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 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.
on July 28, 1998
Pterry here has managed to be not only funny but serious. Carrot comes across a bit too stereotypically, but Vimes is the most human of the characters, indeed one of the most human of teh series. There are indeed Tolkien references, (and also Casablanca! Note the flickering sign outside Vimes's window - so traditional it's very hard to leave out, but stil . . . )
Lady Ramkin is still a tad flat (She doesn't come into her own, really, until Jingo) but her relationship with Vimes is very well done, and very . . . there. It wrenches at you. It's one of the best parts of the book. (i think that the Patrician's view on life, as explained to Vimes, is even better, but I'm a real Vetinari fan.)
If you haven't read any other Discworld books yet, START HERE. (or possily at Mort.) t's the best in the series, excepting Jingo, which builds too much on it to be a starting point. My only reget when I read this was that I had read Men at Arms and Feet of Clay before I got my hand! s on it.
on February 4, 2002
The reason, I think, that Pratchett has managed to keep Discworld viable after over two dozen novels while other series seem to fade after four or five is that Pratchett continually introduces new characters and new tracts in his Discworld books -- Rincewind, Granny Weatherwax or Death, for instance.
"Guards! Guards!" is the first book to follow the adventures of Captain Vimes, and is easily as good as any other Pratchett has written. Our stalwart quartet of well-meaning bufoons provides an incredibly entertaining satire of medieval sword 'n sorcery epics -- you know, the kind where the boy finds a magic sword or slays a dragon and is therefore crowned king, regardless of any actual qualifications he may have.
I am attempting to work through the Discworld novels chronologically, so I don't know if Vimes, Carrot, Nobby and Colon show up again in this series. But I certainly hope so. Pratchett has rapidly ascended my all-time favorite authors list.
on November 6, 2001
That's the question on the minds of the citizens of Ankh-Morpork, Discworld's most cosmopolitan city this time. Their people are calling for a king to be installed on the throne again (well, some people are, most don't care at all), and roylaty fever has swept the kingdom...that is, until the king to be is exterminated by the very thing he was supposed to kill - a dragon.
And not just Morpork's usual harmless swamp dragon, either. We're talking full-on, building burning, princess-eating, elephant wrestling sized dragon here...and to make matters worse, because it's a Draco Noblis (Noble Dragon), the dragon itself is soon on the throne...and it's up to the city watch to do something about it.
This is probably my favorite of the Discworld series so far. It's well paced, funny, and best of all makes you want to pick up more of the series just to see the characters come back. A fantastic read, and I recommend it to everyone!
on February 14, 2001
This is the eighth Discworld novel and the sixth I have read. Why does it seem that they are getting better? Is it that I simply can't remember how good the previous ones were?
The story is set around the city guard, led by Captain Vimes, who is a composite of many well-known detectives/cops that we are familiar with. He is a cynical, bumbling alcoholic, but goodhearted and ultimately heroic in all his failings as he goes about saving the kingdom from a usurping dragon. The supporting characters are just as entertaining and fully developed, including the librarian (oook!)
Needless to say, I highly recommend this one. It was at times hilarious, thought provoking (I'm not kidding), suspenseful (the last half of the book is set at a blistering pace) and overall a brilliant satire. Pratchett gives us a scathing commentary on the human condition while providing us with superb entertainment.
on December 18, 2001
In a review posted a while ago for Pyramids, I said that was my favorite. Gotta back up, here.
This is most clever, not to mention well paced.
I am starting to look forward to the appearance of the Guard, unlike real life.
I've been able to steal numerous lines from this book, and work them into daily conversation, which makes those unaware of Pratchett think that I am the most humorous, curmudgeonly sort they've encountered in a long time.
I'm torn - do I tell these friends about Mr. Pratchett, or do I let them keep thinking I can come up with lines like, "...a treasure ship, running ahead of a mild breeze?"
One of the best, and highly recommended. I wish that someone would publish the next three or so in an affordable version - I hate paying (...)for a paperback.