on January 24, 2007
"Guards ! Guards !" is the eighth book in Terry Pratchett's hugely popular Discworld series and is the first to focus on Sam Vimes and Ankh-Morpork's City Guard. Although the City Guard was once a fine and noble profession, it has fallen by the wayside in recent years. Once, there had been hundreds of members : as the book opens, the City's Night Watch is staffed only by Sam, Sergeant Fred Colon and Corporal Nobby Nobbs. Like the Night Watch itself, Sam has also fallen on hard times. Having started drinking to forget (it was possibly something to do with a woman), he now drinks to forget the drinking. Despite his faults, though, he's a likeable cynic who has a well-developed sense of fair play and identifies with the underdog.
Things start turning around for Sam and the Watch in "Guards ! Guards !". The force sees a dramatic rise in numbers with the arrival of Carrot Ironfoundersson. Orphaned as a baby, Carrot had been taken in by the dwarfs and raised in a gold mine. Until shortly before he left home, he didn't realise he was human - he'd always thought he was just tall for his species. His adoptive father decides it's best for Carrot to spend some time with other humans and 'manages' to secure a position for him in the Ankh-Morpork City Guard. Carrot, on his arrival, is viewed with some amazement : an actual, honest volunteer. He takes things very literally (as dwarfs tend to do), is very innocent (he wouldn't know what to do with a seamstress if one fell into his lap) and a lot of the humour comes from his utter confusion.
The problem for Sam and the Night Watch is presented by the Unique and Supreme Lodge of the Elucidated Brethren. Well, actually, the problem is its mysterious (and big-headed) Supreme Grand Master, an ambitious and manipulative individual. (The remaining members are bitter, vitriolic, small-minded, jealous, resentful and a bit stupid. As a result, they're very easy to manipulate). He's devised a Machiavellian plan that will involve the removal of the Patrician (Ankh-Morpork's tyrant) and lead to the restoration of the monarchy. Unfortunately, his plan involves the controlling of a very dangerous dragon - to that end, Brother Fingers has managed to 'acquire' De Malachite's book on summoning dragons from the Unseen University's library. For some reason, it doesn't seem to bother him that the book is badly burnt.
This is the first of the Discworld books to feature Sam and the City Guard. As a result, it's a pretty good starting point if you've never read any of the other Discworld books before and want to see what you're missing. Pratchett's books are always very funny and this one gets better as it goes along. Definitely recommended.
on May 25, 2003
The Ankh-Morpork Night Watch is a disgrace, its lack of talent offset only by the Patrician's distain for normal police work, relying as he does on the self-interest of the thieve's guild to keep crime under control. From alcoholic Captain Vines on down, the Watch exists but doesn't really act. When an occult band comes up with the idea of summoning dragons to change the Ankh-Morpork leadership, the Night Watch is the last place anyone would look for a hero. Which is lucky because what they get isn't a hero--exactly.
Author Terry Pratchett keeps the laughs coming in this Discworld-set adventure. Captain Vines, a recurring character in the series, is well developed as a sympathetic and interesting character. The romantic element adds to the humor and to the story as well.
Combining knee-slapping humor with a solid adventure is often difficult, but Pratchett manages without breaking a sweat. Fans of the DiscWorld series will definitely want to add this one to their must-read selection. GUARDS! GUARDS! is also a great place to start reading Pratchett novels as it introduces many of the important characters.
Discworld really doesn't get any better or funnier than this. For the first time in the series, we get an extended up-close view of life in the remarkable city of Anhk-Morpork. We are introduced to such wonderful characters as Captain Vimes of the City Watch and his singular subordinates Nobby, Colon, and the giant dwarf (adopted) Carrot; the formidable Lady Ramkin; and Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler. The remarkable fashion in which the Patrician Lord Vetinari runs the city is explained in some detail, we begin to really get to know the Librarian of Unseen University (who was of course turned into an orangutan some type back as a result of a magical accident), and Pratchett gives us a basic rundown on the theory of L-Space under which all libraries work and are magically connected.
