Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett – Book Review

What you’ll get from a Terry Pratchett novel often corroborates to the work you put into reading it. If you’re looking for witty entertainment and humour, you’ll find them in spades, on the outermost layer of virtually all of his novels. When you dig in, there is so much more. Take Men At Arms, for example.

Pratchett’s fifteenth Discworld novel is about the dangers inherent to possessing power, in this here novel in the role of “the gonne”. It’s about racial conflict and how senseless it is. Prejudice, too. (Trolls are guilty. What for? They’re trolls! They’re guilty of something!) It’s about wolves, how they are, and how dogs think they are. It’s about a man who loves his job and feels like he has to give it up in order to be something else, and the lesson he learns.

But at the end of the day, it’s about another man, a simple man, a man trying to sell his sausages at prices that might as well be cutting his own throat.

For Captain Samuel Vimes, things are changing. Commander of the Night Watch, going through his last days on the force before his wedding to the richest noblewoman in Ankh-Morpork, Vimes is understandably a wee bit out of it. But fear not, the good old captain still has a few tricks left up his sleeve. Some of his story beats were delightfully subversive to ye oldé detective cliché, courtesy of the masterful Pratchett twists. In a moment familiar to all fans of detective stories and bad 80s cop movies in particular, Vetinari (Patrician of the city and scariest, cleverest, Machiavelliest man alive) demands that Vimes hand over his sword and badge. It’s funny but it serves to do more than just lark on a genre mainstay; it plays off of what we know about both Vimes and Vetinari’s characters, the one pushing the other’s strings. But even Vetinari isn’t immune to the occasional miscalculation. While attempting to manipulate the good captain, he pushes a shred too far. The result? We get to see the great Patrician squirm for a minute there.

Men At Arms had a few unexpected gut punches. Character deaths came sudden and unexpected, jarring me awake from what often felt like a pleasant reverie filled with Pratchett’s signature humor. Death, or the threat of it can certainly sober most readers up and get the grey matter flowing.

Satire of racial hatred feels poignant, true to Pratchett’s style.  Trolls and dwarves are enemies, and humans see both as equally bad. The Watch’s policy when it comes to crimes, I already mentioned at the start of this review. A man who lives by that philosophy is Vimes’s counterpart, Day Watch Captain Quirke. He’s another character worth keeping an eye on. Quirke is a sort of the anti-Vimes, a lazy, uncaring slob who couldn’t solve a murder if it was his own, and the perpetrator was stabbing him head-on. I feel like Pratchett is going to do something interesting with this one, though.

I absolutely loved the new recruits, three exemplary Lance-Constables of the Watch – the dwarf Cuddy, the troll Detritus and the were…woman Angua. Detritus is the closest yet we’ve narratively been to a troll in the Discworld, and thanks to him we learn a lot about this race of sentient rocks – did you know, for example, that they have silicone brains? Or that they are really quite smart, long as you make sure their brains are cooled down. No, neither did I. Cuddy is fantastic and I loved every minute with him; the two together make for one hell of a funny duo, kind of like Legolas and Gimli in Lord of the Rings. They start from a point of fond dislike over a history of racial hate, only to realize they have a lot more in common than they’d like to admit. And then, eventually, friendship!

Ankh-Morpork is as vibrant as ever. All its guilds, its different cultures and factions are as much a gunpowder keg as always, and the way it all blows up this time around presents a hell of a good story. One of my favourites, in fact. For that reason, I give Men at Arms a score of 5/5!

You’ll enjoy this book if:

  • You know what’s good for you.
  • And more! Prob’ly.

Small Gods: A Discworld Review

small-gods-4

Oh, lawks, I read another Discworld novel.

Small Gods was Terry Pratchett’s most intricate examination of organised religion and faith yet. Where do the gods come from? How many masks do they wear? Are they just a big lot of buggers sitting on their arses, pulling the limbs off mortals for the giggles?

That’s what the god Om used to be. Om is the sole deity of Omnia, a country that has it all — a state ran by the church, an (In)Quisition known for its efficiency, and the bloodthirsty appetite necessary to devour any small country Omnia neighbours on. The Omnians have some bizarre ideas — namely, that the world is round, and that it encircles the sun on a yearly basis. Nonsense, ladies and gentlemen, utter nonsense.

It surprises Om, when he takes to an earthly form, that of a majestic beast, only to end up in the form of a tortoise, his mind crippled and his vast power gone.  What brought this on? Three years on, and it’s only when Om is gripped by an eagle, flying three hundred feet in the ground, that he recalls who he is, and what has befallen him.

