Terry Pratchett is officially a fantasy writer, but is more a Jonathan Swift than an Anne McCaffrey. Which is to say, his books got BITE. Pratchett’s Discworld series are the only ones I’ve read – they make up the bulk of his body of work – and they are positively delightful. They are the thinking person’s fantasy novel, both escapist and thought-provoking. You didn’t think that was possible, did you?
So, Guards! Guards! (hereafter GG, because I have to press the shift key too many times to write that *&^%$ title out) is one of his earlier novels about Discworld, though I’ve read most of the later ones first. That’s the first convenient thing about Discworld novels – each stands alone, making it easy to read them in whatever order you choose. The second convenient thing is these books are funny. Like, laugh out loud funny. It makes for a quick read. It rarely takes me more than a day or two to read one of these, because in addition to laughs (tons of slapstick humor, a visual comedy that Pratchett has a knack for describing) they also have great pace.
Each of the novels selects a particular human foible to exploit. GG is about the mob mentality – in it, the protagonist’s country is taken over by a dragon – yes, a fire-breathing non-English speaking dragon, who demands (through his interpreter) gold to lie upon and maidens to eat once monthly. The people of the country initially proclaim outrage, but then quietly accept the interloper. Soon they forget what life was like pre-dragon king, and their biggest worry becomes agreeing on a definition for "maiden" and then finding a good store of those for the king’s lunch. No one is brave enough to challenge him. . . except the protagonist and his band of unlikely heroes. These heroes include Vimes, drunkard captain of the City Watch (the city’s police); Lady Sybil Ramkin, fearsome plum-in-her-mouth aristocrat and stall-mucking animal tamer; Carrot Ironfoundersson, a 6 foot 6 inch man with a pure heart and vicious uppercut; Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler, a sausage salesman; and The Librarian, a character who is (as the name would indicate) the keeper of the wizard university’s magical library, and also a huge orangutan.
The reason Pratchett’s satire works so well is because he sends up human behavior in general. He is not targeting liberals, or conservatives, or Christians, or Hindus, or vegetarians, or big government, small government – nothing specific like that. He targets bad behavior, plain and simple. A reader could tie many of his novels to past and present world events, but they aren’t thinly veiled attacks on real people or ideologies. They are just exposing the human tendency toward lazy thinking, lazy doing. Despite his unflinching portrayals of the way people are, the satire is so fun to read is because he writes with such affection for the human race (and the dwarf race, the troll race, and the various other fantastic species he writes about). He exposes the evil motives of the mass of men, and doesn’t pull punches about the disastrous consequences of human frailty. Yet somehow, once you’ve finished one of his books, you’re still rooting for people to succeed. His imagined world is flawed, just like ours, but you still love to be in it. The heroes always win, the villains get their due, and you feel kinship to them all. His characters are caricatures (with fantastic, perfectly chosen names), but they have depth, complexity, and energy that make them feel real, and they are people (dwarves, etc.) who you love to spend time with. Pratchett is a fan of life in general. And I am a fan of Pratchett.
4/5 **** (one of these days I’ll review a book I don’t like.)