Terry Pratchett,
Men at Arms
(HarperPrism, 1993)

With hardly a bum book in the lot of the Discworld series, it would be hard to select a favorite, but if I had to try, I would probably put Men at Arms at the top of the heap. For starters, any of the Pratchett books that feature the City Guards (also including Guards! Guards! and Feet of Clay) feature some of my favorite characters on the Disc.

First and foremost, there's Carrot, the adopted Dwarf who's over 6 feet tall and has the sort of charisma that makes everyone like him so much they'll do almost anything to make him happy. This could be dangerous in the wrong sort of man, but fortunately, Carrot is the right sort of Dwarf*, so it works out nicely. Then there's Captain Vimes and his dragon-obsessed significant other, Sybil. And the Patrician, leader of Ankh-Morpork, who knows just how to push Vimes' buttons until things get done right.

In Men at Arms we find Captain Vimes and his underlings dealing with the sudden influx of three new members of the Night Watch: a Dwarf named Cuddy, a Troll names Detritus**, and an undead*** named Angua. While speciesism and internal conflict rise within the ranks of the Watch, the city of Ankh-Morpork goes into a sudden crisis. It all begins when there's a strange and unexplained explosion at the Guild of Assassins, and the assassins aren't talking. Then a Clown and a Dwarf turn up dead, but not in the manner of any self-respecting Assassin's work. First off, there's no note, and second, no one has gotten paid!

Before long, it becomes clear that a bizarre new weapon of mass-destruction***** appears to be in the hands of a dangerous man, but no one knows anything about the weapon, or if they do know, they certainly aren't telling. The Assassins are on the Patrician's back to keep the Watch away from their business, but Vimes won't take "don't pursue this any further" for a command. When the Night Watch is disbanded, and the Day Watch arrests Coalface the Troll for the murder of Hammerhock the Dwarf, things really begin to get ugly. Troll/Dwarf riots fill the streets, while mangy dogs go around chasing criminals and other dogs.

If all of this sounds confusing, you've got the idea. However, it's also a great deal of fun. The characters are wonderfully drawn, and you'll soon find yourself rooting for all of them in turn. You'll also have a hard time putting this page-turner down.

No Discworld fan should miss this book. If you haven't read a Discworld book, start at the beginning with The Colour of Magic, or with Small Gods, or even the first Guards book, Guards! Guards! Then keep reading, and save this one for last, because it's the best.******

* Admittedly, there are some people on Discworld who would say there is no such thing as the right sort of Dwarf, especially the Trolls, but that's just the way it is on Discworld.

** Detritus was one of my favorite characters in another great Pratchett book, Moving Pictures.

*** Although Angua is an undead, it isn't revealed at first which sort of undead she is, and poor Corporal Carrot thinks she is hired under the Affirmative Action program**** because she's a woman.

**** In Discworld, Affirmative Action is pushed by organizations like the Silicone Anti-Defamation League, working for Trolls Discwide.

***** I will confess that NRA fans may not be too fond of this book.

****** And since no Pratchett book is complete without some absurd footnotes, I couldn't resist including some in this review. Be sure to read the footnotes!

[ by Jo Morrison ]

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