Friday, 1 July 2011

Novel Review (contains spoilers) - Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett

Day 04: Favorite book of your favorite series.

This is part of a 30 day book review challnge thing. You can read my rather glib introduction here.

This post will not be spoiler free, I am afraid, so go read the novel first. Seriously, do it, it's a phenomenal book.


Again, gonna have to bend the rules here. Asking me to pick a favourite Discworld book is a question doesn't really make sense to me. There's so many brilliant books in the series, and I'd be hard pressed to really put my finger on a favourite. So instead I'll pick one of my favourites, Men at Arms. I liked Guards! Guards!, but it wasn't until Men at Arms that the Watch series really captured me, and since the Watch series is my favourtire discworld story strand it's a logical choice.

In the city of Ankh-Morpork lies a dangerous weapon, hidden beneath layers of dust in a nigh forgotten museum. There are murders in the city too and Sam Vimes has to investigate these murders and deal with the evil this artefact releases, whilst rebuilding the City Night Watch. The plot is fast paced and colourful, an action story and a mystery. This being Pratchett, however, it is also very much a character story.

Pratchett uses the characters in ways that are perhaps not particularly original, using the different races to explore tolerance and fear of others different to us. Each character has enough heart and humour, however, that they become far more than merely representations. Pratchett has a touch with people and the way they express themselves which is almost reminiscent of Only Fools and Horses. This is how the British working classes used to talk, and their interactions give them a lot of background without explicitly saying much.

Thematically, Pratchett is up to his old tricks, both manipulating fantasy cliches and reflecting back on to people themselves. This story is about an evil force being unwittingly unleashed onto the world, yet the evil force takes shape as just a gun. A gun that seems to corrupt everyone it touches - this, at first, seems anvilciously decrying that guns are evil, a trite and slightly stupid moral. However, Pratchett is always key to place significance not on the gun itself as a physical machine, but on the power it represents. It's not the machine itself, but the power it gives people.

The mystery element of the book is really well done. For a while you think you know the answer to it, because Pratchett seems to outright tell you. Misdirection. When the true antagonist is revealed, it is a rewardingly unexpected moment. The serious side of the story is also very well balanced against the humour that runs through the story, neither overbalancing the other.

Men at Arms is a novel in fantastical setting, yet the fantastical elements are all treated as mundane. This, really, is central to the mythos of the Discworld book, and books like these where the fantastical elements are almost incidental really exemplify this. Pratchett is an author, as you no doubt know by now, I have nothing but the most profuse praise for. Check Men at Arms out.

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