Everyone knows that dragons do not exist, not the type of giant mythical creatures who fly around breathing fire all over the place. Thus, it comes as something of a surprise to people when Anhk-Morpork begins experiencing incidents of the body-melting variety; such a perpetrator can only be dismissed for so long as a giant wading bird, however. It seems that a group of unimportant have-nots has been wooed into a secret society bent on teaching the haves a lesson or two by magically summoning a dragon to carry out their wishes. Naturally, things get out of hand, and the dragon finds a way to establish permanent residence in reality. Declaring himself king of the city, preparations are made to turn over treasure and begin sacrificing maidens. The City Watch has long been nothing but a joke in town, especially after the establishment of proper guilds virtually eliminated illegal illegality, and Captain Vimes and his men have no desire to enforce the law anyway, unless enforcing the law somehow involves drinking copious amounts of alcohol. Young Carrot (who has just found out he is a human and not a dwarf after all, all six and a half feet of him) amazingly volunteers for the Watch and actually tries to enforce the law, thereby causing a bit of controversy at first. Then the dragon business comes along, and the City Watchmen take it upon themselves to try and overcome the wossname since no one else, aside from the noble swamp-dragon enthusiast Lady Ramkin, seems to offer much resistance at all (even when extolled by Sergeant Colon's rally cry "The people united can never be ignited!"). Of course, the odds of solving such a crisis as this are a million-to-one; odds of a million-to-one guarantees success, as everyone knows, and the problem comes in making sure your plan's chance of success does not miss the mark; it can't be a thousand-to-one or even 999,999-to-one odds because you've never heard of anyone succeeding with those odds against them, now have you?
There is so much that goes to the very heart of the Discworld in this novel that one cannot begin to list it all here. Captain Vimes and the City Watch members are some of the most human characters in the series, and they also happen to be very funny. Virtually everything about this book is terribly funny. The only question I have about this novel is how in the world the inept wizard Rincewind managed to be completely absent from such a dangerous situation as the one represented by the dragon to the city. It's really best that he does not appear in these pages, though, as it would take something away from the incredible appeal of the City Watch characters. If ever a Discworld novel were required reading, it would have to be Guards! Guards! If you can't enjoy this book, then Pratchett's Discworld series is not for you.
on April 17, 2002
This is a review of the entire "Watch" series, not just GUARDS! GUARDS!, which is the first novel of the series and the first Pratchett book I ever read. In the first two, GUARDS! GUARDS! and MEN AT ARMS, Sam Vimes meets and marries the Dragon Lady, Sibyl Ramkin, and we get the most loving satire of a formidable upper-class old maid that I've ever read. Their romance is as unlikely and as touching as the one between Death and Miss Flitworth in REAPER MAN.
I loved the affirmative action developments in the second book, though the dragon plot in the first one seems almost superfluous compared to the evolution of Vimes' character from the time we meet him drunk in the gutter to the changes Sybil helps bring about -- and we read the subsequent Watch novels in wonder as Sam goes on to become a reluctant knight, then a duke and an expectant dad. Equally fascinating are Angua the werewolf and Cheery Littlebottom the dwarf, two of the new "men" at arms whom we get to know better in each book. Even Carrot, who is usually too good to be interesting, starts to develop some fascinating flaws in THE FIFTH ELEPHANT.
That's the joy of the Watch novels, as well as the Witch and Death ones, and a few one-shot protagonists like Teppic in PYRAMIDS. Here are people who change and evolve, in other words, people who come alive. (Even Death does -- wonderfully.) Although the password scene at the beginning of GUARDS! GUARDS! is one of Pratchett's funniest, there is none of the sneering and lampooning that make the Rincewind stories tedious. I am ever so glad that this was the first Pratchett book I read; had it been one of the Rincewind stories, chances are I'd never have gone back to the PRA's on the bookstore shelves.
on January 1, 2002
I read the Colour of Magic a long time ago, and while it was funny, I didn't really appreciate it. I haven't really had the chance to go back and read more Pratchett until I picked up the City Watch trilogy at the local library. Guards Guards! is the first book to feature the Watch, and it is a great introduction to them.
The book hits the ground running with wonderful take-off on the idea of pass-phrases to get into a building. I couldn't stop laughing, especially because my wife and I have a running joke similar to this from something she read on USENET. Pratchett takes it about 10 steps further, though, and he does it with flair. Pratchett then continues the hilarity, even when he's making some good points on the human condition (like the human ability to do horrible things to each other). Just when things start to seem a little slow, he'll let loose with another bit of either silliness or wit, such as a Clint Eastwood riff that's simply wonderful.
