Terry Pratchett is the reason I write. When I first picked up a copy of Small Gods in the Isle of Man, many, many years ago, it was the first book that I’d read that held my attention, and made me want to sit in and read rather than going into the sun and enjoying the holiday with my folks. So that was that, I then went back through the list picking up all his novels, and still have the old battered copies now.
Guards! Guards! Is my favourite Pratchett novel. I’m just getting that out there now, but I will no doubt mention it at a later date. The Audible versions of Guards! Guards!, Men at Arms and Feet of Clay are phenominal. Read by Nigel Planer (Neil from the amazing TV show, The Young Ones), he gives entertaining voices to every character – surprisingly close to how I imagined them – and makes the whole thing a pleasure to listen to.
The story of Guards! Guards! is that of Sam Vimes, a drunk, and Captain of the Ankh Morpork Night Watch, three individuals (Vimes, Sgt Colon (Sounds like an old Warrant Officer I was never really fond of…) and Cpl Nobbs (sounds like every shift bugger I’ve ever known!)) who pursue criminals in the same way that MPs deal with poor folk, but looking the other way and pretending they saw nothing. Chasing criminals? Run slower than they do, to reduce the risk of catching up with them.
Along comes Carrot, a six foot dwarf (or human raised by dwarves) who believes utterly in the law, and starts to shake things up. With the sudden appearance of a dragon, and people being found as blackened outlines on walls, they soon realise something is afoot, and the change in the watch commences.
One of the things that made me love Pratchett’s work so much is that his characters have so much of their own voice, that if you cut the names out the book, you could probably tell who was saying what just by the way the conversation was going. Planer does an exceptional job of this, and brings them all to life, helping the novel along in bringing the Night Watch the glory they deserve (a bit of a pay raise and a new dartboard. Possibly a kettle.).
Men at Arms follows Guards! Guards!, and brings with it a number of new Night Watch characters (loads by the end!), including Angua (sounds like Neil from the Young Ones), Detritus the Troll (sounds like Billy Connolly), Cuddy (I can’t remember who he sounds like, but a great character), etc.
The story is one of the first firearm, and it has fallen into the wrong hands. So starts the hunt for the murderer. What the story does, and I didn’t really realise it when I read it all those years ago (when I was about 15 or so) was that it deals so well with xenophobia and sexism. Throughout the novel, people are referring to what ‘everyone knows what dwarves do’, and disliking other races because of things they’ve heard, or just because their different, being shocked when a woman is doing certain things, not usual, etc. This continues throughout the book, Detritus and Cuddy hate each other for being a Troll and a Dwarf respectively, rather than who they are, and become pals after being sent on patrol together. It does it in such a way, that it isn’t preachy, or someone being on their high horse, it’s done in an amusing, entertaining and matter of fact way. Could do with making everyone read this novel early on in life to make them more accepting and respectful to other people.
As the story progresses, Ankh Morpork descends into chaos, with only Vimes and the Night Watch to keep everything under control. It’s a REALLY good listen.
Feet of Clay, continues with the story of the Night Watch (can you tell how I’ve been listening to them? Had to stop and listen to small gods, as I’d spent all my audible credits and forgotten to get Jingo! Doh!). This time it deals with religions, what constitutes life and the xenophobia from the last novel continues.
There is another murderer afoot, and the Patrician is being poisoned, but… there’s no clues. Both of the crimes in this book are very cleverly written and each follow their own path, culminating in a moment of pure brilliance with Sam Vimes (now Commander). Each of the characters in the expanded Night Watch has their part to play, be it Cheery Littlebottom, a female dwarf equivalent of Gil Grissam, investigating crime scenes or Angua sniffing out clues with her werewolf nose.
There’s a lot of clever stuff from in each of these novels, and Nigel Planer is brilliant in his reading of them. Looking forward to Jingo… Once my credits are available.
I recommend each of them mightily!