Review: Guards! Guards!

Guards! Guards! (Discworld, #8; City Watch #1)Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my second time reading this book

We finally are introduced to The Patrician as he will be portrayed for the rest of the Discworld books. He’s no longer the overweight Patrician we saw in the first two books. He’s infinitely more cunning and frightful, especially because he’s not overly mean or violent. We’re also introduced to my favorite character in Ank-Morpork: Carrot, a human raised by dwarves. His innocence and literal-mindedness remains a wonderful trait throughout the series as Pratchett uses the City Watch as both police procedurals and to explore ideas of diversity in a fantasy world. Colon and Nobby are a fun straight man, fun guy pair – reminds me somewhat of Wax and Wayne (from Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn Era 2) although the class difference isn’t quite as pronounced. I will grow to like Vimes eventually, but not the Vimes from this book. Lady Ramkin is also a great parody of how the confidence of privilege can really skew how you view the world. Of course, it also leans hard on the comedy trope that’s in a lot of British novels – if you act like you *should* be in charge, people will comply.

The plot – as seems to be the case in all the books I’m reading in 2021 – is viewed a little differently in light of the rise in nationalism/fascism around the democratic world. Back when I first read it, it was just a funny detective novel set in a fantasy city. Pratchett’s depiction of the willingness of the mob to oscillate between pro and anti-monarchy is just so prescient in light of what we’ve dealt with over the last 4+ years.

That said, it’s mostly a fun romp through Ankh-Morpork, which we’ve already grown to know quite well over the past 7 books. A power-hungry guy with some power convinces some lower class folks that they’ll all be better off if they help him install a new king. He talks them into it, all the while planning to turn on them and keep the power for himself since he’ll be putting a distant relative on the thrown. How will they get Ankh-Morpork to accept a king? Well, not to dissimilarly from Ozymandias’ plan in Watchmen, they’ll create a crisis that they’ll solve so the folks will turn to them. This being a fantasy comedy world, they’ll summon a dragon to kill. Since they summon it, they have the ability to make sure their man will be able to kill it.

People/Concepts that are continuations from earlier Discworld books:

The librarian from the Unseen University who’s turned into an Orangutang when Rincewind mess with the Octavo in the first book
The idea of Knurd being the opposite of being Drunk – introduced in Sourcery
The Mended Drum – used to be Broken Drum until the owner was introduced to the idea of insurance
The various vices having guilds in Ankh-Morpork. Crime is controlled by limiting it to licenses granted to the various guilds.

As I was telling a coworker this week: this book is often recommended as a first Discworld book and it’s not a bad one. Sure, you won’t know why the Librarian is an orangutang. And you won’t already be familiar with Death. But we’ve already reached the point (if we didn’t before with The Witches) where Pratchett won’t be reconning anything else. And, as I’ve been mentioning during my re-read, those first few books are more pastiches than they are a coherent story. This one is a nice, coherent story that stands on its own and can be a great survey of Discworld without needing too much prior knowledge. I’ve said this for the past 3 reviews, but I expect that in another book or so I won’t be able to say it as much because Pratchett really starts building upon previous books. (Although, if forced, I would say that the other books are probably fine on their own, you’d just be missing about 99% of the Easter Egg jokes).

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