Monday, 14 October 2013

Terry Pratchett's Discworld 15- Men At Arms

Men At Arms
Corgi Press
 Terry Pratchett
1993
 "If you have to look along the shaft of an arrow from the wrong end, if a man has you at his mercy, then hope like hell that man is an evil man. Because the evil like power, power over people, and they want to see you in fear. They want you to know you are going to die. So they'll talk. They'll gloat. They'll watch you squirm. They'll put off the murder like another man will put off a good cigar. So hope like hell your captor is an evil man. A good man will kill you with hardly a word."

Men At Arms is one of the finest and most popular books in the Discworld series, and, regards its narrative direction is one of the most important. It's the sequel to Guards! Guards!, one of my favourite Discworld novels, and as such follows the adventures and expansion of the City Watch; the policemen of Ankh-Morpork (grandest and most disgusting of all the cities on the Disc). Guards! Guards! introduced readers to the Night Watch, the unwanted, uncared for bastards of the city guard. Fred Colon and Nobby Nobs were the regular, grimy patrolmen too worried about themselves to deal with crime. Carrot Ironfoundersson was a new recruit, a bit stupid and naive to the ways of the big city but very, very capable in that way that only mysterious heirs to the kingdom are. Captain Sam Vimes, meanwhile, was the man in charge of this unwieldy bunch, and it was the sheer strength of his character that provided the backbone to the whole thing and eventually led him to become the most commonly reoccurring character of Sir Terry Pratchett's lengthy fantasy comedy series... but I'm getting ahead of myself.

In Guards! Guards! the night watch, those most unlikely of heroes led by Sam Vimes, rescued the city from an intelligent, talking, and rather pompous full-sized fire breathing dragon. As a result, the Patrician of the city Lord Vetinari has not only given them a new tea pot but has given the night watch command of the day and put Vimes in charge of the whole expanded thing. New to the watch include Lance-Constables Angua, a werewolf, Detritus, a troll, and Cuddy, a dwarf, all of whom play a vital role in this novel and set the tradition for all future Watch members to be some sort of monstrous weirdo in some shape or another.

As the title for the book somewhat suggests, this time the city watch have to face a far more realistic threat to the relative peace of Ankh-Morpork; the invention of the Disc's first gonne (one of those metal things that shoot people with powder). Invented by frequently reoccuring Discworld character and Renaissance man Leonard of Quirm, the gonne is stolen by rather downbeat assassin Edward D'eath. D'eath is a class-obsessed monarchist who despises the increased diversity in Morporkian society, and who believes that the real heir to the abandoned lineage of Ankh-Morpork royalty still lives in the city. The reader already knows that he's right,, and it's Carrot. Shortly a series of bloody murders occurs, and Captain Vimes must solve them while having to deal with his upcoming wedding to the richest woman in the city.

Men At Arms is a wonderfully entertaining book about the class system in England and the social trends and changes cause by increased immigration. Though written twenty years ago it's perhaps more relevant now than it was then, though the strength of the characters ensures that the political aspects of Pratchett's writing do not overshadow the development of the plot. Sam Vimes becomes an even better character throughout these pages, as the down-on-his-luck, drowning-in-booze joke of a professional that we first met in Guards! Guards! has quickly become one of the most important men in the city. I love the tongue in cheek humour of Vimes, a man who thoroughly believes himself to be one of the lower class, rising through the ranks to eventual nobility through the careful manipulation of the Patrician, who remains one of the most fascinating characters in the cannon thanks to careful under-exposure.

Men At Arms is a fantastic read on its own, as a sequel, or taken in the context of the whole series. Pratchett captures a cinematic spirit in his creation of the characters, and arguably adds more in this novel to develop the Discworld as an almost living and breathing alternate dimension than in any other. Fully recommended as a five star book, and probably perfect for a high budget adaptation.