Continuing my occasional read-through of Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, one novel at a time.
Today’s entry is the fifteenth book, Men at Arms.
First appearance: Constable Angua, Drumknott, Willikins, Lord Rust
Introduced to Discworld: firearms
Plot: Lord Edward d’Eath has just ascended to the head of a broke noble house. As a trained Assassin, and a member of an impoverished noble family, d’Eath has plans. He’s a romantic who wants to restore the monarchy of Ankh-Morpork, and he thinks he knows who the rightful king is: newly promoted Night Watchman Corporal Carrot Ironfoundersson.
He might actually be right about that.
Carrot, meanwhile, is busy busting in three new recruits to the Night Watch, all basically affirmative action hires to reflect Ankh-Morpork’s growing populations of beings who aren’t human: Cuddy the dwarf, Angua the woman (and something else), and Detritus the troll. Too bad dwarves and trolls hate each other.
D’Eath’s plans to restore the throne to its rightful ruler take shape in an elaborate plan to destabilize the city and kill the Patrician, and then put Carrot on the throne all for the greater glory of the good old days. And he found an old weapon, a “gonne,” that speaks to him and allows him to pull off the potential for a perfect murder.
Can the Watch prevent the crime, solve various suspicious murders, prevent riots between the different resident species, and all before Sam Vimes is forced to retire after marrying Lady Sybil?
Commentary: Gee, where to start?
There’s a lot going on in this book. This was actually the first Discworld novel I’d ever read, and I still have my original copy, the only hardback version of the series on my shelf. I think I appreciated it a bit more this time around than I did before because I know the characters a bit better. If there’s anything that seems off, it’s Carrot having a distaste for the undead. Carrot always sees the best in everybody. This is a character who thinks simply telling someone they are under arrest is good enough to stop anyone. Often he’s actually right. That he can prevent a riot between the dwarves and the trolls on the anniversary of the Battle of Koom Valley (the only battle in history where both sides ambushed each other) with a reasonable chat while knowing most everybody present by name is proof enough of that. So, why he dislikes the undead is weird.
It was most likely done because of Angua, the werewolf. Werewolves on the Disc are considered undead for some reason. That she and Carrot seem to fall for each other (let’s face it, they both sound gorgeous) forces Carrot to drop his last, and indeed only, prejudice. We’re reminded here that Carrot is simple, but simple isn’t the same as stupid. Even knowing where he (probably) came from doesn’t make him want to be a king, and his list of requests to the Patrician at the end of the novel suggest he’s happy just being a copper.
Angua’s turning into a wolf (something that apparently only Carrot was unaware of when she was hired) also allows for the return of Gaspode. He got his power of speech back after losing it in Moving Pictures, and he uses it too. Big Fido, head of the Dog Guild, is out to get him. That Big Fido is a small poodle who decided dogs were better than people is beside the point. Actually, the Big Fido subplot didn’t seem to add up to much. It’s funny, but mostly just adds pages to the book.
One thing Pratchett does here is finally give Detritus a place. Detritus is dumb even by troll standards and has been popping up in different books here and there, but as a member of the Watch (and, it seems, a fantastic recruiter/drill sergeant) with his signature weapon (a siege crossbow that would be too big for most anything to lift let alone fire alone), he comes to the place Pratchett will use him for the rest of the series. And we find out Detritus really is smart…when he’s very, very cold. Detritus gets locked in a freezer at one point and manages to invent calculus, among other higher forms of math.
Vimes also has a good plot going on. Vimes is set to marry a rich woman and as a result has to hobnob with other rich people, something he doesn’t like or care for. He’s also being forced to leave the Watch, which he really doesn’t care for. With no clear successor in mind, and Vimes about to go into a miserable (for him) existence as the richest man in Ankh-Morpork, what’s a guy to do?
Thankfully, it all works out.
On a final note, the gonne having a mind of its own is an old Discworld stand-by. As Pratchett was English, I do wonder how much that influenced his thoughts on firearms. There is a single instance of the weapon being spelled as a “gun” near the end of the book for anyone who had missed that so far, but guns in a fantasy world don’t really exist all that often, so while guns are hardly illegal in England, there isn’t as near as I can make out the same sort of gun culture there as there is in the United States. Oh well.
Goodreads also tells me there’s a short story that comes between this book and Guards! Guards! The story can be found here and is called “Theatre of Cruelty”. In it, the Watch, specifically Carrot, investigate a bizarre murder. The story is quick and amusing, the highlight of which is Carrot asking Death a few questions. That leads to this exchange:
“You see, sir,” said Corporal Carrot, “as I understand the law, you are an Accessory After The Fact. Or possibly Before The Fact.”
YOUNG MAN, I AM THE FACT.
NEXT BOOK: Death goes missing. His granddaughter Susan has to take up the family business. Meanwhile, a new musical style is sweeping the Disc. Be back here at some point in the future for Soul Music.