I first encountered Guards! Guards!, by Terry Pratchett, in a BBC Radio adaptation, and based on the number of torrents available if you search for it, a lot of people liked it a lot more than I did. When I got around to reading the book, there were just enough funny bits to keep me going, but it still took me forever to finish it. And it’s too short to impose the 150 page rule.
It’s very jokey. Carrot, a red-headed giant raised by dwarves comes to the city of Ankh-Morporkh to join the Night Watch. Heading a long list of things he doesn’t realize is the fact that Guard of the Watch is no longer an honorable, or even useful occupation. He joins the creatively lazy Sergeant Colon and infinitely corruptible Nobby Nobbs, who all answer to the depressed drunkard, Captain Vimes. And this motley crew finds itself trying to defend the city from a dragon. Which exists just long enough to make piles of ash turn up where people used to be.
There’s a lot more going on, so much, it took a while to me to decide that it’s mostly Vimes’ story. There didn’t seem to be a lot of hope for him, until he stumbled into the faith of Lady Sybil Ramkin. She’s a good argument for a leisure class allowing certain people to become experts is something most people find useless. I like her practicality in dealing with her dragonets (which resemble extremely inbreed and messy dogs) and her ability to dress up when the occasion demands.
But my favorite character is the Patrician, Lord Vetinari, who spends most of the book biding his time in the dungeons, advising the rats. When he finally emerges into the half-light of offices, he gives a wonderful speech about the illusion of good and evil.
“There are, always and only, the bad people, but some of them are on opposite sides.”
[Lord Vetinari]waved this thin hand towards the city and walked over to the window.
“A great rolling sea of evil,” he said, almost proprietorially. “Shallower in some places, of course, but deeper, oh, so much deeper in others. But people like you put together little rafts of rules and vaguely good intentions and say, this is the opposite, this will triumph in the end. Amazing!”
And that’s the sort of thing, through the silliness and charicatures, that keeps me picking up another Pratchett book.