Welcome to Guards! Guards!, the eighth book in Terry Pratchett’s legendary Discworld series.
Long believed extinct, a superb specimen of draco nobilis ("noble dragon" for those who don't understand italics) has appeared in Discworld's greatest city. Not only does this unwelcome visitor have a nasty habit of charbroiling everything in its path, in rather short order it is crowned King (it is a noble dragon, after all...). How did it get there? How is the Unique and Supreme Lodge of the Elucidated Brethren of the Ebon Night involved? Can the Ankh-Morpork City Watch restore order – and the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork to power?
Magic, mayhem, and a marauding dragon...who could ask for anything more? (from Amazon)
I read (or am reading) the Discworld City Watch books out of order, starting somewhere in the middle and working my way towards the end. It seems I’ve cycled back around to the beginning: Guards! Guards! is the first City Watch book, as well as one of the earlier Discworld books, too.
It’s not easy to have a drunkard/alcoholic character in a humor book and not have him be either tragic or farcical (or both). Sam Vimes, not yet the hero of Ankh-Morpork like in the later books, is not even a very good officer of the Watch yet, either. He drinks away his hours and doesn’t even dream of being relevant to protection of the city’s people. The Watch, y’see, have had the knees cut out from under them by the Patrician (Lord Vetinari), also a much different (or at least DIFFERENT) character than in the later books. Vetinari has deliberately made the Watch useless– something that bites him in the ass later on in the book. Guards! Guards! is kind of like a bildungsroman for a body of people– it’s the story of the Watch getting its groove back, through feats of strength and daring and courage. And there’s a dragon!1
Reading a series backwards gives me a weird advantage. I know what a character is going to be in the future, so I can easily spot the foreshadowings of greatness (or the hints of a fall, too). If I’d read Guards! Guards! first I don’t think I’d have liked Vimes as much as I do from having read the later books first. He’s the shadow of a great man in Guards! Guards!— or maybe not even a shadow. A caterpillar! He’s not yet hatched into his butterfly form. I like caterpillar-to-butterfly stories, but I don’t know if I’d have liked THIS one if I didn’t know what a kick-ass butterfly Vimes would actually become beforehand.
Guards! Guards!‘s got a lot of “first book” stuff in it: it intros major characters (including Carrot, who I didn’t much notice in the other books but really liked here), Sybil shows up in full force (ditto), and the various themes running throughout most of the City Watch books are in their early stages of development. It’s interesting that the City Watch is the outsider group here, and that they have to worm their way into acceptability. The other City Watch books are kind of the reverse: City Watch accepts an outsider species, and then forces everyone else to accept them, too.
After reading Guards! Guards! I really want to go back and reread the other City Watch books. I think I’d appreciate certain aspects of them more now that I’ve read the starter book (plus I’ll finally understand certain scenes between Vimes and Lord Vetinari).2
Read: March 18-19, 2013
Have you ever read a book series out of order? Did it make your experience with the series better, or worse?
- A scary dragon. I think this was the first time I’d actually been scared of one– usually they’re nicer in the books I read. ↩
- Sidenote: this review had the MOST typos/punctuation problems of probably anything I’ve written. That’s what happens when you write something at 6am, I guess! If there’s any still in here that I didn’t catch: sorry! (Also, let me know, eh? So I can fix them. Thanks!) ↩