Men at Arms ~ Terry Pratchett

  • Title: Men at Arms
  • Author: Terry Pratchett
  • Series: Discworld #15
  • Genre: Fantasy, Mystery
  • Format: Paperback
  • Source: Own
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description: ‘Be a MAN in the City Watch! The City Watch needs MEN!’

But what it’s got includes Corporal Carrot (technically a dwarf), Lance-constable Cuddy (really a dwarf), Lance constable Detritus (a troll), Lance constable Angua (a woman… most of the time) and Corporal Nobbs (disqualified from the human race for shoving).

And they need all the help they can get. Because they’ve only got twenty-four hours to clean up the town and this is Ankh-Morpork we’re talking about.

Review:  This novel was a joy to read. The second in the Watch sub-series, it is as much a fantasy as a mystery. People often die in Ankh-Morpork, mostly from suicide (walking along some of the city streets after dark is definitely suicidal), but now a series of murders have been committed. Sam Vimes, the Captain of the Night Watch, starts the investigation, and various complications spring in his way with predictable regularity.

The plot of this novel is just a pencil sketch, a colorless collection of events without much value of their own.  What brings colors to this story, animates it, makes it a masterpiece of wisdom and laughter is its characters.

Sam Vimes is getting married and retiring from the Watch. He doesn’t need murder and mayhem in the few days before his wedding. Accordingly, most of the page space is reserved for the other members of the Watch.

The old acquaintances from “Guards! Guards!”, Sergeant Colon and Corporal Nobby, offer the readers multiple opportunities to giggle and snicker at their silly antics and amusing dialog.
The new recruits, Cuddy, the dwarf, and Detritus, the troll, represent the progressive policies of the Watch – to reflect the ethnic makeup of the city. They are learning to be policemen, trying to find the murderer, while simultaneously dealing with their respective people’s mutual animosity. The idea, so unfortunately relevant in today’s life, is taken by the talented writer and turned into a satirical looking glass. The readers glance in it and cringe in shame, as they recognize themselves and their prejudices.

‘We should do something!’ said Angua, from the guards’ hiding place in the alley.
‘Weeell,’ said Sergeant Colon, slowly, ‘it’s always very tricky, ethnic.’
‘Can put a foot wrong very easily,’ said Nobby. ‘Very thin-skinned, your basic ethnic.’
‘Thin-skinned? They’re trying to kill one another!’
‘It’s cultural,’ said Sergeant Colon, miserably. ‘No sense us tryin’ to force our culture on ’hem, is there? That’s speciesist.’

The new recruit Angua, the only woman in the watch so far, is dealing with her own set of problems. Smart, brave and loyal, she is the only character in the book portrayed without ridicule. The author seems to adore her, his beautiful, fully-dressed (sometimes) damsel in arms, and so do the readers.

And then there is Corporal Carrot, a two-meter-tall dwarf (adopted), with the heart of gold and the unshakable belief in everyone’s goodness. Once in a while, there comes a book where a secondary character steals the show as soon as he appears on the page. By the sheer power of his personality, such a character often goes against his creator’s intentions and becomes a protagonist on his own. That’s Carrot. As soon as he steps into a scene, any scene, he becomes its star, outshining everyone else. With his absurd faith in the universal decency and his inability to understand sarcasm, he should’ve been pathetic and ludicrous, but he is neither. His naïve magnetism is alluring, and the readers, along with everyone else in Ankh-Morpork, inevitably fall under his spell. We all want to believe in our own untarnished virtue.

‘OK.’ Carrot still didn’t look around. ‘We’ll hold the city together through the rest of the night, I think. Everyone’s seen sense.’
No, they haven’t, said Angua in the privacy of her own head. They’ve seen you. It’s like hypnotism.
People live your vision. You dream … for everyone. You really think everyone is basically nice. Just for a moment, while they are near you, everyone else believes it too.

Alongside the Watch members and almost as impressive rises the figure of Patrician Vetinari – a genius politician, holding the city of Ankh-Morpork together by means of information and manipulations. He’s never taken too much space in any of the Discworld books I’ve read so far, but his brilliant mind and absolute ruthlessness cause the readers to gasp in admiration mingled with awe. Do any of us want such a political leader for our city/country/party? I doubt it. Do we need one? Perhaps.

These and the other memorable characters make this book what it is – a delightful parody of our lives, hilarious and sad at the same time. The readers laugh and contemplate, curse and learn. Recommended! 

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