Monday, October 25, 2010

Guards! Guards! - Terry Pratchett (TMWTR #1)

About this Book

Here there be dragons...and the denizens of Ankh-Morpork wish one huge firebreather would return from whence it came. Long believed extinct, a superb specimen of draco nobilis ("noble dragon" for those who don't understand italics) has appeared in Discworld's greatest city. Not only does this unwelcome visitor have a nasty habit of charbroiling everything in its path, in rather short order it is crowned King (it is anoble dragon, after all...).

First, let me explain that the TMWTR #1  in my title for this post stands for “Tell me what to read”. All the books I read that are on that list will have that in the title of the post. I have also made an official "page" at the top of my blog for the list.

Now, onto the review.

I’ve never read any Terry Pratchett before, and honestly probably never would have if it weren’t for my “Tell me what to read” thing. This book kind of fell into my lap at the perfect time; I had some bombshell news dropped on me and Terry Pratchett’s humor performed miracles with my overall mental stability. That being said, I had no idea that Pratchett was a satirist or that he seemed to have a huge following in the SFF sphere.

Guards! Guards! is one of the many Discworld books. As a new person to this series, I quickly learned that this book was a good introduction into Discworld and Pratchett in general. There were no real moments of confusion where I wished I had read previous books before this one, and no moments where I was trying to sift through events to figure out what it all meant in relationship to…whatever. If there is one thing Pratchett seems to excel at, it’s weaving a very straightforward, understandable story.

Pratchett’s satirical humor and his nothing-is-sacred attitude is what made this book worth reading. When the humor is stripped away, the story itself is a fairly simplistic; a stereotypical detective mystery coupled with some political meanderings. It’s his (at times) dark humor, backhanded observations, commentary and internal dialogue which make Guards! Guards! shine like a diamond in the rough.

Pratchett’s writing style is deceptively simplistic. On the surface this book is a fairly typical tale peppered with enough humor to make even the most serious reader crack a smile. The writing is simple enough to shelve these books in the YA section of my library. However, to the reader who is willing to probe below the surface, the simple writing and obvious humor can, at times, mix more complex themes. His humor serves to spin old fantasy tropes on their heads and expose them to the reader in a new light, which can, at times, be rather thought provoking.

Guards! Guards! is a typical tale, but it’s also more than that. Pratchett’s humor seems to poke irreverently at the whole idea of leadership and nobility, even showing (rather obviously) how ridiculous certain facets of civilization can be (the secret societies, for example). Even dragons, creatures who are always known to be noble, far too intelligent and deathly beautiful are reduced to creatures who suffer from horrible digestion and have “all of the mothering instinct of a brick” - creatures who are prone to spontaneous combustion mid-flight. The logic he uses to dissect these typically noble themes in literature is cutting and serves to expose these concepts to the light of day, their flaws obvious enough that they cannot be avoided.

Quite honestly, it was refreshing to read a book where the secret societies are ridiculous (like they typically are in real life), the dragons are flawed creatures that evolution did not take kindly to (which they probably would be), and the ruler of the city was an obvious mob boss and law and order was bought and paid for. While he pushed these ideas far into the humor range where, at times, they danced with the ridiculous, there are underlying themes that ring true in our own world.

This is what I enjoyed about Guards! Guards! the most. Pratchett did an amazing job with mixing simplistic writing with a tale that has been told in one form or another over and over again and peppering it with dark humor and deeper themes. Readers can enjoy this book on many different levels. It can be enjoyed for the story, writing and humor, or for all of that as well as the deeper themes which I have touched on.

Though some of this book did seem to drag on a bit and some of the humor did tow the line of ridiculous, it was easy to forgive. Guards! Guards! was an easy book for me to read, very surface level with some deeper currents. Pratchett’s humor made me laugh to the point of tears several times, which is something a book has never accomplished before. The plot is well paced and easy to follow. The writing is simple. This book can serve the function of escapism as well as a deeper read to those who care enough to plunge into the depths, but that is by no means necessary for enjoyment.

All in all, I’m very glad my “Tell me what to read” list put this at the top. While I don’t think this book will hit the high marks for everyone who reads it, I’m sure almost everyone will be able to enjoy it in some form. I have been assured by some that this book is not Pratchett’s best work by any mark. I look forward to exploring more of his books to see if this proves to be true.

4/5 stars

8 comments:

  1. I'm a big fan of Pratchett's Discworld series and have read most of the books in the series a few times. "Guards! Guards!" is definitely one of the best, but there are a few that surpass it, my favorite being "Small Gods". Many people like the "witches" books (Wyrd Sisters, Witches Abroad and so on) best. (I once laughed so hard, reading "Witches Abroad" on a crowded train, that I was getting funny looks.) I reread "Hogfather" almost every year around Christmas (the Hogfather is the Discworld version of Santa). These are great books to pick up when you're down and need an excuse to smile. If you plan to read further into the series, I recommend reading them in order of publication but skipping the first 2 (The Light Fantastic and The Color of Magic) which many fans consider some of the weakest books in the series.

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  2. The great thing about this series is that Pratchett's writing just keeps getting better and better. "Maskerade" and "Small Gods" are two of my favorites, but they're all worth reading. I'm glad your first TMWTR worked out so well!

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  3. My favorite thing about Pratchett is that the more you read, the funnier he gets (especially if you read in order of publication - and DON'T skip The Colour of Magic! - it's Rincewind!). His humor is the kind that builds because there are always references back to characters from earlier stories and little repetitive jokes (like Kramer's entry on Seinfeld) that you get a kick out of despite the fact (or maybe because of the fact!) that you've seen them before. Every time I read about the patter of little feet where Rincewind is concerned, I totally crack up with anticipation.

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  4. julival makes a good point - there are lots of running gags in the Discworld that'll continue to develop as you read along. I've been reading this series for about 20 years now, but only read the first 2 books a couple of years ago and just wasn't crazy about them, so that's why I recommended skipping them, but since you've already read one of the best books I'm sure you won't drop the series if those first 2 don't blow you away.

    Can you tell I love these books! :)

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  5. This is one of my favorite Discworld books because I loved the secret societies and it introduced me to the set of characters I liked the most. Small Gods is still my favorite, though - it's about religion, plus I liked the philosophers.

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  6. This is on my list. I think I have read half of his work and it's bloody brilliant as far as I'm considered. :D I'm glad that you liked it. I'd suggest you follow up the series on the witches. It's hilarious. Esme is an amazing character.

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  7. Looking forward to see what you think of "Small Gods" :-)

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  8. I'm so so glad that you enjoyed this! Pratchett is a safe bet with me and any book I read of his has me giggling like an idiot. I'm trying to read the books in order of publication so that, though any book can be read fine as a standalone, you can see character traits and interactions within the world. Guards! Guards! is an excellent introduction, and the whole City Watch story set is excellent.

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