Old School Wednesdays is a weekly Book Smuggler feature. We came up with the idea towards the end of 2012, when both Ana and Thea were feeling exhausted from the never-ending inundation of New and Shiny (and often over-hyped) books. What better way to snap out of a reading fugue than to take a mini-vacation into the past?
Title: Guards! Guards!
Author: Terry Pratchett
Publisher: Harper Collins
Publication Date: First published 1989
Paperback: 376 Pages
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).
Stand alone or series: Part of the Discworld series but first in the Night Watch mini-series
How did we get this book: Bought
Format (e- or p-): Print
A few days ago I watched a wonderful BBC film about Terry Pratchett. Back in Black follows his life (and his death), the development of Pratchett as a writer and of Discworld as a series, and it shows interviews with his friends and fans. It’s a thoroughly entertaining, slightly sad and incredibly poignant movie. I recommend it.
Upon finishing it, I looked at my book shelves and at the many Discworld books I have unread and realised I should not be in the business of denying myself the pleasure and comfort that his books give me. Why put it off any longer? Life is fleeting, I am not getting younger and the world is not – sadly – getting any better.
Thus I picked up the first of the Night Watch books.
Reading Guards! Guards! felt exactly like meeting an old beloved friend whom I hadn’t seen in a while. It felt akin to going back to a place where you feel most comfortable. Like having the truth of life distilled directly into your brain with humour, kindness and love. I fell in love with this book hard and fast.
It follows a magician who puts together A Devious Plot to overthrow the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork by use of: a (stolen) magic book, a Dragon, and said magician’s understanding of human nature.
On the other side of the equation, fighting the Devious Plot, we have the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork and his understanding of human nature. The Librarian of Ankh-Morpork and his understanding of human nature. And the Night Watch and its four guards, who don’t have a singular understanding of human nature but whose role to play in the theatre of life (and this particular plot) is important and thoroughly humane.
There is also the impressive, fierce Lady Ramkin and her pet dragons whose companionship she favours over human companions until she meets the Guard and its leader, Sam Vimes.
There are concurrent storylines, running parallel to a convergent point in which a Plot is Foiled, lives are saved and heroes are found.
Like all other Pratchett novels I have read, it’s the underlining that counts. And the underlining here, as you might have noticed, is human nature. Or rather, the fact that there isn’t really such a thing. At least not as a modular, set-in-stone, easily pinned-down thing. Even though it was written all the way back in 1989, this novel feels incredibly topical and contemporary. There are jokes that are not really jokes when one reads the subtext: a misunderstanding about what oppression truly means here and a look at what ambition can do to a person who tries to rise up the ranks.
Each character felt lovingly developed, especially the members of the Night Watch. Of those, Sam Vimes is perhaps the one who gets the most love. It’s a true hero’s journey, as the story follows Vimes as he slowly but surely becomes better man, almost against his better judgement – if history proves anything, it proves that being a good man is hard. Especially in Ankh-Morpork. Especially when the Patrician is the leader. Especially when everything is set against you, and when being the leader of a Guard means you can’t do a good job because everything is stacked against you.
But as Vimes comes to learn, that’s exactly when and why being a good person counts the most.
Observant, caustic and a fantastically fun novel, Guards! Guards! reminded me that writing a good novel featuring these disparate ingredients and making it work is a one-in-a-million chance that only Pratchett could take.
Death makes an appearance, there are cute (and also ferocious dragons),I learned who the Librarian is (THERE IS TIME TRAVEL WHAT), finally met the Patrician, fell in love with Lady Ramkin and Sam Vines and oh-my-goodness- their burgeoning romance is the best type of romance.
Next up: Men at Arms.
And then it arose and struck Vimes that, in her own special category, she was quite beautiful; this was the category of all the women, in his entire life, who had ever thought he was worth smiling at. She couldn’t do worse, but then, he couldn’t do better. So maybe it balanced out. She wasn’t getting any younger but then, who was? And she had style and money and common-sense and self-assurance and all the things that he didn’t, and she had opened her heart, and if you let her she could engulf you; the woman was a city.
Rating: 9 – Damn Near Perfect