TOP SHELF BOOKS: Guards! Guards!

TOP SHELF BOOKS: Guards! Guards!

TOP SHELF BOOKS with Michael H. 

What book did Michael H. just finish reading?




Guards! Guards!

by Terry Pratchett


I implore you not to go through this life without reading Terry Pratchett and his Discworld novels. I only started reading him after he died – why is that always what it takes with us? – in March, 2015. He wrote 41 Discworld novels; what I wouldn’t give to have started reading him earlier.

(Also, you have to check out his collaboration with Neil Gaiman, Good Omens. Beyond fantastic.)

Alas, Guards! Guards! is the second Discworld book I have read (the other being Hogfather, a hilarious parody of our Christmas myths). One of the many brilliant things about Pratchett’s giant series is that each novel can be read as a stand alone story. You will obviously become more and more familiar with certain tropes and sub-story arcs each time you read a Discworld novel, but the two I have read did not suffer in the slightest because I was a newbie.

A very brief overview of the Discworld universe will be useful:

(A brief Google search is recommended. Do not, however, delve too deep; save most of your info gathering for the novels.)

What is essentially a flat Earth (B.o.B. would dig it), the disc planet rests on the back of four elephants, which in turn are standing on the back of a giant turtle named Great A’Tuin that is – stay with me here – floating through space. The various life forms and geography of the world are very similar to ours for the most part. This is, however, a fantasy series. The world is heavily affected by magic; and you have your dwarves and wizards and dragons and swords and shields and so on.

Pratchett uses these environments to satirize and parody our own Earth-based existence. And the results are continually funny. Like, actually funny. I do not laugh out loud very often – even for the most comedic of writers – while reading, but I do pretty regularly while reading Pratchett (others in this category: Douglas Adams and Christopher Moore). To me, this is one of the most astonishing feats in literature: to be this funny, this consistently, over an entire novel (much less 41 novels) without getting annoying or stale. How wonderful. How full of talent Mr. Pratchett was.

As for Guards! Guards! specifically, the action takes place in one of the major metropolitan areas of Discworld, Ankh-Morpork, which contains roughly one million inhabitants. The City Guard used to be a noble collection of well-trained guards that were crucial to keeping the peace in the twin cities. By the time we meet them, however, there are only three left: the depressed drunk and not-so-fearless leader, Captain Vimes; the overweight and generally against any physical activity 2nd in command, Sergeant Colon; and the smelly and vaguely human Corporal Nobby. They do not remember any of the laws of Ankh-Morpork. Crime in the area has been sanctioned by the government, complete with quotas and kickbacks. They are treated as an afterthought at best; completely ignored at worst.

A new volunteer to the City Guard (no one can understand why anyone would do this) arrives and immediately shakes things up, what with all the arresting of criminals and generally doing his stated job (he possess the long forgotten book of laws and has actually read it!). Everyone is bewildered – none more so than his compatriots – and pissed off and much comedy ensues. Lance-constable Carrot Ironfoundersson is his name, and he was raised by dwarves after being abandoned in a far-off forest as an infant. Even though he is six foot six, and nearly as broad, he never realized he was any different from his adopted clan, somehow not taking any hints from all the times he cracked his head on the low doors and ceilings. He provides much needed muscle and gumption for the coming adventure:

Someone has summoned a dragon with magic (obviously). It begins wreaking havoc. How could these mostly dim-witted incompetents possibly hope to become heroes in a city where they are only expected to walk around at night while ringing a bell and shouting – not too loudly, mind you – “all is well” on the hour? You will not regret finding out the answer.

In addition to the above, there is an orangutan librarian who travels through different dimensions, rats trained to be spies, and an extremely unlikely love story in Guards! Guards! Do I really have to convince you to read this book?

I didn’t think so.


by Michael H.


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