Mark Reads ‘Guards! Guards!’: Part 16

In the sixteenth part of Guards! Guards!, Vimes learns the Patrician’s big secret, while Carrot, Nobby, and Colon try to create a-million-to-one odds. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld

I CAN’T DEAL WITH THIS BOOK.

King of the Rats

SO LORD VETINARI IS THE LITERAL RULER OF THE RATS IN ANKH-MORPORK AND I JUST CAN’T COPE WITH WHAT THIS BOOK HAS DONE TO ME. I’m guessing that the Patrician has spent a long, long time fostering this community of rats to act as… rats. Oh my god. Y’all. THE RATS ARE A PUN, AREN’T THEY? If they can go out and spy on others, that makes them RATS who are RATS.

fucking hell, I’m never going to recover from this book.

I admit that I am slightly confused as to what happened between Wonse and Vetinari, but I suspect that Vetinari really was the Supreme Grand Master, but Wonse thought that he could gain the upper hand by throwing Vetinari into his own dungeons, unaware that this was the best possible thing to happen to the Patrician. Yes? No? (Don’t actually tell me; allow me to wallow in my wrongness so that y’all can laugh at me later when I figure this out.)

Regardless, it’s clear that the Patrician is biding his time. He’s got a veritable army of spies and informants that no one would ever think twice of suspecting; he’s locked into a dungeon that’s got the bars and bolts on the inside, protecting him against whatever terror that’s been unleashed into the world. He can wait forever, and it won’t bother him a bit. I do wonder if the book will address the fact that the Patrician started this whole disaster in the first place. I mean, that was a clue all along; the Patrician often is behind the same threats to his power. Did he expect that Wonse would turn on him? Is this still part of his plan, or has his plan evolved?

I do want that addressed, since the dragon has killed people when it wasn’t supposed to. I also wanted to talk about two particular parts that complicated my perception of the Patrician:

“Never build a dungeon you wouldn’t be happy to spend the night in yourself,” said the Patrician, laying out the food on the cloth. “The world would be a happier place if more people remembered that.”

Now, I imagine this either might be something that’s familiar to you or is absolutely confusing if you’re not from the United States and haven’t been made aware of how the prison-industrial complex works in this country. Suffice to say that there’s not nearly enough time or room to talk about a ridiculously complicated, horribly bigoted system that targets marginalized people in order to make a profit out of putting them in jail. I’ve read about the prison systems in other countries and am honestly surprised how much they’re geared toward rehabilitation – the idea of using a multitude of methods in order to re-introduce someone back into the community – because the idea is so completely absurd to how my country understands crime and punishment.

THIS BOOK IS GIVING ME A LOT OF FEELINGS. Like this part, too:

“Never trust any ruler who puts his faith in tunnels and bunkers and escape routes. The chances are that his heart isn’t in the job.”

This doesn’t exonerate the Patrician, and I don’t want to view this character as a “good” or “bad” person. He’s a nebulous force of power, and he utilizes that power in both selfish and pragmatic ways. But there’s a reason he’s lasted so long while being in control of Ankh-Morpork. Yes, he can be devious, but he can practical in a way so as not to piss off or ruthlessly harm the people he’s controlling, you know?

THE PATRICIAN FASCINATES ME. So is he just going to stay in his own dungeon until someone comes and lets him out???

The Librarian

I particularly have a lot of feelings about this character, and I’m so happy he’s been given an expanded role in this book:

The captain had always been kind to him. And the captain had a badge, too.

Yes.

There were times when an ape had to do what a man had to do…

The orangutan threw a complex salute and swung away into the darkness.

LET US TALK ABOUT THIS. The Librarian has ever reason to get revenge after Lupine Wonse stole the dragon-summoning book from his library, setting lose a terror in Ankh-Morpork. And yet, the Librarian puts aside this need of his so he can go rescue the one person who supported him and respected him when few other people would. He feels a brotherhood with Vimes, and that matters to him. I don’t think Vimes would have been able to escape in time if it weren’t for the Librarian’s role here, and I love that.

Also, you know that guard who called him a monkey is dead. Just totally and completely dead.

A Million-to-One Odds

I JUST… I REALLY ENJOY EVERY CHARACTER IN THIS BOOK. Sometimes, I feel like Carrot, Nobby, and Colon are a less-violent version of the Three Stooges, bumbling through this adventure with good intentions and a terrible sense for how the world actually works. Well… ironically, the world works exactly how they think it does, particularly when it comes to Pratchett’s brilliant skewering of the “million-to-one-odds” trope, which appears in all types of fictional narratives, not just fantasy. It’s an easy (and often lazy) method of building suspense, one that is supposed to make you worry about the future of the protagonists within a story. It’s an artificial way to raise the stakes, and it almost always ends with said protagonists being able to beat the odds.

And it’s taken extremely literally here, since the trio becomes convinced that if their odds of hitting the dragon’s voonerables isn’t exactly a million-to-one, then it won’t work. This is take so far that at one point they argue that better odds – a thousand-to-one – are actually worse than a 1,000,000 to 1. And in the twisted reasoning they use, it’s strangely sensible, but not more so than what eventually happens.

Look, I was actually concerned for a moment that the dragon would roast these characters alive, but you know what? There are other forces at work here that I should have taken into account, like the gods, who would certainly be amused by this turn of events. So when the dragon does spit a fireball at the Watch members, their odds of survival, standing on top of a whiskey distillery?

Exactly a million-to-one.

Not a Hero

It’s impossible to ignore Pratchett’s parodies of fantasy tropes, but I did get a little sad reading this:

And I’m not a hero. I’m out of condition, and I need a drink, and I get a handful of dollars a month without plumes allowance. That’s not hero’s pay. Heroes get kingdoms and princesses, and they take regular exercise, and when they smile the light glints off their teeth, ting. The bastards.

Vimes really is a non-traditional hero, but that wistful tone of his reveals his own self-esteem issues. Despite that we know so little of his own past, it’s clear that he’d accepted the rut that he’d fallen into years ago when he was first put into the Watch, and he never once believed he’d ever be able to leave. And now, when his friend is about to be sacrificed to the King, he wishes things were differently. He wishes that he was in better shape, that he was liked, that he owned things of significance, that he was able to be the hero that could save the day.

He still could be, of course, but he’s not what society considers a hero, and that affects his perception of himself. Whew, this book makes my heart hurt, y’all. I just want these characters to be okay!

The original text contains use of the words “mad,” “lunatic,” and “maniac.”

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since ’09.

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