As many people have said already, this is a book about those characters in most other novels who's job it is to die or be bonked on the head at the hands of the hero. This book celebrates them, gives them a personality and a reason for being other than to be cannon fodder. This time, instead of being just the downtrodden, they are also the heroes.
Vimes is an interesting character, a man who starts out as a man who totally despises what he has become. He loses himself in drink because, as head of the City Watch, he's nothing. He gets no respect from anybody (not even his men), and he doesn't have anything to really live for. In comes Carrot, a "dwarf" (actually, a human who was raised by dwarfs, and still considers himself one, even though he's over 6' tall) who comes to the city actually volunteering to be a member of the watch. Carrot's a simple man who's devotion to the rule book starts to rub off on Vimes himself. Between that and the attentions of Sylvia Rimken, the richest woman in the city and somebody who looks past Vimes' outer shell, he starts to become the man of integrity that he's always wanted to be.
That all sounds a bit heavy, but it's really not in this book. Pratchett is a master of making good points underneath all of the jokes, but if you don't want to think about things too much, the laughs are still worth the read. The other two characters, Colon and Nobs, are good for that. Colon is the sergeant who has been married for years mainly because of carefully arranges schedules that make it so he and his wife only see each other when they pass at the front door. Nobs is a very strange man who uses his position to steal things (though Carrot changes that pretty quickly). Carrot tries to arrest everything in sight, to often hilarious results. His introduction to the city at one of the local watering holes is simply hilarious.
All in all, this is a book that is well worth reading. As it's the first in the City Watch books, you certainly don't have to have read the previous Discworld books to understand what's going on. It takes a couple of fantasy cliches and turns them on their head. You won't be able to look at dragons the same way again after reading it.
on September 6, 2001
This is the first book in the long "Ankh-Morpork City Watch" series.
A small group of people conjure up a dragon, hoping that a heir to the throne of Ankh-Morpork will come up and kill it, thereby being crowned king. Someone does come up, but can't do anything when the dragon appears again, this time crowning itself king. Now it's left to the City Watch to try to fix things.
As in most Pratchett books, the characters make the book. The Watch consists of 3 men, and one new addition, Carrot Ironfounderson. The three people are each different and very much the same. There's Nobby, the only person that needs an ID to prove that he's a human, Colon, and Vimes. The main character is Carrot, a 6 foot tall dwarf who just moved to Ankh-Morpork seeking glory in being a watchman. You can't really say much about the Watch, you just have to read the books to understand it, but they're arguably the funniest characters Pratchett has ever written.
This book hasn't been republished in the US since 1989, and is a long awaited reprint. It's definitely worth it, even though most other City Watch books are better.
on March 13, 2001
(*definition contained herein)
Like "Wyrd Sisters" before it, "Guards! Guards!" takes a well-known tale, and changes its focus. While "Wyrd Sisters" looked at MacBeth through the eyes of the three witches, "Guards! Guards!" looks at the genre of heroic fantasy, only the hero is not who you'd expect it to be. Terry is now two-for-two when trodding down this particular deconstructionist path.
The guards of the Watch are the henchman you've seen in a Bruce Lee movie, who each take their turn trying to stop Bruce, all to similar degrees of failure. They're the stormtroopers in the Star Wars series. They're the no-name actor who accompanies Kirk, Spock, and Bones down to the alien planet in Star Trek. They are anonymous and ineffectual, chameleonlike in their ability to fade into the scenery. Or at least that's how the conventions of the genre treat them. In Pratchett's hands they transcend their fate, move to the lip of the stage, and save the day.
It is such a pleasure to follow the character development of Captain Vimes and his men, Nobby, Colon, and their new protégé Carrot. There are some sublime moments where they learn to understand the conventions of the genre, and use it to their own benefit. My favourite occurs when they have to hit the "voonerable" spot of a dragon with an arrow, and deduce that a million-to-one shot is always successful in times like these. So what do they do? They conspire to make the shot more difficult (standing on one leg, wearing a blindfold, etc.) to make the odds worse, therefore being more in their favour! It is such a joy to try and traverse through such a minefield of ridiculous logic.
