Oh Carrot, how you’ve grown on me. Even though I read Guards! Guards! twice, once in paperback and once as an audiobook, it never left me as full of squee as the Witches books. But Captain Vimes and Constable Carrot were so likable that I decided to continue the Night Watch books (before reading about Death). And what I’ve learned about Terry Pratchett still holds true – he does get better with every book.
Published by: Corgi, 2005 (1993)
Paperback: 432 pages
Series: Discworld #15
My rating: 8/10
First sentence: Corporal Carrot, Ankh-Morpork City Guard (Night Watch), sat down in his nightshirt, took up his pencil, sucked the end for a moment, and then wrote:
“Dearest Mume and Dad,
What’s so hard about pulling a sword out of a stone? The real work’s already been done. You ought to make yourself useful and find the man who put the sword in the stone in the first place.’
Fate is a word that springs to the lips when to call something coincidence seems mealy mouthed. Destiny is another such. But the problem with destiny is, of course, that she is not always careful where she points her finger. One minute you might be minding your own business on a normal if not spectacular career path, the next you might be in the frame for the big job, like saving the world..
If Guards! Guards! was enchanting because of Captain Vimes’ gruff but good-hearted ways, Men at Arms came alive through its characters, most lovable and endearing among them Corporal Carrot and the newly-recruited Lance Constable Angua. The Night Watch has grown considerably because of the Patrician’s order to recruit members of different species so they are represented in the Watch. This not only brings us hilarious banter between the troll, Detritus, and the dwarf, Cuddy – two races that generally hate each other, even though neither could tell you why. It also brings us Angua, who most people think has been recruited to represent women in the Watch. Well… she does that, but she also happens to be a werewolf.
The quick succession of point of view “chapters” (if you know Pratchett, you know only his YA novels have actual chapters) made for an engaging read. The last time I raced thorugh a novel this quickly was probably during the summer. The fact that I have been working full-time and spent some of my free time meeting friends really shows just how fantastic this book was. I never thought it would be over so fast.
I’m always most interested in characters. Worldbuilding is great, and plot is of course necessary to keep me interested, but the characters make or break a book for me. I already loved Vimes but Carrot seemed like too much of a goody-goody. He gets a lot of depth in this book, while still being the purest human being I could dream up. Reading about comic relief characters like Cuddy and the inimitable Detritus (who learns to count in the funniest way you can imagine), and especially Angua, was exactly the breath of fresh air the Watch books needed.
Angua’s story in particular appealed to me, not only because she’s a woman (although that’s great), but because she is torn between her two states of being. She is a practical woman who gets annoyed about always being naked when changing back into human form. But she also has a lot to offer as a Watchman. Having a keen sense of smell is the obvious contribution but, much to my amusement, she can also talk to dogs such as Gaspode. That little guy kept showing up and remarking on the affairs of humans and sniggered his way straight into my heart.
Plot-wise, this is a police procedural, complete with interrogating suspects, writing up police reports and figuring out whodunnit. The reports in question made me laugh so hard, I may have snorted a bit. Just warning you… don’t read this in public. And I’m not spoiling why they were so funny, but I’d read the book again just for those two reports!
The ending, in many ways, already shows the direction Terry Pratchett has taken in later books. The murders are resolved, the culprit is found, but there are certain things that have been hinted at in the first Watch book. These things concerning Carrot are never stated but instead subtly used to show character development. I cannot say how much I loved the ending. All of it. At this point, I’d still call the Witches my favorite Discworld sub-series, but even so, I couldn’t stop reading Watch books now if you put a gun to my head.
RATING: 8/10 – Excellent