Men at Arms (Discworld)

Monday, September 28, 2020

Men at Arms (Discworld)
Terry Pratchett, 1993

Premise: Book 2 starring the Night Watch. Vimes is getting married and retiring, the other members of the Night Watch are dealing with nonhuman recruits, and somewhere in the city, a dangerous weapon has been found...

This is more like what I remember. This book is the source of the famous Samuel Vimes “Boots” Theory of Economic Unfairness. A lot of it is about the danger of the one gun that has been invented, and how it is as seductive and deadly as Sauron’s Ring. (Quite literally, as this is a fantasy world, but metaphorically as well - when you can kill so easily, it’s tempting to find a reason...)

The murders that bring the weapon to the attention of the watch really affect the characters (even though there is a literal Assassin's Guild in the city) because of their power and randomness. It’s appropriate that for this book, while there is a villain, several in fact, they aren’t major characters. The villain who sets the plot in motion isn’t the same as the one in the end, and it isn’t about either of them, it’s about the ability to kill. 

This book also deals more explicitly with the fact that Carrot is descended from the ancient kings of Ankh-Morpork and shows that he’s inherited the natural charisma but none of the megalomania. Angua and Detritus are both introduced as members of the Watch, and both have time to shine and show how they will become indispensable. 

Vimes spends much of the book depressed or drunk, but he eventually rallies and ends the book recommitted to fixing the City Watch - tossing out the corrupt and pompous Day Watch and expanding to better serve the various communities that make up the city. Also, there’s a great scene where he has to deal with horrible obnoxious rich people.

4 Stars - A Really Good Book

The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows (Feminine Pursuits, Book 2)

Monday, September 21, 2020

The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows (Feminine Pursuits, Book 2)
Olivia Waite, 2020

Premise: Agatha Griffin has been running her printing company alone since the death of her husband, so she knows when to delegate. A swarm of bees in the storage room demands delegation. Penelope Flood is a beekeeping expert and local eccentric, thought to be too kind for her own good and oddly okay with her husband always being gone at sea. Together they’ll dare local politics, potential scandal, and the possibility of love.

I didn’t love this book quite as much as The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics, but I did enjoy it a lot. It’s a fantastic balance, combining a gorgeous romance, interesting history, and just enough tension and danger. 

Our heroines first have to admit their attraction for each other through a long and lovely progression of acquaintances to friends to more. Dramatic turns in English politics cause widespread upheaval, including in Penelope’s tiny town, first taking a few tiny steps towards some rights for women, then backsliding under the influence of those who commandeer or create “moral” crusades for their own purposes. 

Agatha and Penelope are both great characters. There is something very special about the way this book shows each character through their own eyes and the other’s. I know that’s common in romance, but often it’s just an excuse for drama and misunderstandings. Here, there’s a discordance that’s kind of beautiful - the differences between how each woman sees herself and how the other sees her. 

The details of the printing business, the beekeeping, etc. are just icing on the cake. 

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

Guards! Guards! (Discworld)

Monday, September 14, 2020

Guards! Guards!
Terry Pratchett, 1989

Premise: The introduction of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch. The men of the Night Watch (all three of them, plus a new recruit) mostly muddle along unnoticed and unheeded until a dragon unexpectedly appears in the city.

In a search for some reading that would feel worth my time but not take too much brain power, I recently decided to re-read the Discworld books about the Watch. 

This first volume is good, but not as polished as later ones. Some jokes or side comments feel a bit dated. The characters are sort of sketches of who they become later. Carrot in particular is more of a by-the-book simpleton than the straightforward, good-hearted person he is later. Vimes and The Patrician are closer to later portrayals but both lack nuance. 

There’s a strong subplot starring the Librarian. I thought the rest was fine, but I didn’t love it... although then I happened to read a tumblr post which made some excellent observations about the parallels between Sybil and the dragon. Interesting stuff. 

I like this book fine, but I remember liking the later ones much more. 

3 Stars - A Good Book

(And yes, there’s a bit of a weird vibe right now to be consuming any media starring law enforcement, even in a fantasy setting. But the Watch books overall are heavily critical of bias and corruption, and Pratchett, and by extension, Vimes, is thoroughly against anyone who would oppress others or harm the innocent.)