1993; 377 pages. Book 15 (out of 41) of the Discworld series. Book #2 (out of 8) of the City Watch subseries. New Author? : No. Genre : Comedic Fantasy. Laurels : #148 in the Big Read. Overall Rating : 9½*/10.
Sam Vimes is getting ready to retire from the Night Watch. It’s a good career move since he plans to marry the Lady Sibyl Ramkin, who is merely the richest woman in all Ankh-Morpork. Sam will be moving up in social status, and up in money.
There is one little thing that Sam would like to clear up before he retires. It seems a lot of people (and we use that term loosely) are dropping dead in Ankh-Morpork lately. That in itself is not unusual, but the means of their demise is. Lead poisoning.
But not just any kind of lead. Lead in the form of little pellets. And which seem to make big holes in a victim’s body when they enter it at great speeds. Whatever weapon was used, it is new to Sam Vimes and his Night Watch. What kind of contrivance could wreak such damage?
Maybe the word “gonne” found on a stray piece of paper is a clue. Maybe there’s a clue on the book’s cover.
What’s To Like...
Men At Arms centers around Ankh-Morpork’s Night Watch, and that’s always guarantee of a fun read. Three significant new recruits are added here – Lance-Constables Detritus, Cuddy, and Angua, and all play major parts in the storyline. This is the book where the Night Watch takes over prominence from the Day Watch. It was also nice to see Gaspode The Talking Dog again; he is an infrequent guest in the series.
The main plotline is of course figuring out who is behind the killing, and why, and how. But there are also lots of subplots. Sam retires, gets married, and gets promoted. Carrot finds his heritage, loses it, and gets promoted. Gaspode gets a home, and leaves a home. As always, Terry Pratchett subtly weaves several more-serious themes into the tale. Here they are Affirmative Action, Racial/Species Bigotry, the role of Royalty, and Gun Control, with that last topic being given a different spin than what you’d expect.
Men At Arms has the usual Pratchett format – no chapters, but lots of witty footnotes. If you like dogs and clowns and dwarfs and trolls, you’re in for a treat. Synesthesia makes a brief appearance, and even my Gnostics get some ink, which is an incredible work-in when you think about it. And if you’ve never attended a clown funeral, you don’t know what you’re missing, and here’s your chance.
I don’t recall any other Discworld novel featuring so many Ankh-Morpork guilds. To wit: the Assassins’ Guild, the Fools’ Guild (the clowns), the Alchemists’ Guild, the Beggars’ Guild, the Thieves’ Guild, the Butchers’ Guild, the Teacher’s Guild, the Bakers’ Guild. Hey, there’s even a Dogs’ Guild.
I thought the ending was excellent and tied things up nicely. As always, this is a standalone novel, despite being part of a 41-book series. It’s nice not to have to read them in order, and it’s nice to discover where some characters made their debut.
Kewlest New Word. . .
Berk (n.) : a fool; a twit (Britishism)
Others : Toff (n.; Britishism); Stroppy (adj.; Britishism).
“I’ll tell you,” said Vimes. “A monarch’s an absolute ruler, right? The head honcho-“
“Unless he’s a queen,” said Carrot.
Vimes glared at him, and then nodded.
“OK, or the head honchette-“
“No, that’d only apply if she was a young woman. Queens tend to be older. She’d have to be a … a honcharina? No, that’s for very young princesses. No. Um. A honchesa, I think.”
Vimes paused. There’s something in the air in this city, he thought. If the Creator said, “Let there be light” in Ankh-Morpork, he’d have got no further because of all the people saying “What color?” (pg. 64)
“I think we’re going to have to go and have a word with the Day Watch about the arrest of Coalface,” Carrot said.
“We ain’t got no weapons,” said Colon.
“I’m certain Coalface has nothing to do with the murder of Hammerhock,” said Carrot. “We are armed with the truth. What can harm us if we are armed with the truth?”
“Well, a crossbow bolt can, e.g., go right through your eye and out the back of your head,” said Sergeant Colon. (pg. 244)
Sometimes it’s better to light a flamethrower than curse the darkness. (pg. 253)
I have nothing negative to say about Men At Arms, but there are a couple things to note.
First, there are quite a number of killings. Someone getting offed is not unprecedented for a Discworld novel, but I counted eight of them here. That's a bunch. The good news is that means DEATH gets to show up a lot. But it also means impressionable young’uns might be a bit stunned by it all.
Second, there is one case of “jumping into the sack”, and I don’t remember encountering that in a Discworld novel before. Yes, it is tastefully done, but adult readers will have no doubt about what took place. And little Tommy or Susie might ask questions.
But hey, I’m not a juvenile, so none of this bothers or offends me. It was enlightening to see how Terry Pratchett handled both the multiple murders and the sex in a manner acceptable even to YA readers.
9½ Stars. Published in 1993, Men At Arms is from the “Golden Age” of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. It completely lived up to my high expectations, and I enjoyed it from beginning to end.