Men at Arms
March 18, 2023 9:48 AM - Subscribe

Ankh-Morpork's City Watch is growing, with Cuddy the Dwarf, Detritus the Troll, and Angua von Überwald taking their oaths as part of the Patrician's initiative that the Watch reflect the ethnic make-up of the city itself. Carrot Ironfoundersson has been promoted, though there are some in the City who see even bigger things in his future. And Captain Vimes, just a few days away from both marriage and retirement to a life of leisure, has been prohibited from investigating a series of seemingly unconnected murders perpetrated by use of a singularly dangerous weapon... (Discworld #15, City Watch #2.) By Terry Pratchett.

The second installment of the City Watch subseries and thus our second installment of the revived Terry Pratchett / Discworld read. Guards! Guards, the first installment, may be found here.


Captain Samuel Vimes is on the wagon, with his wedding to Lady Sybill Ramkin coming up in a few days' time, and with it his retirement from a career as a Watchman. He's finding his new fortune to be overwhelming, and the thought of sharing his future with the non-Sybill members of Sybill's social strata is hard to take while sober.

Edward D'Eath is an Assassin's guild member from an aristocratic family currently fallen on tough times. (Well they're all from aristocratic families, by custom if not by any official rule, anyway.) He's done his research, and is pretty sure that the "rightful" King of Ankh-Morpork currently resides in the city, and likes to tour museums.

Corporal Carrot Ironfoundersson is training the Watch's three new recruits, hired on as part of Lord Vetinari's new diversity initiative: Lance-Corporal Cuddy, a Dwarf, Lance-Corporal Detritus, a Troll, and Lance Corporal Angua, a w... Well, a very entrancing Lance-Corporal in Carrot's eyes.

Tensions are running high in the city, particularly as between the Trolls and Dwarves. Bodies are turning up all over, too, something which Vetinari flatly orders Vimes not to investigate. And this is all to say nothing of subterranean ruins, packs of fascist dogs, the clowns of the Fool's Guild, or The Gonne...
posted by Navelgazer (13 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
For me, this is one of the truly "great" sequels that takes what made the first installment so good and expands upon it while keeping things fresh. Even the "let's replace the Patrician with a King!" plot (seen already in Guards! Guards! but we're not done with it yet!) feels different this time. The newly expanded Watch, while clearly being about Affirmative Action, is fleshed out (er... stoned out, in Detritus's case?) and real, and since Vetinari's Diversity Initiative is an unqualified success, the very thin allegory there doesn't come off nearly as cringe-inducing today as it might have.

The scene of Vimes on a raging dry-drunk at the dinner party is difficult for a few reasons, but not because it's poorly-written. First, for a recovering alcoholic, it just reads like pending doom (and of course the other shoe drops on that shortly afterwards, with Vimes absolutely plastered but, thankfully, with friends around to help.) But more than that, Vimes is all up in his own head, frothing at the Gentleman's ignorant racism while excusing his own racism as knowledgable and well-earned, and also not feeling comfortable confronting the Gentleman overtly. It's an important scene in this book in particular, but it was tough to listen to.

Also difficult (in a good way, for me) was Detritus going all "Flowers for Algernon" after his time in the Pork Futures Warehouse, but it sets up Cuddy's gift to him, which made me a little teary. And Cuddy himself... in retrospect, the story required a red shirt, but his death was still tragic and well-done, and a neat way to tie in the disposal of The Gonne.

Angua's conversations with Gaspode the Wonder Dog are delightful, of course, and while I don't love that the first woman on the Watch was immediately given to a romantic subplot, well 1.) I like that we largely see it from her POV, at least, being drawn to Carrot even as she finds him laughable in a lot of ways, and feeling certain that she'll have to run for the hills as soon as he learns her secret anyway, and 2.) the Gaspode stuff does a lot to give her a life on the page outside of Carrot, which helps, I think.

I got such a thrill out of Cuddy and Detritus handling the Dwarves and Trolls rioting by taking it upon themselves to start enlisting them on the fly. The different corners of the city that we get to poke our noses into are fascinating and feel lived-in. Carrot matures greatly while not losing his innate and essential Carrot-ness. The mounting civic tensions evoke cop stories more akin to the seventies than the films noirs of Guards! Guards!, and the sniper-on-the-tower finale is truly and intentionally upsetting, because Pratchett has managed to make a single firearm into such a corrupting and destructive element in this universe.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:43 AM on March 18, 2023 [10 favorites]

I haven't read this yet, and I really should, because I have repeatedly used the "Boots Theory" as a way to discuss the cost of poverty:

The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money. Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles. But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that'd still be keeping his feet dry in ten years' time, while a poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet. This was the Captain Samuel Vimes "Boots" theory of socioeconomic unfairness.
posted by mrjohnmuller at 11:53 AM on March 18, 2023 [13 favorites]

This is one of my all-time favorite Discworld novels, with a greatly expanding cast from Guards, Guards and a deeper dive into the transformation of the watch. Also the pathetic sadness of the clown college is tremendous.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 12:10 PM on March 18, 2023 [4 favorites]

One thing I really noticed in this novel is how Vetinari has not one, but two conversations with people who aren't remotely intimidated by him (i.e. Leonard of Quirm and Carrot), and it's a fun new note to put on a character who could have gotten a bit flat without it.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:29 PM on March 18, 2023 [4 favorites]

Angua is too good for Carrot. I'm sorry, but someone had to say it.

