Guards! Guards! is the eighth book in the Discworld series and the first book in the City Watch series. This wasn’t my introduction to Discworld, but it probably should have been. I think I started with one of the other City Watch books, and then Small Gods, and then read the City Watch books in order.
First, there is the dedication:
They may be called the Palace Guard, the City Guard, or the Patrol. Whatever the name, their purpose in any work of heroic fantasy is identical: it is, round about Chapter Three (or ten minutes into the film) to rush into the room, attack the hero one at a time, and be slaughtered. No one ever asks them if they wanted to.
This book is dedicated to those fine men.
The opening passage is one of my favorite beginnings in the Discworld series:
This is where the dragons went.
They lie… not dead, not asleep. Not waiting, because waiting implies expectation. Possibly the word we’re looking for here is… dormant.
And although the space they occupy isn’t quite like normal space, nevertheless they are packed in tightly. Not a cubic inch there but is filled by a claw, a talon, a scale, the tip of a tail, so the effect is like one of those trick drawings and your eyeballs eventually realize the space between each dragon is, in fact, another dragon.
They could put you in mind of a can of sardines, if you thought sardines were large and scaly and proud and arrogant.
And presumably, somewhere, there’s the key.
Discworld has two kinds of dragons. The more common kind are swamp dragons, which are sometimes kept as pets, but the noble dragons are the dangerous ones, and were thought to be extinct until one showed up in Ankh-Morpork, the greatest city in Discworld.
Sam Vimes is the captain of the run-down City Watch, which has dwindled to just four people: himself, Sergeant Colon, Corporal Nobbs, and the new recruit, Carrot Ironfoundersson, who was raised by dwarves. The Watch has to do something about this dragon, so Vimes and Carrot are the main point of view characters, along with Lady Sybil Ramkin, who raises dragons.
I like all of the characters, but I should also give a shout-out to Lord Vetinari, who is in charge of the city. He is a prominent character in this book and gets some of the best moments.
My favorite quotes:
- If there was anything that depressed him more than his own cynicism, it was that quite often it still wasn’t as cynical as real life.
- Books bend space and time. 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 turning 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.
- They avoided one another’s faces, for fear of what they might see mirrored there. Each man thought: one of the others is bound to say something soon, some protest, and then I’ll murmur agreement, not actually say anything, I’m not as stupid as that, but definitely murmur very firmly, so that the others will be in no doubt that I thoroughly disapprove, because at a time like this it behooves all decent men to nearly stand up and be almost heard… But no one said anything. The cowards, each man thought.
- You have the effrontery to be squeamish, it thought at him. But we were dragons. We were supposed to be cruel, cunning, heartless and terrible. But this much I can tell you, you ape – the great face pressed even closer, so that Wonse was staring into the pitiless depths of his eyes – we never burned and tortured and ripped one another apart and called it morality.
- Down there,’ he said, ‘are people who will follow any dragon, worship any god, ignore any iniquity. All out of a kind of humdrum, everyday badness. Not the really high, creative loathesomeness of the great sinners, but a sort of mass-produced darkness of the soul.