I reckoned it’s probably time I drop this laziness and do one of these again, what do you think?
‘What’s so hard about pulling a sword out of a stone? The real work’s already been done. You ought to make yourself useful and find the man who put the sword in the stone in the first place.’
The City Watch needs MEN! But what it’s got includes Corporal Carrot (technically a dwarf), Lance-constable Cuddy (really a dwarf), Lance-constable Detritus (a troll), Lance-constable Angua (a woman…most of the time) and Corporal Nobbs (disqualified from the human race for shoving).
And they need all the help they can get, because someone in Ankh-Morpork has been getting dangerous ideas – about crowns and legendary swords, and destiny. And the problem with destiny is, of course, that she is not always careful where she points her finger. One minute you might be minding your own business on a normal if not spectacular career path, the next you might be in the frame for the big job, like saving the world… – Book description on cover
Like most of the Discworld novels, this was my second time reading this one. The first time was long enough ago that I couldn’t remember much about it, not that that ever matters as far as these novels are concerned.
Men At Arms is the second City Watch/Sam Vimes novel and is set shortly after the events in Guards! Guards! The Ankh-Morpork Night’s Watch has regained some of their old reputation after slaying the dragon and saving Lord Vetinari’s life and has gathered some new recruits. Captain Vimes, though, is on his way out. He is marrying into high society, so to his great dismay he has to retire and learn to be a gentleman. But before he goes there is one last case.
Some one has been murdering people with a mysterious weapon called a gonne, and the Patrician has expressly forbidden Vimes to investigate the matter, so you can just guess what’s going to happen. To make things worse, the recent influx of dwarfs and trolls into the city has brought along with it a centuries-old hatred between the species that’s threatening to tear the entire city apart.
Men At Arms has everything that makes these novels great. The story has a good pace with plenty of peril, intrigue and mystery. The humour is completely zany at times, even while Pratchett explores such serious issues as prejudice and racism, a common theme in the Sam Vimes novels. But as always the high point is the characters. By the end of the novel there’s not a single main character one hasn’t grown to love.
While this novel is one of the Sam Vimes novels (that is, the group of novels in which Vimes is the primary protagonist – Sir Terry doesn’t write series as such), Vimes takes a bit of a back seat, what with his upcoming nuptials and all. But in this book Corporal Carrot steals the show.
Corporal Carrot Ironfoundersson, we learned in Guards! Guards! is a human who was raised by dwarfs which also makes him a dwarf in the cultural sense, a fact which confuses other humans and other dwarfs. Carrot is the Mary Poppins of the Discworld – practically perfect in every way. He is an idealist who insists on seeing the good in everyone, and is absolutely honest, sensible and fair. In any other author’s hands he would have turned into an infuriating caricature, but Pratchett uses him as a formidable force for good in the city.
I won’t say any more, for fear of spoilers, except that Carrot is able to con hardened criminals into confessing their crimes without resorting to dishonesty in the slightest himself. If that doesn’t pique your curiosity, nothing will.
I couldn’t remember Men At Arms that well when I started reading it the second time, but I’m sure it was better than the first time around – Pratchett’s novels usually are. I still need to get my hands on one more of the City Watch novels, then I think I’m going to read the lot of them back to back, just cause I can.