The story, now that I look back on it, is told in two parts. The first is pretty standard fare: a disenchanted "citizen" wants to install a puppet monarch. They unleash a dragon on the city, for if the dragon is slayed by a hero that hero will be crowned as king by public demand. Only of course things go wrong. The second half of the book shows how wrong. I'm not going to ruin it, but needless to say that things take a very surprising turn through a chain of events that to my mind is unprecedented in fantasy literature.
And of course there are more classic Pratchett comedy set pieces. The best of the bunch being when The Librarian (if you're not familiar with this wonderful creation, I'll tell you that the Librarian was magically transformed into an Ape, and never wanted to change back) tries to impart the name of a magic book, and can do so only through a hilarious game of charades. Also, there are a series of scenes near the beginning where we are introduced to a secret underground brotherhood, made up of a gallery of dim disciples whose mistakes and pettiness nearly cause their leader to have a stroke. And just try and use their secret password. It's a wonder anyone manages to show up for the meetings!
This, along with the aforementioned "Wyrd Sisters", is the most complete of the Discworld books I've read. It scores high marks for its comedy, parody, pop culture references (look for the Sam-Vimes-as-Sam-Spade clues subtly sprinkled throughout the narrative), action sequences, suspense, drama, and even its shadow of a love story. I understand that there are at least four more books in the Watch series, and I can't wait to get at them.
Who but Terry Pratchett could have created a copper like Sam Vimes? Years of "mystery" novels have given us the image of witless, plodding, unimaginative policemen, easily bested by private detective geniuses. When we first meet Sam, he falls right into the stereotype, as well as into a gutter. He doesn't even have the sense to come in out of the rain. That's because his senses have been dulled by Old Bearhugger's - an elixir well suited to numbing the brain to life's injustices. And justice, or the lack of it is a persistent theme in Sam's life.
Sam's a copper. Policemen are there to enforce the law. In this case, the Patrician of Ankh Morpork has arabesqued normal law enforcement with the creation of Guilds. There's an association of thieves, of burglars, of prostitutes, even of murderers. The latter are known as Assassins - the taking of life is a gentleman's business, not something to be left to the rabble. Against all logic, the Patrician's plan works - the Guilds keep order within their own ranks. That leaves Sam with little to do - and the elixir's appeal is irresistible.
A murder, unlike anything the Assassins might perpetrate, confronts Sam with a novel situation. Assassins, while neat, leave more than a pile of smoking ash in their wake. Nor do they leave such arcane clues as a footprint resembling a raptor's claws. A mystery, indeed. One which could lead to the City terrorized by an unprecedented threat - the arrival of a giant dragon. Neither Sam nor his boss the Patrician want the City subjected to that kind of threat. It's not controllable. It doesn't fit into the design. And it's bloody dangerous.
In pursuing his quarry, Sam wends his way to a home for sick and abandoned dragons. Run by the city's richest . . . umm . . . woman?? If any Pratchett character evades description, it's Sybil Ramkin. We know she's rather Valkyrian, well bred, and consumed with a fervour for swamp dragons. We don't know how old she is [although her family line reaches far into the past], and although matronly in mien, she's not a widow, grass or otherwise. Vimes, a product of the City's Shades [and a few gutters], is daunted, but not overwhelmed. A relationship, however unlikely, builds.
Pratchett draws a fine set of characters in this book. The City's Night Watch, with its cast of unlikely, but wholly believable, characters is introduced. Including a dwarf two metres tall, Carrot Ironfoundersson, who's come to the City to become a Man. Colon, "one of Nature's Sergeants". Nobby Nobbs, whose species remains uncertain. And another whose species is unquestioned, but whose fitness for the City Watch requires further scrutiny. And always, there is Vimes. Vimes, confronted by a dragon metres long and with tonnes of mass, still has an edge. The dragon wants to be king of Ankh Morpork. And Vimes' ancestor, Old Stoneface, once held similar views of justice about kings . . .
Pratchett has a hack at a number of sound, established, institutions. His swipe at the powers of the British Trade Unions through Ankh's Guild system is classic. A traditional association, the Mechanics' Institute, is wonderfully portrayed in the workers' cabal meeting to summon the dragon. It may seem foreign or exaggerated to an American audience. Rest assured it's right on the mark. Pratchett's Patrician shows how effective and subtle the exercise of true power can be. Even in the direst circumstances, his unique personal information network works for him.
