, and when the resolution comes, it is so worth it. Trust me – you would want to find out how they got rid of the dragon in the end.

Characters

Witticism is hard. Especially when it is hard truth delivered in the shiny package of humour. Guards! Guards! is funny – there’s no doubt about it – because there are occasions in life where if you don’t laugh, you would only break down in tears.

For example, Ankh-Morpork’s dictator, Vetinari. He’s the representation of the all-powerful state masquerading as a benevolent ruler – you know, the state that rolls out limiting bills and statutes with an earnest this is for your own good. And you give in, because life seems to improve – you’re richer, and there’s less death and chaos, and hey, at least your ruler isn’t a mad one, right? While this happens, the hapless citizens of Ankh-Morpork don’t see how Vetinari is wrapping them up tight in his chosen boxes. As in Ankh-Morpork, as in real life. These reflections are made all the more stark by the humour – you laugh, but the discomfort lingers. That’s the harsh reality for you.

In the first book, Vimes and Carrot are still pretty vague sketches. Because I’ve already read the other books and I know how they will grow, it is interesting to read them in their rough beginnings. I only love them even more.

Can’t wait to dive into the rest of the books! Like the first time round, I will be rereading by arc. I’m way too excited to re-explore the manic, scintillating Discworld.

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