Sunday, 25 January 2015

Guards! Guards! (Arrest that dragon!)

Book:  'Guards! Guards' by Terry Prachett
Series: Discworld series (book 8, but standalone)
Genre: Comic Fantasy

I'm a bit of a sucker for a beautiful book. I'm talking here about a really beautiful looking book (though obviously beautiful writing is good too). This is the way the publishing industry is going too, publishing really lovely hardback editions of books to try and entice readers to buying actual physical books for way over the odds. It worked for me. This is one of those gorgeous, textured hardcover books that feels great to hold. It's stylistic cover is all oranges, yellows and silver, with a large fire breathing dragon gliding over the cityscape of Ankh Morpork.

They do say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover though, so lets go and see what's inside. 'Guards! Guards!' by Terry Pratchett is a Discworld* novel, the eighth in the series. For those that don't know, the Discworld novels - of which there are about forty to date - is a series of comic fantasy novels by Terry Pratchett, set in the fictional Discworld. Novels can, by and large, be read in any order and in fact many Pratchett fans would argue that the first couple of books aren't the best starting point. This book is the first book to feature the City Watch^ - Captain Vimes, Carrot, Nobby and Colon amonst others and is as good a starting point as any (Mort is another really good one to start with).

I'm not a diehard Pratchett fan by any means, I've read a few books before, but never any of the City Watch books, though friends have suggested these are some of their favourite Pratchatt books. So I thought I'd give this one a go. The premise of the book is that the City Watch is at an all-time low, the Captain is a hopeless drunk and his two sub-ordinates are just...hopeless. Then Carrot, an eager six foot plus dwarf joins the watch, the first volunteer in... well, a long time. Soon after his arrival a dragon arrives in mysterious circumstances and the Watch actually have a job to do for once.

I really enjoyed this book. Pratchett is a very funny writer. He makes a lot out of metaphors and word-play - for instance when one Vimes tells one of the Watch to 'throw the book' at the bad guy, that's what he does, literally. He makes good use of footnotes# for particularly amusing additions to the main story, and so it is always worth reading those. Sometimes 'comic' authors try to be funny but just fall short, but not this author, he actually is very funny. What's more though, there is actually a good story - it is a somewhat stereotypical fantasy story - dragon threatens city - hero arrives to challenge it - but that is entirely the point here! This completely turns the story on its head and makes much fun of the stereotypes.

So that's good humour, good story and to add to that, there's good characters which you really care about too. They're funny and a bit silly, but sincere too, you believe in them. The main character Captain Vimes, starts out a drunkard who barely does anything, he doesn't want to be that way, but doesn't know how else to be. The arrival of danger in the city gives him the impetous to actually change, and be more the person he always wanted to be. Then there's Carrot, an eager young recruit who believes in (and knows off by heart) the law, when no one else does. He also takes everything literally, which is rather funny a lot of the time.

Pulling off both being funny and telling a good story is quite a challenge, but Pratchett really manages it well in this novel. I'm going to give this a solid 8/10.

If you enjoy this book, then you'll probably enjoy the rest of the Discworld novels. If you particularly like the characters in this book, then you'll want to check out the other two books in the City Watch trilogy - 'Men at Arms' and 'Feet of Clay'.

*These are 'must read' books for  members of the Flat Earth Society, as the Discworld is literally that, a flat disc. Resting on top of four elephants. Who are atop a giant turtle. Which is flying through space. All fairly normal really.
^Watch is probably an apt name, as it is not like they actually do anything.
# Like this. Not that I'm copying or anything. Erm.