At some point, when I was fourteen or fifteen years of age, someone said to me, “If you like Piers Anthony, you really should try Terry Pratchett!” This recommendation resulted in my avoiding Pratchett for ten years.
I did eventually discover that this comparison was misleading, and gleefully tore my way through Pratchett’s immense corpus, in no particular order. Pratchett’s books are generally self-contained, and as a rule, it is not necessary to read a book’s prequel in order to appreciate it. Pratchett’s Discworld books were fantasy with a post-modern sensibility, self-aware and tongue-in-cheek, and Pratchett rarely left any dark underside unexposed; in fact, he seems much more interested in the overlooked bits of fantasy conventions than he is in the fantastical bits. As a rule, Pratchett is more interested in the scullery maid, than the princess.
I generally find Pratchett extremely satisfying to read, from a feminist perspective. Discworld isn’t a gender-blind utopia, but then again, Pratchett is entirely aware of this. Monstrous Regiment in particular rips through the chauvinism of the fantasy genre with glee, and Pratchett is one of the rare male authors (in my experience) who has multiple authentic female voices, and is capable of writing women of every sort, even unattractive ones!
All this by way of setting up my review: I finally got around to reading the first story in which Sam Vimes appears, Guards! Guards! At this point, Ankh-Morpork’s watch has no women in it, and very few men. Lady Sybil Ramekin almost makes up for it though. Spoilers follow.
Lady Sybil is a dragon fancier and breeds swamp dragons: poor, attenuated cadet-members of an otherwise extinct species. When an extinct dragon, apparently unaware of its status, begins terrorizing the city, Lady Sybil is called upon for her expertise. She is a whirl-wind of enthusiasm for this homicidal reptile, shows no awareness that her life is indubitably in danger, and attempts to control it (after witnessing its murderous appetite) by looking it in the eye and speaking firmly. (I should note that she is otherwise not insane, but is perhaps slightly overfond of dragons.)
And reading Guards! Guards! disappointed me; Lady Sybil shows up in later books– in fact, she’s a regular. But I do not recall ever seeing this Lady Sybil again. After this book, she seems to become a smaller, tamer woman. She’s described as “sensible,” and “patient.” She does show enthusiasm on certain subjects, and to be fair, she’s quite willing to do battle to protect what she cares about. But somehow, she doesn’t seem to get the chance to do that much; after this, it’s all Sam. I miss the Sybil in this book, and would have liked to see more of her.
Guards! Guards! is a splendid book, and a slight disapointment, because now I know what I’m missing.