For those who are new to Pratchett, this is a fine place to start. PTerry's descriptive wit will keep your attention. It may even grant you some new forms of language. How many of you know a runt dragon is "a total whittle"? How would you play charades with a Librarian? Why does hiring a troll for a pub change the job description from "bouncer" to "splatter"?
For the long-term Pratchett aficionado there are new treasures to enjoy, new concepts to prompt reflection. There are those well-versed in the Discworld Pantheon who rank the Patrician among their favourites. Others rejoice in Sam Vimes as a credibly drawn figure, worthy of imitation [if you can afford the Bear Hugger's]. The cast is impeccably drawn, the story vintage Pratchett. Whether your collection of Pratchett is accumulating randomly or in sequence, this one will fit in admirably and will suffer from being taken from the shelf repeatedly for fresh enjoyment.
on March 2, 2001
I just recently got to Guards! Guards! after having read all the books regarding the Watch essentially bakcwards. It has to get a four because in this, the first of the Watch books, Pratchett gets a little lengthy on detail - not that this is bad. In comparison, there are more jokes and the pacing is quicker in the later books.
Completely discarding this trivial observation, "Guards!Guards!" is a great starting point of entry into Discworld. It's a story of the everyday working stiffs on Ankh-Morpork's Night Watch, featuring their captain, Sam Vimes. He's tired, he drinks too much, and he just doesn't know when to let things drop. And when a dragon shows up and starts frying people, Sam doesn't ask when or where, he asks, "Why?"
Setting himself apart from all other fantasy authors, Pratchett's writing, more satire than fantasy, is ever-engaging, smart, and downright plain funny. And no Tolkein-aping, thank you. Pratchett's world has a vigorous astrigent quality - just the thing for snapping you out of that overwrought D&D model.
So what are you waiting for? You will like Terry Pratchett. You will like Sam Vimes, Carrot, Nobby, and even the Patrician. You'll only hate yourself for not starting sooner.
on July 11, 2000
This book is dedicated to all the guard-characters in fantasy-novels. Most of the time these characters only appear as an obstacle to the hero of the story, and most of the time they either don't survive the first scene in which they appear, or end up with a chandelier on their heads, in the more classical versions.
This book takes the perspective of those poor suckers.
Poor suckers indeed, trying to uphold nonsense like law and order in a city like Ankh-Morpork. The story starts out with the introduction of a new member of the guard, Carrot, a quite naive, but simplistically honest and brave young man, raised by dwarfs. The scene where his parents tell him he's not a dwarf is an absolute masterpiece parody on adoption-drama.
As brave as Carrot is, as pathetic is the rest of the guard. First, there's captain Vimes, who takes on the main role in the rest of the story. Though basically a good guy, he's been brought down by his alcohol addiction. Then there's Colon, the gravitationally challenged sergeant of the guard. And last but not least Nobby, whose exact appearance is never fully described, but he's supposed to be the ugliest, filthiest and nastiest excuse for a human being there is.
These poor suckers take on a struggle against an occult society (whose members are society's ultimate losers) trying to summon a dragon from their dimension. The story is very entertaining and involves some very onorthodox views on classical fantasy, like all discworld-novels. Dragons are no longer majestic monsters, but either badly designed, self-destructive walking chemistry-sets, or impossibly sadistic giants.
Less entertaining are the attempts on parody, like captain Vimes holding a dragon like a gun, quoting Dirty Harry ("how many times has he thrown flames? Five? Six?"). In this discworld-novel these parodies are sometimes just too obvious and over the top.
This was the third disworld-novel I read, The color of magic and The light fantastic being the first and second. Although G!G! is generally regarded as superior to Pratchett's earlier work, I have too say I enjoyed the first two novels better. G!G! lacks the feeling of exploration I felt while reading those, since the entire story takes place in Ankh-Morpork instead of being a quest across the whole of discworld. The humor on the other hand is less "silly" and can be appreciated after rereading.
All in all a very entertaining book, with heart-warming characters, ingenious plot twists and a great sense of humor.