Fantasy Review: ‘Men at Arms’ by Terry Pratchett

 Part 15 of The Complete Discworld Reread

“An appointment is an engagement to see someone, while a Morningstar is a large lump of metal used for viciously crushing skulls.  It is important not to confuse the two.”  — Carrot Ironfoundersson

The following is less of a review and more of a string of musings.
Easily the most quotable Discworld book so far.  Almost every page had something to make me laugh; humorous dialog, subtle references, wacky hijinks are all here.  I could easily have skipped a review and just posted my favorite scenes and quotes.  Peeking ahead at what I have written it may have been a better idea. 

These early night watch books were a real treat, for a long time I would have considered the Vimes based books my favorite of the series because of the humor.  Conversations between Nobby and Colon are almost always a delight.  There is always a little bit of slapstick humor involved with investigations, this time around I really enjoyed the different styles of reports Vimes reads from his watchmen (particularly when Colon gets a hold of a thesaurus to write his).

But they also hold up so well because before the watch got a bloated cast that cut everyone’s screen time (page time?) Pratchett was really building the personalities of each character in interesting ways.   Vimes is incredibly important to the Patricians plans, but never realizes how he is being played by the man. Detritus gains a friend, and shows some intelligence when the conditions are right.  Angua is introduced, and any fan of the series knows that is nothing but a good thing.  Later on in the series the cast will grow so large that some watch members are nothing but an easy joke, but here and now each is an important piece to the story.

The true hero of the story is not really Vimes though, it is young Carrot.  Carrot is much less naïve this time around and the way the city bends around him naturally is starting to show.  The theme of him being simple, but not stupid shows up to great effect.  My favorite is the way Carrot DOESN’T threaten people, but his words make people feel there is a chance he is.  A lot of books play with reluctant heroes, and usually they either turn whiney in a hurry or lose their reluctance and just become heroes.  Carrot has no reluctance to being a hero or being admired, but he does have a problem with people following him solely because he is easy to follow.  It is refreshing to see, he is fully aware of his power and uses it the right way.

The story itself is serviceable, but not spectacular.  A single firearm is in the hands of a killer in a city that has no idea what it is facing.  The watch pieces together the puzzle to figure out how the deaths are related and who to stop.  A nice little side story involves our old friend Gaspode the talking dog and a guild full of nasty dogs led by an unexpected canine.

“Men at Arms” also has one of the worst examples I can recall of bad editing in a good book, follow along with me! (MINOR SPOILER).  We learned about swamp dragons in Guards! Guards!  They are small dragons prone to exploding when excited.  Now to the editing hiccup that has driven me nuts for years.  1.  Something blew up, what could it be? 2. Vimes says, I smell dragons and there is glass (like from a mirror?) all around. 3. New recruit speaks up; she thinks someone blew up a dragon on purpose.  4. (And this is seconds after Vimes SAYS he smells dragons remember). Vimes gives a patronizing “I suppose” and basically ignores the suggestion.  A couple of pages later he finds more evidence and acts shocked shocked SHOCKED that the new recruit was right, they did blow a dragon.  A line of thought that he himself started a few pages back!

Oh, I can’t leave it on a negative.  More awesome stuff!  Rephrenology (look it up Joe!) should totally be a thing.  Lots of foreshadowing in the early going (you’d have to be a fool).  Reflecting the cities’ Ethnic Make-up is important (a dwarf, a troll, and a w—).  A very touching clown funeral. And of course, Gaspode gets a new home.

4 stars.  No five, no four. Ya, four.

4 stars

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