Pratchett, Terry: (15) Men At Arms

Several nights ago, I picked up Men at Arms, by Terry Pratchett, because I didn’t want to start reading The Paths of the Dead before bed (for fear that I would be up all night reading the whole thing. This turned out to be a good decision.). I’ve been done with the book for a while, but the last few nights, my time has been taken up with computer issues instead. (My new port replicator hates the USB card I wanted to put in it. Grr.)

Men at Arms is the second book in the Guards sub-series of the Discworld books, after Guards! Guards!. Most of the book is styled as a police procedural, as a series of unusual killings puzzles the Watch and sparks ethnic (dwarf-troll) tensions in the city. This part of the book is really enjoyable; I love the interactions between the new members of the Watch, particularly Detritus and Cuddy, and it’s always fun watching Vimes and Carrot policing. However, I think the book bungles the semi-MacGuffin by being about as subtle as a sledgehammer—not that the Discworld books are generally known for being subtle, but this is bad in a Real World political kind of way, which makes it even more strident. There are lovely moments in this book, and I really like it if I skip over those few pages here and there.

As an aside, I’ve been trying to see why I thought that the Patrician was considerably older than portrayed in Night Watch. Here’s one reason: he’s described as limping and hobbling during his end-of-book conversation with Carrot (which, by the way, is a great conversation). I know, you were all losing sleep over that one . . .


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  1. Hey, I’ve been wondering about Vetinari’s age since I saw the picture of him in The Last Hero. I, too, had pictured him as a fairly old guy.

    I’ve been thinking of rereading these, too, but I haven’t gotten around to it, so I’m glad you’re doing it.

  2. Can you have a “semi-MacGuffin?” It’s a real object, after all. Subtle no, but I didn’t find it strident in the least. It falls in well with other themes he has expressed in his novels over lo, these many years. Have you read “Small Gods” yet? 😉

    I think Vetinari is one of the parts of the universe that have been subjective to a certain amount of retroactive continuity, once Pratchett a) decided to do more Watch books and b) realized just how much he could do with the Patrician’s character, playing him off the Watchmen.

    The only bad thing about _Paths of the Dead_ in my mind was the agonized contemplation of how long we may have to wait to find out what happens next.

  3. Re: Paths of the Dead, I had heard that the wait for the next installment won’t actually be as brutal as it might be– supposedly, all three parts of The Viscount of Adrilankha are written, and will be published in a timely manner.

    Tor’s publishing schedule has The Lord of Castle Black listed for August of 2003.

    Which, I’ll grant, is Not Any Time Soon, but actually pretty fast for Brust…

  4. Thanks. So my cynical side was right, and the trilogy format is just to make mad $$$$ for the publisher…?

  5. Is Viscount even a trilogy any more? In Paths of the Dead, it lists a second book as forthcoming, but doesn’t list a third.

    (And I don’t think it’s for monetary reasons, but simply because each of the books is long enough to be a book.)

  6. Pam: So glad to be of service. =>

    Rebecca: part of the reason Vetinari is retroactively younger is that it’s so hard to imagine Ankh-Morpork if he was *gone*. Though that would actually be a pretty interesting book, now that I think of it. Also, I called it a semi-MacGuffin because it is real, but it also introduces a slew of motivations into the work…

    RE Paths: yes, it’s still a trilogy, but it doesn’t appear to be fully done yet. Brust reports on his weblog that he’s just finished revisions on The Lord of Castle Black, and (on Aug. 18) that the third volume will be called Sethra Lavode (previously reported as The Enchantress of Dzur Mountain, which I liked better, but I’m sure there were good reasons). Also, I’d prefer to have one at a time rather than wait even longer for one enormous volume…

  7. So is your installation of pink bathroom tile sucking up all your reading time, or all your blogging time?

    Because I’m getting pretty bored with looking at this same page all the time.

  8. Mike: pfui. Hie thee to Blogtracker and stop complaining.

    (And no, I didn’t see this comment ’til after I updated.)

  9. Am i confused, or aten’t there two Patricians — that is, the older, more corrupt patrician is removed and Ventinari introduced? Or am I confused?…

  10. As far as two Patricians in the books: Pratchett says no, but with some caveats. See the Annotated Pratchett File (note for [p. 30/27]).

    (Hi, by the way, and if I may ask, how’d you come across this post several months later–just catching up?)

  11. The reason he’s limping and hobbling, I always assumed, was because [ROT13]ur’q orra fubg guebhtu gur guvtu va gur ynfg fxvezvfu orsber gur jrqqvat.
    I’ve always been glad that Pratchett didn’t forget – he still walks with a cane in later books.
    (Why am I commenting to a three-year-old post, I wonder?)

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