Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett

I've said before that my enjoyment of Terry Pratchett books tends to wane in direct proportion to how I'm feeling. Oddly, when I'm not feeling well, his books seem to hit a sweet spot - the perfect amount of attention and diversion. When I'm feeling well, they don't tickle me quite so much.

Now, I was sick last week - so dizzy and tired for days, that it's no surprise I enjoyed this book. On the other hand, I've also realized that, perhaps coincidentally, all the books I've read while I was sick and really enjoyed were the City Watch books. So maybe it's the sub-genre within Pratchett that I'm enjoying more. Further tests will have to be made.

At any rate, another City Watch book, which I am reading all out of order, and I really did enjoy this one a lot. I already knew Angua from a couple of different books, so her introduction was more a pleasure in seeing how that happened rather than a surprise that they'd allow a w..... in to the City Watch.

What I enjoy most about this series within Discworld is how it examines the exercise of power, where it resides, how money may impact policing, and in this particular book, the dangers of leading simply because you're charismatic and/or have the right bloodlines.

Vimes is on the verge of marrying, retiring, and devoting himself to the life of the wealthy, which, of course, he hates, as much as he loves his wife-to-be. He gets to hear all the worst-informed opinions of those who have only encountered the poor as myth, and grind his teeth, and not arrest the rich for doing the same sorts of things for which he would throw others in jail.

Meanwhile, the question is who will lead the Watch after Vimes leaves. Carrot seems like perhaps the likely candidate. However, others also seem to think Carrot should be a leader as well, for less laudable reasons.

There are also some interesting diversions in how mobs/militias get formed, what having power that has nothing to do with skill can do to a person, and of course, the continuing problems of integrating the Watch, what will allowing trolls and dwarfs and a w.... like Angua.

The scenes where Carrot handles a crowd of people are a pure joy to read, so delightful and twisty and satisfying, and yet the afterwards meditation on what it means to be able to organize people like that are probably even more interesting. Ankh-Morpork is lucky Carrot is a good man, as well as being charismatic and likeable. But even he's fully cognizant that those are not necessarily skills that inherently go together, and investing power in them might not be the wisest course.

I really do enjoy Carrot. He's so naive and canny at the same time, able to effortlessly navigate interspecies conflict through his sheer belief in the inherent goodness of the people around him. It's a fascinating mix that you understand why people might want to give him power.

And of course, there's also just that whole part where some people are looking for someone to be in absolute charge, either to shoulder the responsibility, or to be a figurehead while others plunders the coffers or whatever other nasty desires they might have.


  1. I totally agree with this review-- I think I love Terry Pratchett's "City Watch" stories the best out of all of his Discworld novels, not only because of the funny, interesting, and most importantly, thoughtful characters like Vimes and Carrot and so forth, but because, as you pointed out, Pratchett makes a lot of good points about power, leadership, politics, and corruptibility (or, in Carrot's case, INcorruptibility); he always seems to make good, insightful points about those kinds of issues while still managing to be funny and keeping his characters likeable and basically decent folk. That's a good idea, by the way, reading Pratchett when you're not feeling well-- seems like his gentle and silly humor would be just the thing to cheer you up when you're sick! I'll try to remember that next time I'm feeling under the weather and needing a good comforting read! :)