Turns out, Om has only one true believer left, a boy called Brutha. Brutha is a bit slow on the uptake but makes up for it with an eidetic memory, and a good heart. This ‘great dumb ox,’ as Brutha’s fellow acolytes call him, is not dumb at all, however, as the latter half of Small Gods illustrates. Once exposed to knowledge and ideas other than the fanatic doctrines of Omnism, Brutha’s development does in fact sky-rocket.

It took me a hell of a lot of time to get into. Some of the Pratchett books I most appreciate start ever-so-slow, only to explode in a storm of brilliant humour, ideas worth contemplation, and so much more. Moving Pictures was one such book, and Small Gods is another. Regardless of the time it took me to get into it, once I did, I devoured it with reckless abandon.

My favourite part of the book has to be the bit in Ephebe, where thousands of toga-wearing, wine-drinking philosophers have a lark on each other’s expense, argue, even come to blows. I showed my uncle (a philosophy professor) a good few pages about the philosophers’ stance on gods, and we shared a good laugh, too!

I have to bow down to Sir Terry once again. His sharp skewering of organised religion was both thought-provoking and funny to no end. And Even as my smile fades, the ideas take root, and they flourish.

This a solid 5/5 on Goodreads!

Coming soon, a review of Lords and Ladies, which I loved from start to finish, and read in no time flat! 

 

Book Recommendations: Moving Pictures (Discworld #11)

After Sir Terry Pratchett passed away, I thought to honour him by exploring his Discworld in a chronological order.

Moving Pictures was where my ten-book long Discworld reading spree came to an abrupt end, sometime in 2015–or was it 2016?–I really wish I’d recalled. Something about the beginning of this book didn’t click with me back then. It was a bit too slow, perhaps. Bit more set-up than sometimes, a weaker hook.

Whatever the reason, I am happy to say, I got over it and I’m back in the Discworld!

Moving Pictures is the first in the Discworld’s loosely-connected ‘Industrial Revolution’ books. Its topic could not be clearer!

The entire novel is, in a way, a riff on Hollywood. Holy Wood is a place, but it’s also an entity, personalized and ever-present. It dreams, it moves, it does things. Strange things, nearly Lovecraftian in their nature, but always very, very funny.

The characters are both newcomers and familiar faces: Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler, who you can’t help but love whether you’ve encountered him in Guards! Guards! or not, plays the role of the big Holy Wood hot-shot producer/agent. His sleazy, perfectly selfish self is such a perfect fit for the role, too!

Our heroes are Victor, an apprentice wizard whose laziness is a thing of great beauty. Victor is the kind of clever wee lad that realizes all the dangers that come with being a wizard, and so he much prefers to stay apprentice. There’s also a favourite uncle’s inheritance in the mix, with a very specific clause to it; he’s the kind of clever protagonist I can get behind.

Ginger is a young girl from a village of milkmaids and cousins getting married. As you might expect, she’s not too excited about going back. Not that I’m judging all y’all cousin-marrying cousins in far-off milkmaid villages! You do you!

At any rate, Ginger quickly becomes the leading lady in all the Holy Wood ‘clicks’ and that’s where our two lovely young protagonists meet. What happens next includes trolls, old wizards pretending to be fake wizards in strange and ingenious ways, and horrible Things from Outside all reasonable existence.

Moving Pictures riffs on all things Hollywood, like action flicks, Disney movies (a bunch of sarcastic arsehole animals; a mouse, a cat, a grumpy old dog, and many more!), a constant, all-consuming lust for greater and more grandiose spectacles. It’s beyond funny, and I can’t recommend it enough.

At its core is an appreciation for the magic of film; a very different kind of magic from the traditional wizardly sort. Moving Pictures may not be among my favourite Discworld novels, but it is a treat that plays with a real-world concept in imaginative, funny ways.

If you like Pratchett, or cinema, or just enjoy sharp wit, you’ll want to pick this one up! I’ve gone out of my way to avoid spoilers and the plot, but don’t you worry — there’s plenty of it! That, and banged grains. Those go along quite well with those clicks the young people’re all about, nowadays.

Oh, and did I mention the Archchancellor-Bursar comedy duo? There’s a lot of laughter to be had every time the lens moves to Unseen University, what with these two going at each other’s throats like a married old couple.

 

Thank you for reading! I’m looking forward to writing about more of the Discworld novels as I read them chronologically, mostly. I’m skipping #11, which I’ve read, and heading straight to #12, Witches Abroad! Already 10% in, I’m thoroughly hooked!