Ana continues her adventures in Discworld, with the next Night Watch novel, Men at Arms.
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: Men at Arms
Author: Terry Pratchett
Publisher: Harper Collins
Publication Date: First published 1993
Paperback: 377 Pages
Corporal Carrot has been promoted! He’s now in charge of the new recruits guarding Ankh-Morpork, Discworld’s greatest city, from Barbarian Tribes, Miscellaneous Marauders, unlicensed Thieves, and such. It’s a big job, particularly for an adopted dwarf.
But an even bigger job awaits. An ancient document has just revealed that Ankh-Morpork, ruled for decades by Disorganized crime, has a secret sovereign! And his name is Carrott…
And so begins the most awesome epic encounter of all time, or at least all afternoon, in which the fate of a city—indeed of the universe itself!—depends on a young man’s courage, an ancient sword’s magic, and a three-legged poodle’s bladder.
Stand alone or series: Part of the Discworld series but second novel in the Night Watch mini-series
How did we get this book: Bought
Format (e- or p-): Print
My incursions into Discworld continue with Men at Arms, the 15th novel in the series but the next in the Night Watch sequence/mini-series following the excellent Guards!Guards!.
We are back to the world of the Night Watch. Corporal Carrot has been promoted and is now in charge of the new recruits who have recently joined the Guard in the attempt to diversify its ranks. There is a Troll, a Dwarf and a Werewolf (who is also the only woman in the guard), all of whom have their own special storylines.
The Guard are also bracing themselves for Captain Vimes’ imminent departure and retirement upon his wedding to Lady Ramkin, to happen in a matter of days from the novel’s opening. Captain Vimes is not so sure this is what he wants but this thought is not yet exactly formulated inside his mind.
That’s when the murders start. They seem random at first but the Guard – and especially Captain Vimes – realise (against all odds) that they might not be that random after all. Then they get acquainted (too closely, and dangerously so) with the mysterious “gonne”. A thing that can control minds (and hands) and that can kill. The Patrician then tells Captain Vimes that he should, not under any circumstances, investigate the matter any further.
That’s when things get really interesting.
I keep thinking about Pratchett’s books and how they work when they have no chapters, there is head-hoping within a page, within a single paragraph even and where there is no one main lead, or one single storyline as so many things happen at the same time.
And I am sure there are “rules” of writing somewhere that would say none of this should work but it does. IT TOTALLY DOES. It’s like Terry Pratchett is able to take humanity and distil it into a story that beautifully discloses it to us. And I know that these books are often described as comical and funny – and they certainly are at that, seeing Death making jokes as it takes the new souls, just made me laugh out loud – but in truth, more often than not, they make me tear-up all the time.
Take for example what the author does with Carrot: adopted by a Dwarf family whom he loves and whose culture he embraces, Carrot is (as we found out in Guards!Guards!) the True King of Ankh-Morpork. That thread is continuously and expertly developed in Men at Arms in a way that it involves not only multiple characters coming to the conclusion of who he is but also how Carrot behaves, thinks and interacts with people and cultures. It’s heart-warming in an unexpected way as well as political at the same time that it is critical of politics. It’s hard not be charmed by Carrot and his outlook in life and his earnestness.
Carrot keep repeating to anyone who will to listen about the meaning of “policemen”:
“Do you know where ‘policeman’ comes from, sir? … ‘Polis’ used to mean ‘city’, said Carrot. That’s what policeman means: ‘a man for the city’. Not many people knew that. The word ‘polite’ comes from ‘polis’, too. It used to mean the proper behaviour from someone living in a city.”
And I can’t tell you why but I managed to burst into tears reading this just as I did when reading about how Sam Vimes lives in poverty not because he spends his money on drinks or women but because he spends half of his salary helping out the widows and orphan children of previous Guard members. I have the feeling that by the end of this series I will have a new all-time favourite character and his name will be Sam Vimes. My HEART.
All the while there are tiny nuggets of knowledge dropped about Discworld, about the city and its characters, culture and history. I devoured it, just like I devour all of his books and again, look forward to continue my adventures with the Night Watch.
Next up: Feet of Clay.
The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.
Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.
But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.
This was the Captain Samuel Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness.
Rating: 9 – Damn Near Perfect (I wished for more female characters in general and for more Lady Sybil in particular)
LexiMarch 22, 2017 at 11:55 am
If you think you want to cry from this one, wait until you get to Night Watch. I also use that exact boot example to explain unfair costs to people all the time.
tee+dMarch 22, 2017 at 1:47 pm
Oh, welcome, welcome to the Sam Vimes Fan Club. I love me some Carrot, but the imperfect, alcoholic, struggling watchman Vimes is my all-time favorite; I read this book about once a year. The philosophy in this book is kind of a religious experience, in a tiny way…
I could take or leave the Wizards most of the time, but the witches and the City Guard are my FAVE of the Discworld denizens.
tee+dMarch 22, 2017 at 1:48 pm
The whole boot thing is why my husband won’t let me shop for cheap shoes. He asks, “Do I need to go into the Vimes theory of boots?” and I sigh and leave the Payless Shoes store behind…
AnaMarch 23, 2017 at 6:32 am
You are not the first person to tell me about crying and Night Watch and i am TERRIFIED of what will happen in that book. i am certainly NOT READY for certain characters to meet Death.
AnaMarch 23, 2017 at 6:34 am
Tee – my partner is not a reader of fiction ( I KNOW) but I HAD to read this part outloud to him. He loved it. 🙂
SabrinaMarch 24, 2017 at 1:03 am
I love Sam Vimes so much, I named my kitten after him 🙂
The Book Smugglers’ Best Books of 2017 – HeadlinesJanuary 13, 2018 at 8:02 am
[…] Viscera by Gabrielle Squailia, 9 (Fantasy) 2. Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett, 9 (Fantasy) 3. Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett, 9 (Fantasy) 4. Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett, 9 (Fantasy) 5. Zoe’s Tale […]