Title: Guards! Guards!
Place in series: #8 in The Discworld Series, #1 in the City Watch Collection
Author: Terry Pratchett
Concerning spoilers: The Discworld Series is made-up of forty-one books. Most can be read as stand-alone novels, but they are all connected. There will be no spoilers for this particular book. However, minor spoilers for previous novels in the series can occur.
For more information about The Discworld Series and previous reviews, you can find my introductory post HERE.
Neil Gaiman once wrote: Terry Pratchett isn’t jolly, he’s angry. It’s one of the most insightful things I’ve ever heard anyone say about Terry Pratchett. I also think it’s true.
Beneath the surface of the humorous, outrageous, and sometimes plain silly Discworld, lies a fountain of rage. A rage directed at injustice, inhumanity, and social inequality.
No other subseries in the Discworld embodies this rage as well as “The City Watch Collection.” No character is as angry and driven by fury as Sam Vimes.
In terms of quality of writing, character development, world-building, and plot, “The City Watch” books are the most well-written in the series.
Many, myself included, believe that Sam Vimes is the Discworld equivalent of Terry Pratchett himself. There’s something about this subseries within this vast universe that feels… personal.
These are the books I reach for when I want to reread a Discworld novel. I can’t say goodbye: they’re that good.
If you decide to read just one Discworld subseries, this is the one.
‘It was the usual Ankh-Morpork mob in times of crisis; half of them were here to complain, a quarter of them were here to watch the other half, and the remainder were here to rob, importune or sell hotdogs to the rest.’
Insurrection is in the air in the city of Ankh-Morpork. The Haves and Have-Nots are about to fall out all over again.
Captain Sam Vimes of the city’s ramshackle Night Watch is used to this. It’s enough to drive a man to drink. Well, to drink more. But this time, something is different – the Have-Nots have found the key to a dormant, lethal weapon that even they don’t fully understand, and they’re about to unleash a campaign of terror on the city.
Time for Captain Vimes to sober up.
I’ve always prided myself that I’m one of (as it would seem) few Scandinavians who doesn’t read crime novels. I’m aware it’s not one of my more flattering character traits. But, living in a country with a constantly over-saturated market of fictional, alcoholic police detectives, and overzealous journalists, I’ve seen it as a sign of healthy individualism
So, it’s quite the ironic twist that I’m so infatuated with “The City Watch” books. As it turns out, I don’t dislike crime novels; as long as the criminal is a huge, fire-breathing dragon and the alcoholic detective in question is Sam Vimes.
Guards! Guards! begins as any good cliche crime novel should.
Captain Sam Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Night Watch is lying drunk in a gutter while on duty.
As a man with a strong sense of justice, a stubborn streak of anti-authority, and a self-destructive tendency to voice his opinions, Sam Vimes has never risen above the rank of Captain.
As such, he’s been saddled with the ungrateful rank of Captain of the Night Watch. Which, in the city of Ankh-Morpork—a city so pragmatic organized crime is actually organized—consists of trying your hardest not to arrest any criminals.
Meanwhile, far up in the mountains, Carrot Ironfoundersson is getting ready to leave home.
A dwarf by adoption, this two meters tall mountain of wholesome values and childish naivete, is preparing to travel to Ankh-Morpork and join The Watch.
Armed with an unwavering sense of right and wrong—and muscles big enough to encourage people to see things his way—Carrots arrival in Ankh-Morpork will shake-up his new colleagues and inspire Sam Vimes to—somewhat unsteadily—crawl out of the gutter.
Of course, the giant dragon that is trying to kill them might have had a claw in his newfound sobriety.
Like many of the Discworld books, Guards! Guards! is a parody.
This time of the crime genre, as well as fairy-tale cliches about dragons, kings, and magic swords. In time, the humor in this subseries will evolve from parody to a more downplayed, but stinging social critique disguised as sarcasm and satire.
It could also be claimed that, at the time of writing Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett probably hadn’t planned for this to become a subseries. The book is self-contained and, although not vastly different in tone and style, it doesn’t hint at the future to come.
Guards! Guards! is the book where you first start to glimpse just how angry Terry Pratchett was. In terms of plot and character-building, this book marks the beginning of him really getting to grips with his voice.
Many, if not most, of the characters in this book, go on to become foundation characters in this expansive universe. In time, they’ll become so crucial they will feature as secondary or minor characters in several other Discworld novels.
Characters like Sam Vimes, Nobby Nobs, Sergeant Colon, Lady Sybil Ramkin, as well as my favorite Discworld character, Lord Havelock Vetinari, the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork.
Beginning with Guards! Guards! The Discworld is slowly transforming into something more than an outlet for parodying other genres: it’s becoming a genre in itself.
In my review of Wyrd Sisters, I talked about the Kingdom of Lancre being one of the Discworld’s foundational locations. A place in the series we as readers become accustomed to, someplace we feel at home. Guards! Guards! firmly cements the city of Ankh-Morpork as the second, and more influential, location in the series.
Although we’ve briefly made it’s acquaintance in books like The Color of Magic, Equal Rites, Sourcery, and Pyramids, it’s in Guards! Guards! that the city really starts to take shape. All under the watchful gaze of it’s benevolent tyrant, Lord Vetinari.
As for negative aspects, like with many Pratchett books, some jokes are taken too far, are drawn out too long, or lands a bit flat.
The increased focus on social critique might also be off-putting to some readers.
If you’ve read Pratchett and love him for his outrageous parodies and slapstick humor, this book might not be your thing.
Although the political and social critique is less apparent than in the later City Watch books, it’s still enough to mark a noticeable shift in Pratchett’s writing-style; one that might not suit everyone.
Personally, this shift to a more sarcastic, satirical style of humor is why this subseries is my favorite. But the opposite might be true for you.
At the time of writing this review, I’ve probably reread this book cover to cover three times. I love it.
That being said, I don’t think I would have reread it this frequently, in such a short time, if it was a stand-alone novel.
What I love, is the journey “The City Watch” subseries take you on. Guards! Guards! is the start of that journey. It’s not the strongest book in “The City Watch” series. But it’s a fabulous beginning.
It’s also a good entry point into the series. If you want to skip the first few books and jump in at a point where Pratchett has found his footing, this is the perfect place to start.
My Rating: 8/10
If you’re curious about this vast series, but feel unsure how to approach it, you can download these two PDF’s I’ve made. One lists the entire Discworld Series in it’s chronological/publication order.
The other lists “The City Watch Collection” with four suggested reading-orders, including my (unofficial) Ankh-Morpork Collection.