Thursday, October 9, 2008

Guards! Guards! - Terry Pratchett

1989, 355 pages. Genre : Comedic fantasy. Awards : #69 on the BBC's "Big Read" List. Overall Rating : A.
In the city of Ankh-Morpork, a secret society of bumblers figure out how to summon a big, nasty-tempered, fire-breathing dragon. As it turns out, that was the easy part. Much more difficult is how to get rid of the beast once you're done with it. This is a job for Captain Vimes and his Night Watch guards, who unfortunately have the mentality of the Keystone Kops.
What's To Like...
This is part of Pratchett's Discworld series, which is in the same genre as Piers Anthony books, save that, whereas the latter's works feature lots and lots of puns; the former chooses to use lots and lots of groan-inducing metaphors. One quick example (from page 55) :
"He was a small, bandy-legged man, with a certain resemblance to a chimpanzee who never got invited to tea parties."
The plot is good and there are lots of likable characters. The writing is witty and had me laughing out loud. Pratchett's books are a spoof of fantasy novels in general, with each book then also lampooning various smaller topics. Guards! Guards! takes a laugh at things like Secret Societies, Dog-Breeding (here it's Dragon-Breeding), and how to properly build your own dungeon. The book's an easy read, but I found myself going slowly anyway, just to soak up the pervasive humor.
An Introduction to Discworld...
Discworld is your typical fantasy universe (trolls, dwarves, dragons, wizards, etc.). The world is flat and shaped like a disk. The disk is held up by four cosmic elephants, who in turn stand on the back of a great turtle. There are (so far) 36 novels in the Discworld series, and although a lot of characters do go and grow from one novel to the next, you don't need to start with Book #1 to enjoy the series. For instance, Guards! Guards! is the eighth Discworld book, but was personally my first Pratchett encounter, and the storyline flowed just fine.
What is the "Big Read" List?
In 2003, the BBC conducted a survey to determine the 200 most-popular books in the UK. Guards! Guards! came in at #69. Terry Pratchett had 5 books in the top 100, and 15 books in the top 200. You can find the complete list here. FYI, #1 was Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. No real surprise there. #2 was Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. That's quite a swing from LOTR.
To close, Terry Pratchett and Discworld were a pleasant discovery for me, and Guards! Guards! was a very nice "light" read. After the darkness of The Bell Jar, it was just what I needed.
Guards! Guards!
By: Terry Pratchett
Amazon Price: $7.99


Andrew Clarke said...

If you ever read fantasy, as this blog suggests, can I suggest one to try? "Outcasts Of Skagaray" can be previewed by reading the sample chapters on It aims to entertain but was inspired by strong feelings about serious issues. If you decide to read it your opinion would be valued. Best wishes, anyway.

hamilcar barca said...

hi Andrew! thanks for stopping by 5-Squared. i visited your site and read the excerpts. OoS holds promise. unfortunately, if it doesn't show up at Borders (new) or Bookman's (used) here in Phoenix, it is doubtful it'll cross my path.

Byron said...

Yes! Another 5-squared reviewer read Pratchett! I did a review of his novel Going Postal a while back. I believe he is a great author and very entertaining.

I feel validated by the fact that you liked the book. Pratchett is very funny but there is always more to his books than you would guess.

As for comparing him to Piers Anthony, there are certainly similarities, but I think Pratchett's humor is a lot more mature. When Piers Anthony started out with the Xanth novels, they were very creative and had a great amount of potential. After a while, though, the adolescent viewpoint and obsession with sex made me wonder whether Piers Anthony might not have some issues to deal with. The early books are still very good, but later ones often leave me uncomfortable, and I pretty much quit reading his novels.

Anyway, I'm glad you liked Guards! Guards!; I don't know how I might have responded to a negative review, given how much I enjoy Pratchett's books.

Amanda said...

You did a review of Interesting Times as well, Byron. But it's really the Going Postal review that i remember. In fact, when I got the notice that this review had gone up, I turned to Jason and said someone else had reviewed a Terry Pratchett book and he said, "Terry Pratchett? Of Going Postal fame?" :)

hamilcar barca said...

Byron, i agree with your assessment of Piers Anthony. i remember reading Ogre, Ogre and really liking it. plus a couple other ones - Castle Roogna, etc. later i read The Color of Her Panties and thought that Piers had really gone downhill. the plots were juvenile and the puns were fewer and less witty.

i moved on to Robert Asprin's Myth series, and the same thing happened. the first book was great; but by Book 5 or so, he had obviously become burnt out on the storyline.

that's my only question re Pratchett. Guards! Guards! is #8 out of 36. are his latest stories as fresh as his earlier ones?

Byron said...

Well, I'm a fan of his books, but in my biased viewpoint there hasn't been any decline in his output. Once you get over the fact that he can be pretty weird, and that things are just going to be unusual, you're going to like them.

I almost think they get better later in the series, as Discworld is continually evolving and becoming more defined as the series grows. But I am not sure how many of the earlier books I've read, so my comparison is lopsided.

Some of his newest, such as Wee Free Men and The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents were GREAT! The only thing that is a problem are that some of the jokes are way overdone (repetition vs. consistency, I suppose) so that at times, the material is a bit stale. But for overall stories, he varies the plot greatly and focuses on very diverse characters and the groups they are involved with, so that there is very little stagnation or repetition from book to book. Just a little overuse of certain jokes, which like Cohen the Barbarian and his horde, start to become extremely tiresome in large doses.

Byron said...


Glad to know my reviews are *um* helping Terry become more widely known. I knew my reviews were long-winded and monothematic; I had no idea they were of historic proportions! (or memorable, for that matter)

Amanda said...

Well Byron, I'm not sure I'm yet up to reading something of his - it's just not my genre, generally - but I do remember your reviews. It's nice to have your commenting again. :)

Byron said...

You wouldn't read a book referred to as zany, or wacky, would you? Because that's what they are, in a word or two.

I haven't been commenting for a while because I have very little to say about the books others are reading - as in absolutely 0% information to contribute. This time it was about Pratchett, and suddenly I have something to say. But it's also because life is really busy with the boys and work, and I just don't make it here as much as I used to.

For instance, I just reviewed Fevre Dream, a book I read during the hurricane and the following days. It's been about a month, now, and I just did a review tonight because I got off work at 7:30, which is really early compared to normal.

Amanda said...

Oh, it would depend on the kind of wacky or zany. I just haven't been able to get into a lot of fantasy books. Not even the fairytale ones like Just Ella. Harry Potter is pretty much my limit.

Yeah, I know you don't have an much time now, that's why it's nice to see you when you do.