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Book review: “Guards! Guards!” by Terry Pratchett


The high point of Terry Pratchett’s eighth Discworld novel Guards! Guards!, published in 1989, comes when Carrot Ironfoundersson, the six-foot-six-inch dwarf and probationary member of the Ankh-Morpork Watch, arrests the Dragon which is approximately the size of a small battleship and has been terrorizing the city.

Which comes before the Dragon’s romantic pas de deux in the sky.

But after Captain Sam Vimes has gotten drunk, again.

But before Vimes falls in love.

But after Discworld readers have been introduced for the first time to Sgt. Fred Colon, who “was the sort of man who, if he took up a military career, would automatically gravitate to the post of sergeant…[or else] looked cut out for something like, perhaps, a sausage butcher; some job where a big red face and a tendency to sweat even in frosty weather were practically part of the specification,” and Cpl. Nobby Nobbs, “a small, bandy-legged man, with a certain resemblance to a chimpanzee who never got invited to tea parties” and about whom “the only reason you couldn’t say…was close to the animal kingdom was that the animal kingdom would get up and walk away.”

But before Colon, Nobby, Carrot, Vimes and a growing membership in the Watch would become frequent and eagerly anticipated members of several future Discworld novels.

But after Lord Vetinari, the Patrician, ruler of Ankh-Morpork, who wore black a lot but not “impressive black, such as the best assassins wore, but the sober, slightly shabby black of a man who doesn’t want to waste time in the mornings wondering what to wear.  And you had to get up very early in the morning to get the better of the Patrician; in fact, it was wiser not to go to bed at all,” had been locked up in his own dungeon.

But before the Patrician tells Vimes, “I believe you find life a problem because you think there are the good people and the bad people.  You’re wrong, of course.  There are, always and only, the bad people, but some of them are on opposite sides.”

But after Lady Sybil Rankin, the rich and highborn keeper of pet swamp dragons, appears in the story and is described this way: “Barbarian hublander folk had legends about great chain-mailed, armour-bra’d, carthorse-riding maidens who swooped down on battlefields and carried off dead warriors on their cropper to a glorious roistering afterlife, while singing in the pleasing mezzosoprano.  Lady Rankin could have been one of them.  She could have led them.  She could have carried off a battalion. When she spoke, every word was like a hearty slap on the back and clanged with the aristocratic self-assurance of the totally well-bred.  The vowel sounds alone would have cut teak.”

But before Sybil tells Vimes, “It’s a million to one chance…but it might just work,” echoing several earlier comments in the novel but opening surprisingly pleasant images of possible future tranquility.

But after a comically evil conspirator is roasted by the Dragon’s flame, and Pratchett notes: “Death strips away many things, especially when it arrives at a temperature hot enough to vaporize iron, and among them are your illusions.  The immortal remains of Brother Watchtower watched the dragon flap away into the fog, and then looked down at the congealing puddle of stone, metal and miscellaneous trace elements that was all that remained of the secret headquarters.  And of its occupants, he realized, in a dispassionate way that is part of being dead.”

But before the reader finishes Guards! Guards!, one of Pratchett’s best novels, brimming with wit, character, silliness (of course) and trenchant observation about the lives we humans all life.


Patrick T. Reardon










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