Thursday, September 6, 2007

Book review: Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

I cannot believe that I have never read any Terry Pratchett before - it's a travesty! This book came highly recommended both by my friend Kevin C. (who loaned his copy to me) and by fellow blogger and blogcritic Katie (who is MUCH more prolific than I and yet still took the time to put a comment on this humble post of mine) and I loved it. Pratchett writes like a more sophisticated Piers Anthony during Anthony's early years, before his Xanth books became all puns and no story.

Guards! Guards! takes place in the murky city of Ankh-Morpork on Pratchett's fantastical Discworld. A sinister cabal of wizards, in an attempt to take over the city, has summoned a big old dragon. Their hopes of controlling the beastie are soon shown to be futile as the dragon decides that it wants to be king. It is up to the limp Night Guard, led by disillusioned and drunk Captain Vimes, to rescue the city. To this end, the Guard enlists young Carrot, a human foundling raised by dwarves, and an orangutan who just happens to be the Librarian of the University's Library.

I lost track of the times I laughed out loud while reading this book. Pratchett's descriptions of the city's state of decrepitude and the cravenness of its citizenry are very funny, and he is spot-on about libraries and bookstores:

"The truth is that even big collections of ordinary books distort space, as can be readily proved by anyone who has been around a really old-fashioned secondhand bookshop, one of those that looks as though they were designed by M. Escher on a bad day and has more staircases than storeys and those rows of shelves which end in little doors that are surely too small for a full-sized human to enter. The relevant equation is: Knowledge = power = energy = matter = mass; a good bookstore is just a genteel Black Hole that knows how to read."

"Books bend time and space. One reason the owners of those aforesaid little rambling, poky secondhand bookshops always seem slightly unearthly is that many of them really are, having strayed into this world after taking a wrong turn in their own bookshops in worlds where it is considered commendable business practice to wear carpet slippers all the time and open your shop only when you feel like it."

Anyone who has ever been in a really local secondhand independent bookstore knows exactly what Pratchett is talking about (thanks to Kevin for reminding me of the quotes).

Once again I have discovered a book that has led me to many others: according to these guys, there are 41 Discworld books, including six more that focus on Vimes and his Night Watch. If the town library is sufficiently stocked, I may never write about television again.

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