Guards! Guards! was not the first Terry Pratchett book I ever read, probably not even the third or fourth. I enjoyed all the ones I read before this and all the twenty-plus ones I read later, but it, and the subsequent volumes featuring the Ankh-Morpork City Watch; have been the ones that have stuck with me the most. Since Guards! Guards! was where their story began, that’s the one I’ll talk about.
As I said, I enjoyed the Discworld books prior to this, so what makes Guards! Guards! special for me. Part of it is the city of Ankh-Morpork. Although it had appeared (if that is the correct word) in half the previous books, this was the first time it seemed to become a character in its own right. Some of this was due to the descriptions of the geography of the city, which had been more limited beforehand, and some was due to the politics of the city being explored.
At its heart, Guards! Guards! is a murder mystery, albeit a fantastical one since the murder weapon is a dragon. Brought to the city as part of a conspiracy to create unrest large enough to depose the city’s elected officials, the dragon kills several people, attracting the notice of run-down City Watch.
Possibly the biggest part of why I love this book is the character of Sam Vimes. He’s a deeply flawed man, bitter and hardened by years working for a city that doesn’t care. In many ways, he’s similar to noir heroes in that he’s fundamentally a decent man but who is capable of doing dark things if he were to relax his standards. One of the great pleasures of following the City Watch books is to see how Vimes evolves; from his beginning here as a drunk and one-third of the entire Watch, to being a nobleman, an ambassador and Commander of a rapidly growing police force.
For whatever reason, I tend to identify with Sam Vimes. On at least two occasions he’s been the one I’ve named as my favourite fictional character. And that alone, makes Guards! Guards! special for me.