Guards! Guards! (1989) By Terry Pratchett

One day, after I had got done reading The Prisoner of Azkaban, I was hit by this urge to read a Terry Pratchett story. This urge I think in its simplest terms can be understood as a desire for humor, wit, satire and hope. With that in mind, I browsed the copies available on Amazon and decided that ‘Guards! Guards!’ felt like an oddly fitting read in today’s climate where a significant portion of the world is criticising its respective police forces. I wasn’t sure what exactly the story would be about or if it would try to show the guards as reputable men or criticise their inner workings. Looking back, I shouldn’t have worried cause in classic Pratchett fashion, the story manages to do both.

Set in the infamous city of Ankh-Morpork, the story follows the adventures of a fledgling Night Watch as they find themselves (honestly they did not go looking) in the middle of a foolhardy conspiracy involving dragons and rightful heirs. On the surface, that might sound like a classic fantasy story but as one may expect, Pratchett retells it with refreshing twists, subversions, surprises and irreverence. Cliche tropes and superstitions are put through the ringer while at the same time revalidated. There is a damsel in distress, a rightful heir to the throne, the upstanding cop and the manipulative city official. None of them fulfill the roles expected of them or in the manner expected at least, creating a comic romp that is amusing and a jolly good tickle.

My only criticism with the story is that it jumps characters a bit too erratically and while we quickly understand the reason behind the jump, one can’t help but feel that the transition could have been smoother. Pratchett also employs red herrings to keep us guessing which is all well and good and by the end of the story I thought it was quite justified. However, during the read itself, I did find the forced pivots, a tad bit annoying.

On a non-story note, I do not know if this is a fault of the kindle adaptation or if the book was published as such, but it also lacks good chapter breaks which would have certainly helped the reading experience. Pratchett often breaks the flow of the story to allow for meta commentary and this in itself (while part of the humor) takes some getting used to. As such, ensuring that the rest of the text flows well, would help.

Criticism aside, it feels good to read a Discworld story. They perceive the world with all its flaws but choose to remark on the gems that stand out. If one were to make a case for human civilization, it would not be that on the whole it was good and kind, but rather that few kept trying to make it so despite the million to one odds.

If you’re feeling down, tired or in need of a pick me up. I highly recommend reading Guards! Guards! Or any Discworld story. It is good for you like kettles are good for Dragons.

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