The city of Ankh-Morpork is the setting for this DISCWORLD novel, the eigth in the overall series to be published, and the first of what are sometimes called the Ankh-Morpork City Watch books. Whatever one wishes to call them, these are some of the best of the DISCWORLD books.
This one starts out with the city’s police force section known as the Night Watch down and almost out for the count. There are only three members left, after one more of their compatriots has recently died in the line of duty, an all too common occurrence apparently. Their leader, Sam Vimes is a dispirited drunk, and the other two remaining members, Corporal Fred Colon and “Nobby” Nobbs are not what would be termed model policemen at this stage of their careers. When they go out into the night, they seem more afraid of the criminals that the criminals are of them. They are soon joined by a new recruit, a 6’6″ Dwarf (adopted) named Carrot Ironfoundersson. The new recruit is an idealist who believes that the Watch is still respected and important in the fight against crime and disorder in Ankh-Morpork. He’s a literalist who has been raised by a culture that has a hard time understanding metaphorical statements such as “throw the book at him” or “show him the ropes” which sometimes leads to some major misunderstandings. An aside here: puns and word play are a major part of the Pratchett repertoire.
While the Watch is coming to terms with its new member, a group is secretly plotting to overthrow the Patrician Lord Havelock Vetinari, who runs Ankh-Morpork, and institute the return of a King, who they hope to them be able to control. Their proposed method of bringing dragons back into the Discworld turns out to have more problems that they originally anticipate.
A very good read, I recommend Guards! Guards! even to those who don’t usually read fantasy if they like satire and hard boiled humor. At times Pratchett seems a mix of Joseph Wambaugh and P.G. Wodehouse when writing these “City Watch” books, which is perhaps appropriate as he has stated that two of his influences and reading loves are crime fiction and Wodehouse’s humorous stories.
As other reviewers have noted, Guards! Guards! is an excellent book for those who are just starting the DISCWORLD books. It’s a standalone in the sense that the reader doesn’t have to have knowledge of the previous books, and reading it won’t detract from any enjoyment of the other books that precede it if and when the reader decides to read them. Pratchett’s system of setting his stories in different venues of the Discworld with sub-series featuring differing groups of characters (who do sometimes interact either fleetingly or more substantially with the other groups in the various books) is part of the charm of these stories for me.
Terry Pratchett is sometimes pigeonholed as a humorous fantasy writer, but I think that’s like saying Jane Austen was a “romance” writer. Pratchett’s books are much more than just humorous fantasy. Every time I read them I’m simultaneously entertained, provoked to serious thought on my own life and the total human condition, sometimes angered, and always sad when the book ends. My major regret is that I didn’t start reading his work about twenty years earlier and my major consolation is that I still have plenty of his books to yet read.