In the eighth part of Guards! Guards!, Ankh-Morpork waits for the next appearance of the dragon and is utterly unprepared for it anyway. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
This is the first book where I feel like the entire collection of citizens is a part of the action, and Pratchett does some wonderful things with scope, characterization, and worldbuilding within these 18 pages. I know I’ve said this before, but it’s never been more important than right now: I’m glad I get to see him get better. The writing here – and not just the prose, mind you – is just so good. While Guards! Guards! is certainly full of the same sense of humor as the seven Discworld books that came before it (HOW HAVE I ALREADY READ THAT MANY, HOW ARE THERE STILL MORE TO COME), I feel like the composition of the story and the growth of the characters feels more significant to me.
I think that’s partly because Vimes is at the center of this, and he’s a character that is so utterly unlike every other protagonist that came before this. I’ve touched on the sadness that’s an element of his characterization, but I think that his drive as a person is what makes him feel so unique. If there’s any character he might be similar to, I’d suggest Eskarina, but there’s a worldly cynicism to Vimes that Eskarina doesn’t have. He’s not operating without experience. (Except when it comes to women, but we’ll get to that in a second.) He knows precisely how the world works for someone like him.
So Pratchett fucks with Vimes by turning his world upside down.
The Supreme Grand Master’s dragon is an agent of chaos, not just for Ankh-Morpork, but for a character who has found his rut in life and laid down in it, drunk, certainly that he’ll stay there forever. Notice how he’s defied the Patrician for the first time! That’s a huge deal! So when the dragon attacks the city in this section, I think it’s yet another example of how Vimes is pushed towards change. He does not pick up a bottle once in these eighteen pages; he does not ask for a drink when he wakes up in Lady Ramkin’s bed; he does not decide to give up on his plan to capture and kill this direction. Has he ever been this motivated since joining the Watch? Probably not.
(Let me also note that it’s only upon reading this that I realize that Colon, Nobby, Carrot, and Vimes were standing ON the Watch House when the dragon attacked. I THOUGHT THEY WERE ON A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT BUILDING. So I was a little confused as to how Vimes ended up getting hurt. I UNDERSTAND THINGS NOW.)
However, I want to give some credit where it is due: Lady Ramkin. Holy shit, y’all, WHAT A GREAT CHARACTER. She’s a rich aristocrat who is one of the genuinely nicest and least condescending aristocrats ever. She’s very integral to Vimes’s interest being piqued by this case, and she’s not even aware of the affect that she’s having on him. But that is what I find so intriguing about her. She’s got a beauty to her because she is so full of energy and hope and wonder. I loved the description of her room (ASEXUAL HEADCANON, which makes me laugh because it’s already a thing that asexuals are obsessed with dragons and this is so perfect oh my god) because it supported the idea that Lady Ramkin is, above all things, happy. She is happy with her swamp dragons and her study of them. She is happy with her house and her property, and she has little care for the status she has as someone who is rich. As long as she can take care of her dragons and provide for them, she is content.
There’s also SO MUCH WORLDBUILDING HERE. The swamp dragons exist on the Disc as they are for biological reasons, and I think that Lady Ramkin is right about why we don’t see dragons on the Disc anymore: this world was not made for them. So, the Supreme Grand Master is summoning them from their dimension, and it’s why they seem utterly wrong in this dimension. I thought all of Pratchett’s commentary was a joke about how improbable dragons would be within a fantasy universe! (It still works as that, though.) But it might actually be how Lady Ramkin and Vimes discover what’s really happening here.
And while I’ll stick to my own little headcanon that Ramkin has no interest in sex or love because SWAMP DRAGONS and DRAGON PUPPIES, I will say that the one aspect of the characterization/plot here that’s a little stale is the introduction of yet another woman who is viewed as intimidating to a main character who is a man because said character has never been with a woman. Now, it’s entirely possible that Vimes HAS had sex before or been in a relationship, but there’s still a dynamic present that feels like this trope. Vimes is frightened by the prospect of being shirtless in Ramkin’s bed, and it doesn’t feel like mere common embarrassment. There are multiple references to Vimes’s fear that he’s about to be seduced, and while this could easily be an interesting story devoid of the context of the books before it, it feels a bit repetitive now. I could be totally wrong about why Vimes is acting this way, but Pratchett hasn’t exactly given me a whole lot of information about Vimes’s past, so all I have to go on is this particular character trope that he uses for practically every dude in his books. It was a huge plot point for Teppic, too, as it was for Rincewind and Mort. I dunno, I don’t think conversations about sex and its awkwardness should necessarily be centered on portraying women as intimidating, mystical beings, you know?
ANYWAY: MOB. THERE’S A MOB OUTSIDE. OH GOD, WHY? Is it because of the swamp dragons? If anyone hurts a swamp dragon in this book, I will literally become the Supreme Grand Master and possess a dragon and RAZE THE LANDS.
Note: I did change some language to remove gender essentialism present in the original review. I changed “male(s)” to “men.”
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