Men at Arms (Discworld Novel 14)
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About a year has passed since the events of Guards! Guards!, and now three new recruits have joined the Night Watch: Detritus the troll, Cuddy the dwarf, and Angua, the first female watch member. The longtime watchmen are sceptical but as yet another sinister plot unfolds to take over the city, it turns out they'll need every man (or woman) they can get.
Though it has some glaring flaws (more on that below), this is still one of my favourite Discworld books.
1. Small Gods
2. Men at Arms
3. Guards! Guards!
4. Reaper Man
5. Witches Abroad
6. Wyrd Sisters
-------- (imaginary line splitting favs from non-favs)
8. Moving Pictures
9. Lords and Ladies
Aside from boasting an extremely well-written and intriguing mystery plot (my favourite of the Watch books' in that respect), Pratchett introduces more lovable characters into the already solid Watch cast. I'll never tire of following Detritus and Cuddy as they develop their relationship from hatred (founded on their species' ancient history) via mutual respect to life-long friends. Their "cop buddies" banter is hilarious, yet what really makes the pairing stand out is the way each brings out the best in the other. Cuddy appears to be the first person (with the possible exception of Detritus' girlfriend Ruby) to see Detritus' potential and spends a large part of the book teaching him, boosting his confidence and taking him seriously as a partner in the Watch. For Detritus, used to being mocked even by other trolls, this is a huge revelation. He responds by time and again protecting his smaller partner. In fact, they end up saving each other's life a few times as well as defend the other against insults and unkindness originating from members of their own species.
Huge spoiler! Highlight to make visible
Cuddy's death is a huge blow. I would have loved to see many more books continuing to tell the story of their deep-rooted friendship. This is also the first time Pratchett kills off a greatly likable character with whom the reader has spent a lot of time, which only accentuates the loss because they didn't expect it. Of course, neither did the other characters.
My main gripe with the book is how Pratchett handles Angua. I want to like her. After all she's the first woman in the Watch, she's sassy, she's got a dry kind of humour and Spoiler her being a werewolf is sort of cool. And yet. I don't like the way her female attributes get accentuated at the beginning, but I can look past that because it's (unfortunately) a realistic reaction for a hitherto male-only group to have a woman enter their midst, and it passes after a while. Now that I think of it, it's possible that Pratchett deliberately points out every instance of someone ogling Angua or hemming and hawing around the term "breast plate", that these in fact serve as smoke bombs to detract from her real secret, because I think all of this immediately stops after the big reveal.
Unfortunately, that kind of inuendo is now replaced by the even uglier jokes comparing Angua to a female dog. Gaspode referring to Carrot (whom Angua is attracted to, and vice versa) as her "master" makes me want to puke. I also don't care much for the Dog Guild scenes. The reference to Hitler (or Stalin, as has been argued) is a logical conclusion to the general racism theme. I just don't think these scenes add a lot to the book as a whole.
It also doesn't help that even ignoring these misjudgement's on the author's side, I don't find her to be very likable. What starts out as (the above mentioned) dry humour ends up being rather scathing in the long run. Angua doesn't appear to like anyone very much, and as a consequence I find myself disliking her.
Next up: Soul Music