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Beth Meacham, David Brin

Guards! Guards!

Guards! Guards! - Terry Pratchett At the time of writing Terry Pratchett passed away about a week ago. Beside making me sad the news also triggered a sudden urge to read a Discworld book which needed to be satisfied immediately. I haven't read any Terry Pratchett books for years. I have always liked them but there are just so many books in the world and you know how it is, one thing led to another and somehow they didn't lead back to Sir Terry. In the meantime I have been reading many inferior “flavor of the month” books like The Martian. I have been doing myself a disservice really.

Guards! Guards! is one of the most popular Discworld books and I have not read it, this makes it the ideal candidate for a reentry into this unique and wonderful series. Any way it is nice to be back in Ankh-Morpork, the most chaotic city in fantasy fiction. At the most basic level Guards! Guards! is Pratchett’s take on the police procedural but his imagination is too immense to constrain the book to just a single genre parody so there is much more to this book than just the City Watch, Ankh-Morpork’s feeble excuse for a police force. The Watch mean are happily doing a crappy job, which basically involve ringing bells at certain time of the night to announce that all is well in the city. It takes the arrival of an extremely honest and straight laced human orphan raised by dwarves to remind the Watch men what they are supposed to be; and a huge dragon summoned from another dimension burning up the citizens and half the city to spur them into action.

One reason I only read Terry Pratchett occasionally is that I personally prefer books where humour is a minor element of the story rather than placed at the front and centre. After reading Guards! Guards! I have to admit this is my misconception of what Pratchett was doing with the Discworld series (after the first few straightforward fantasy parody books). The humour takes centre stage but underneath – not even far underneath – Pratchett was using Discworld as a mirror to explore, lampoon and critique our world with its many ills and injustice. Certainly Guards! Guards! explores the theme of the policemen’s duty and honor against personal safety and interest, what makes a good cop and a bad cop so to speak. He also skewers the masses’ tendency to blindly accept whoever has the biggest gun (or fire breathing talent). These and other serious issues are explored without ever missing a humorous beat. The book is a laugh fest from beginning to end, I don’t think there is a single page that did not make me at least chuckle.

I actually laughed out loud several times, my favorite joke involves the phrase “Bjorn Stronginthearm is my uncle” which highlights the bizarreness of the British phrase “Bob’s your uncle”. Also the patrician’s questioning of dragons’ penchant for sleeping on a huge pile of gold instead of a comfy mattress is brilliant. Don’t worry I have not spoiled the book for you, I am barely scratching the surface of the many ingenious satires, jokes and witticisms to be found in this book.

The characterization of the protagonists and antagonists is also very strong. Captain Vimes is silly and funny yet flawed, sympathetic, honorable and extremely likable. I am not surprised he one of Pratchett’s most beloved characters. The formidable Patrician Vetinari is another extremely vivid and lively creation, in a TV adaptation of another Discworld book he is perfectly portrayed by Charles Dance so you can imagine the dry wit and suavity of the man. His method of escaping from captivity in a dungeon is pure evil genius.

Guards! Guards! is effortlessly a five star book and if I may leave you with a quote from this book that works perfectly even out of context:

“The reason that clichés become clichés is that they are the hammers and screwdrivers in the toolbox of communication.”

The irony is that there is not one cliché in this book, unless you count the ones that Pratchett turned on their heads.

R.I.P. Sir Terry, you were the best.

Credit celticwren