Men at Arms, by Sir Terry Pratchett
My Mystery Mondays have degenerated a bit, as I've been distracted by other types of reading (really, an adult mystery and a kid's book each week is a bit ambitious, even for me!). But have no fear--Discworld's here! Yup, another outing in Sir Terry Pratchett's incredible Discworld collection (I hesitate to call it a series, because that implies a sense of organization and connectivity that isn't always present. Still, I'm reading them "in order," i.e. in the order he wrote them. If nothing else it's a good study in the development of a writer and a world.
Which leads me to muse about the whole thing of world-building, since that's something we all (all us writers, that is) do, even those writing the most realistic fiction in real settings. Heck, non-fiction writers have to do it too, though the world they build is rather more constrained. The thing is, when I reflect on this, I think that in pretty much every series I know, the world is a bit underdeveloped in the first book, and grows into a great deal more depth and interest as the series lengthens. I see it with most of my favorite mystery writers, who start with a very small piece of a small community, and over the course of many books the picture of the place becomes more 3-dimensional and the cast of characters widens. Fantasies broaden from tiny, easily-grasped worlds to realistically complex and diverse ones.
It's certainly true of my own writing--the world of Skunk Corners developed a lot through the stories in The Ninja Librarian, and grew still broader in Return to Skunk Corners (coming soon--watch this space!). Then I have to make decisions about how wide that world can get before it intersects too heavily with reality and ceases to function. My two other WIPs (yes, I've been a bit ADHD or something and actually now have three books in various stages of editing!) are a mystery and a fantasy--each requiring the creation of a world, each world clearly needing to be broadened as I think about sequels.
Where was I? Oh, yes, Sir Terry. Discworld. More specifically, Men at Arms. This:
As I was saying about world-building, Discworld has come a long way from The Color of Magic. Yet it remains full of surprises, delight, and of course knee-slapping humor at the expense of just about every sacred cow. In Men at Arms, Pratchett takes on weapons control, Affirmative Action, and marriage, among other things. Of course, when Pratchett gets hold of them, these things all seem a little odd. Among the Guard of Ankh-Morpork, Affirmative Action means making room for dwarfs, trolls, and other things, which may or may not be human depending on conditions. We can laugh, and we can squirm a bit, too.
By the time the crime is solved (Carrot to the rescue once again!) we've been exposed to everything from exploding dragons to the Assassin's Guild to the truly terrifying Clown's Guild, not to mention the treacherous waters of matrimony. If you haven't both laughed and felt slightly affronted by the end of this book, there is probably something wrong with you. You might even shed a tear, which is less common on Discworld, but, well, anything can happen there.
Full Disclosure: I checked out this copy of Men at Arms from my library and received nothing whatsoever from the author or publisher in exchange for my honest review. The opinions expressed in this review are my own and no one else's.