Portal to the Pages

A quick glimpse into my thoughts on various fiction

Men at Arms – Terry Pratchett

on January 16, 2013
Book cover of Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett

Men at Arms

Before I discuss Men at Arms in any detail, I must first point out that this is a Discworld novel. For those of you unfamiliar with the series, it is a series populated by numerous unrelated stories, all set in the same world. There are often recurring places and characters, such as the character of Death who is always brilliant. When you pick up a Discworld novel, you should expect some of the same themes to occur; self-referential humour, the existence of numerous non-human species (trolls, dwarfs, etc.), magic and all-in-all entertaining characters.

Men at Arms follows the members of the Night Watch (similar to our police force) in their investigation of a crime that is more steeped in politics than they first realised. Interwoven with this mystery, which involves quite a few bodies along the way, is the internal politics of the Night Watch, including the recent movement of the force to be more inclusive. This inclusiveness has resulted in the first ever troll, dwarf and woman recruits, which causes no end of trouble both within the Night Watch and beyond. This novel explores the species segmentation within the Discworld as well as exposing some of the larger political forces at play. It probably reads best if one is already acquainted with the basics of the Discworld.

As a typical Discworld novel, Men at Arms never fails to please. The Discworld humour is something that I think you either love or hate and I am definitely in the love category. While Men at Arms never had me laughing my head off, I found it amusing throughout and loved some of the conversations between characters.

One of the main characters in Men at Arms is Captain Carrot Ironfoundersson, a member of the Night Watch who is quite simple. Carrot cannot understand sarcasm, irony or innuendo, however he proves himself to be quite intelligent. He is liked by all and upholds the law without exception. He is an extremely easy character to cheer for, as there does not appear to be a bad bone in his body. This apparent incorruptibility stands in contrast to most of the supporting characters, all of whom have some underlying motive at some stage. Similar to the characters he interacts with, I found it very difficult to pick any faults in Carrot, and feel that he would be quite hurt if I did!

The interplay between the different species was a particularly interesting addition to Men at Arms. Having read some of the Discworld series previously, I was already familiar with the basics; trolls don’t like dwarfs, dwarfs don’t like trolls, humans don’t like anyone non-human. However, the forced cooperation caused by joining the Night Watch led to some interesting discussions around the nature of this common dislike. In the interest of not spoiling anything, I won’t divulge the details, but it brought a welcome level of depth to their interactions.

The strong mystery element made this feel a little different to a normal Discworld book (that or it’s just been too long since I last read one) and I enjoyed trying to figure out the various conundrums faced by the Night Watch. As usual, nothing is as straightforward as you initially think it is, which I believe stands to the author’s credit that he can interweave a well-structured mystery into the chaotic world of the Discworld.

If you have read other novels in the series, I would not hesitate to recommend Men at Arms. However, if you haven’t ever read a Discworld book and have no idea of the world in which it is set, perhaps this is not the best starting point for you. I would encourage you to check out some of the earlier novels in the series though, as, if you like it, there are loads of books in the series for you to get your teeth into!



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