MEN AT ARMS (DISCWORLD NOVEL) Hardcover
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No wonder Sam, who is a bit of a male chauvinist speciesist is going to retire.
Not since Stephen King's "It" have clowns gotten such bad press as in "Men at Arms." They seem to be the saddest creatures on Discworld. One of them, Beano is murdered and ends up playing 'Knock Knock - Who's There?' with Death, who is trying to develop a sense of humor.
Humor will never be the strong suite of a hooded, seven-foot skeleton with glowing blue eyes, but Death does get in one inadvertently funny line. He tells Beano to think of his newly deceased state as being 'DIMENSIONALLY DISADVANTAGED.'
Meanwhile back in the world of the living and undead, Captain Sam Vimes and his command investigate the circumstances of Beano's death. Sam is also under orders from his wife-to-be to find a missing swamp dragon, which is likely to explode if it comes under stress.
When a large hole is blown in the headquarters of the Assassin's Guild, Sam has a pretty good notion of what caused the explosion. What he really wants to know is whether this latest calamity has something to do the Beano's death. After all, the Assassins are right next door to the Guild of Fools and Clowns.
What he does not yet know is that mad genius, Leonard of Quirm's deadliest invention has fallen into the hands of a rabid monarchist who will do everything in his power to restore Ankh-Morpork's rightful king---and that king is a member of his own Night Watch.
"Men at Arms" (1993) is another great slapstick-with-a-message adventure in the Sam Vimes/Night Watch Discworld novels. If you'd like to read them in order of publication, they are: "Guards! Guards!" (1989); "Men at Arms" (1993); "Feet of Clay" (1996); "Jingo" (1997); "The Fifth Elephant" (1999); "Night Watch" (2002); and "Thud!" (2005).
I guess I used to be one of those naysayers. My inherent interest level in dragons and trolls is not that high. But "Men at Arms," the first Pratchett novel I've ever read, is the funniest most entertaining read I've had in years, in ANY genre.
My only problem now is that I want to go right out and read the other 20+ novels ASAP, but fear I will lose my job because I am reading them under my desk at the office, and lose my husband because I wake him up laughing so hard while reading in bed.
BTW if you want a real treat, try this (or other Pratchetts) on audio CD/cassette/download. The fellow doing the reading (Nigel Planer?) is a riot. Plus, if you listen in your car on the way to work, you can keep your job and your spouse.
Edward d'Eath [how does PTerry come up with these names?!], an impoverished aristocrat, seeks fulfillment of his destiny by restoring the monarchy. Recruiting fellow lords to his cause proves difficult. It's been a long time since the last king, and the Patrician runs the city with commendable, if frightening, efficiency. So Edward embarks on a solitary campaign.
Pratchett's inventive mind takes us from the "fantasy" genre into the murder mystery domain. Murder isn't a common event on the Discworld, and its occurrence here creates an intensity of feeling rarely evoked by Pratchett's works. Vimes is particularly irritated by such abhorrent events as murder. Assassination is bad enough, although carefully regulated by its Guild. For Vimes, murder is too arbitrary. It reflects the one aspect of society he resents the most, the exercise of absolute power. He's affronted both as a copper and a man.
Partly inspired by Corporal Carrot, Vimes is no longer content having the Watch "let things lie anymore". Forces that used to push a drunken Vimes into the gutter are forces he now resists, even struggles to overcome. It's an inspiring read watching Pratchett give Vimes a new sense of dedication. Vimes has always sought justice, and his recent rise in society and the Watch has given him fresh impetus, and clout, to gain it. However, first he must survive. He's up against a new force. A force of absolute power, without soul or pity - the Gonne.
There are other aspects in this book beyond the new Old Stoneface trying to catch a murderer. Pratchett pays homage to the struggle for women's and immigrants' rights in Britain [and elsewhere]. The Watch has been compelled to recruit dwarves, trolls and, um, a woman. Sergeant Colon's attempts to reconcile size, attitudes and anatomy with a traditional human, male, role must bring tears to the eyes of all recruiting sergeants reading it. Pratchett's sympathetic view of Angua pays homage to the efforts of women striving to enter men's realms. But for a novel view of the world we all inhabit, there's few that can out-express Gaspode, one of Pratchett's finest creations.
Pratchett possesses a superior ability to create timeless works. Nestled in this library since its publication, this book is taken up as an old friend for repeated enjoyment. There's nothing lost in re-reading Men At Arms - the issues remain timely, the characters worth noting - sometimes emulating, and the wit undiminished. If you're new to Pratchett, this is a fine place to start. If you're coming along in the Discworld sequence, be prepared for an item of exceptional value, something beyond the humorous fantasy of wizards, witches and Mort's employer.
A reviewer has compared him to Geoffrey Chaucer. He reminds me more of Douglas Adams, or perhaps S Morgenstern. Great company, isn't it? He's an extremely skillful and imaginative writer, damn funny, clever and observant to boot. He's also very easy to read. A master of characterization, and if there's anything else you like about reading that I didn't mention here, assume I simply forgot. He's awesome.
Another reviewer mentioned Jonathan Swift and PG Wodehouse. Why such hallowed company? Because Pratchett belongs there! Truly, I'm enjoying my quest to read every book in the series. You should do the same, and begin your quest at the library because he's got to be there. He's awesome!
Yet another reviewer said Jerome K Jerome meets Lord of the Rings. Yeah, that works too.
Why do we, as reviewers, compare authors to other authors? Because it's easier than thinking. In the case of Terry Pratchett, it's probably because we'd otherwise wind up quoting the guy. He's so unique that we just don't know how else to cope with his greatness. Even this paragraph sounds like foamy drool raving, doesn't it? That's how all readers react to Pratchett. Reviewers simply don't have the good sense to keep it to themselves.
I could call his writing fantasy, but I could likewise call what Douglas Adams wrote science fiction. In both cases, I wouldn't be wrong, but I'd be neglecting so much and just totally missing the point. A rare few authors transcend a genre to such a degree that you know they're shouting out, loud and proud, a big fat "Bite me!"
I love Terry Pratchett's writing, and I completely understand why some folks refer to him as their favorite author. Or favourite, I should say, since we're being British. He's one of those authors that makes you want to grab whoever's in hearing range and start reading passages aloud. I'm simply thrilled that there's such an extremely talented and prolific author who's been working for years without me being aware of him. Now I have much catching up to do, and I will love it.
MEN AT ARMS tells the story of the fundamental reshaping of the City Watch under the combined influence of Vetinari, Vimes, and Carrot. The Watch is expanded from all-human to include dwarves, trolls, and a beautiful werewolf. Vetinari's policy of constructive anarchy may allow the city to work after a fashion, but a watch made up of misfits from all walks of life can certainly help. The novel is a near-continuation of the very fine GUARDS! GUARDS!
Author Terry Pratchett combines puns, outrageous and over-the-top action, and real insights into humanity in ways that keep the reader laughing and thinking at the same time. Both Vetinari and Carrot are admirable, but both are also beyond most of our reach. Vimes, in contrast, is every-man. His dilemmas are those that all of us must face. That Vimes can rise (and sometimes fall) to the occasion brings some hope that any of us could do so too. Pratchett's work is at its best when it uses Discworld as a backdrop for the actions and decisions of its all-too-human sapients, and MEN AT ARMS is a fine example of exactly this.