Saturday, September 4, 2010

Review of Guards! Guards! By Terry Pratchett (Corgi, 1989)

The night watch are a sorry bunch - the drunken Captain Vimes, the reticent Sergeant Colon, and shady Corporal Nobbs.  The butt of many jokes they spent their nights trying to avoid trouble.  But trouble is coming as the Supreme Lodge of the Elucidated Brethren has stolen a book from the Unseen University and is using it to summon a dragon.  As the Watch try to come to terms with a dragon materialising in the city, they also have to induct Lance-Constable Carrot, a human bought up in dwarf mine who thinks that the law is something to be upheld and enforced, rather than avoided.  Rather than giving the brethren the power they crave, the dragon soon reverses the roles and declares itself king, demanding all the things that dragons desire such as a heap of gold to sleep on and the monthly sacrifice of a maiden.  Desperate to know something about the creature, Vimes meets the formidable Lady Sybil, who has an aristocratic heritage, and breeds small swamp dragons.  Between them - the dragon, Carrot and Lady Sybil - might just be the making of Vimes and the Watch.

Pratchett has a wonderfully inventive mind and a natural storytelling flair.  It’s a powerful combination leads to novels that are highly enjoyable, and yet also make the reader reflect on a particular issue – in this case, desire, power and law and order.  Setting his stories in Discworld frees his parables of certain constraints, allowing him to draw on myths and legends, and to come at things in an oblique angle, meaning its message does not feel contrived or preachy.  The result is a set of books that appeal to a very wide demographic (I'm as hooked now in my forties as I was in my teens).  The plotting and characterisation in Guards! Guards! is generally excellent, the dialogue natural, and there is a constant presence of good humour, with many chuckle and laugh out loud moments.  The story is a little uneven in places and some of the set pieces a little contrived, but it’s a fun read and it was good to tuck into my dog-eared copy fifteen odd years since I last read it.  Time perhaps to dig out Pratchett’s other Night Watch books. 

2 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Rob - Thanks for this review. I always have the greatest admiration for those who can create entire fictional worlds like that. It takes a great deal of talent to do that well.

Bibliophile said...

I'm half-way through re-reading Guard!Guards! for the nth time, and planning to re-read the whole Watch sub-series. Pratchett's books are so full of details that I never fail to notice something I could swear I didn't see the last time I read any of the Discworld books, and sometimes I find I have acquired knowledge between re-readings that helps me better appreciates some point or other.