The Nightwatch Returns

Men at Arms (Discworld, #15) - Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett is now taking aim at the detective fiction in his gonne sights in one of the most amusing Discworld books that I have read to date (though that is a bit of an exaggeration, but this book does sit up there with the best of the series). We now return to the antics of the nightwatch and discover that there have been some promotions (though poor Noddy is not among the ones who have been promoted). The Patrician has also decided to embrace the idea of affirmative action, so he encourages the watch to bring in some new recruits, including Detritus the Troll (who is famous for being the bouncer at the Broken Drum), Cuddy the dwarf, and Angua, though we are not sure if it is because she is a woman,


or a werewolf.

(show spoiler)

Alongside the antics of Detritus, Cuddy, and Angua, there is also a pretty impressive mystery (which involves a gun, or more precisely, a gonne) which has gone missing from the Assassins Guild, but let us first deal with Detritus and Cuddy. One thing that we learn about the Discworld in this book is that trolls and dwarves basically hate each other and wonder around in gangs beating each other up. However Detritus and Cuddy are forced to put aside their differences and work together (which they end up doing quite successfully because they are no longer a dwarf and a troll but members of the watch).


As for the mystery, we are first introduced to a rather intriguing assassin known as Edward d'Earth (I actually know of a person with such a last name), who was at one stage a member of a noble family but has fallen on hard times since the king was removed and the Patrician put in his place. However, due to some research, he uncovers the true heir to the throne and seeks to replace the Patrician with a new king, but this peters out pretty quickly because d'Eath ends up going missing pretty close to the beginning of the book. However Vimes comes to learn of some mysterious deaths which he decides to investigate (and we have his superior stepping in, as can be expected in your typical crime novel, and telling him to stop investigating, and then disbanding the watch because Vimes refuses to do so).


It is interesting Pratchett's take on the gonne because he paints it in the same way that he paints other technological innovations (such as film in Moving Pictures): it has a this magical effect upon society that irrevocably changes it. The funny thing with Discworld is that society is actually resistant to change, so we have these inventions having an almost magical effect upon those who are exposed to it to try to force this change along, and this is change that is usually for the worse. There is also something very seductive about the gun, sort of like the power that its possession gives the owner – the ability to be able to kill at great distances.


The interesting thing about Ankh-Morpork is that it exists purely due to the status quo, though one does seem to get more of a sense of a fairy-tale world than a pure fantasy world that one tends to expect from most fantasy novels (but then again Discworld is not like most fantasy worlds): a medieval European setting with wizards and dragons running around to make things interesting. Granted Discworld has its fare share of wizards, dragons, and a cornucopia of other caricatures, but there seems to an essence of modernism within this world, as if the thoughts and attitudes of the characters are more modern in scope than most fantasy novels. Then again this is not surprising since what Pratchett is writing satire as opposed to pure fantasy, and in many cases it is much easier to criticise society, and some of society's sacred cows, by shifting the setting away from the modern world and placing it in a fictional setting, whether it be fantasy, as in the case of Pratchett, or science-fiction, as in the case of writers like Douglas Adams or Grant Naylor.


That does not mean that the writings are going to be immune to criticism or outrage, as this tends to happen when writings start to demonstrate the absurdity of some of our sacred cows (such as religion in Pyramids and Small Gods, and gun ownership in the case of Men at Arms). Mind you, I have not heard anywhere near as much criticism being levelled against Pratchett as has been levelled against some other writers (such as Scorsesee in regards to The Last Temptation of Christ). I suspect that Pratchett has become something of a sacred cow himself (in the same way that Star Trek and Star Wars are also sacred cows) in that if one even thinks of writing a bad review of one of his books you are going to get someone complaining about how you are being unfair, don't understand, or simply (which is a huge assumption) haven't read the book (because, seriously, how could anybody even think of writing a bad review if they had actually read the book).

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/844699154