If they make me teach Computing 101 again (please, no), I'm totally going to use the scenes where Cuddy teaches Detritus to count in binary and convert binary to decimal. If you can count to two, you can count to anything!
posted by humbug at 7:04 PM on March 18, 2023 [4 favorites]

Angua is my favorite, I like when later in the series we found out about her family. Also seconding the Detritus/Flowers for Algernon/cold cap thing, big time.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:57 PM on March 18, 2023 [3 favorites]

I love this book because it took the promise created by Guards! Guards!, which was the first Discworld book that I really liked (in terms of being rereadable) and expanded on it hugely. Lots of the points that I liked have already been talked about here--Detritus, Gaspode, the Boots Theory, etc.--and there's also this one, which is similar to the concept of "monologuing" from The Incredibles:
If you have to look along the shaft of an arrow from the wrong end, if a man has you entirely at his mercy, then hope like hell that man is an evil man. Because the evil like power, power over people, and they want to see you in fear. They want you to know you're going to die. So they'll talk. They'll gloat. They'll watch you squirm. They'll put off the murder like another man will put off a good cigar.

So hope like hell your captor is an evil man. A good man will kill you with hardly a word.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:29 AM on March 19, 2023 [5 favorites]

I'm also struck on reading these how thin the thematic barrier is between the "City Watch" and "Industrial Revolution" subseries. Both are (mostly) set in Ankh-Morpork but not within the cloisters of Unseen University, and both are about the construction of institutions going hand-in-hand with social change. And hell, here, The Gonne is even the new technology violently disrupting the established order (though, thankfully, The Gonne itself is opposed to its being mass-produced. Poor Bjorn Hammerhock...)
posted by Navelgazer at 9:09 AM on March 19, 2023 [3 favorites]

more fond memories! thanks Navelgazer

I haven't picked up Pratchett in over 10 years and I'd forgotten all about Gaspode
posted by elkevelvet at 7:17 AM on March 20, 2023 [2 favorites]

I remember being very confused by all the "But she’s a w— !" bits around Angua.

I think now that the reader is supposed to assume that they're objecting because she's a woman, something which just plain didn't occur to me as a thing that anyone would object to.
So I was trying to figure out.. is she a witch? etc.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 4:02 PM on March 20, 2023 [2 favorites]

I was surprised to learn that the Boots Theory is apparently more widely accepted in economic circles than one might guess, which is a really nice legacy for a comedy fantasy book (a term I use with love).
posted by TangoCharlie at 8:16 PM on March 27, 2023 [1 favorite]

I was surprised to learn that the Boots Theory is apparently more widely accepted in economic circles than one might guess, which is a really nice legacy for a comedy fantasy book (a term I use with love).

It's like the Thagomizer -- everyone knew it was there, and it probably had some other name, but everyone liked the new way to talk about it so much that it became the accepted, if not official, version.
posted by Etrigan at 8:31 PM on March 27, 2023

Even the "let's replace the Patrician with a King!" plot (seen already in Guards! Guards! but we're not done with it yet!) feels different this time.

Oh! There are multiple books with this plot? That explains a lot. The first time I listened to one of them, I was sure it was new to me but ended up wondering if I had already heard it. More recently, I listened to Guards! Guards! and thought it was missing story elements. They all got turned into Carrot soup in my head. This is my punishment for perhaps not listening closely enough, or letting Libby availability define my reading order.

Angua is too good for Carrot. I'm sorry, but someone had to say it.

I struggled to buy into the Carrot-Angua relationship. It seems uneven, book-to-book, and I think they’re both too good for each other, in their own ways. Angua’s hand-wringing about him never truly accepting her werewolfedness (which I think comes later in the series) feels especially false, because who’s more understanding than Carrot?
Gaspode is a great element here, though.

I don’t want to come off as a grump, so I’ll add that I’ve had more fun with these books than most that I’ve read in a long time. A friend described her discovery of Pratchett’s writing like the first time she felt that someone was speaking directly to her and her sensibilities, and yeah, that makes sense to me. Pratchett’s spirit on the page is one-of-a-kind, and it’s a treasure.
posted by TangoCharlie at 11:03 PM on March 27, 2023 [1 favorite]

« Older Top Chef: London Calling...   |  Movie: Little Otik (a.k.a. Ote... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments