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  • Title: NIGHT WATCH
  • Author: Terry Pratchett
  • Publisher: EOS
  • Pages: 338
  • Price: $24.95


Terry Pratchett Invites Us To Step Back Through Time

By Richard Salter     November 05, 2002

There are 27 million individual copies of Terry Pratchett novels in print. Pratchett is the second best-selling author living author in Britain (right below J.K. Rowling). He doesn't just write DISCWORLD books, but they are what he's most famous for. Set on a flat world carried on the back of four elephants, which themselves stand on a giant turtle swimming through space, DISCWORLD novels represent the very best in comedy fantasy available.

NIGHT WATCH is the 28th novel in the DISCWORLD series and one of many to use both the setting of Ankh Morpork - a dangerous and vile-smelling city - along with "the watch", the city's police force. But this time things are a little different. There's a certain established continuity to these books, each one more or less taking place after the last. This latest addition, however, invites us to visit Ankh Morpork as it was thirty years previous, when the city was even less safe, and long before the watch was cleaned up and made the semi-respectable outfit it is today.

Commander Samuel Vimes, the man responsible for bringing order to the watch, is about to become a father. He is a man weighed down by the red tape of office and sometimes longs to return to a time when he used to do actual police work instead of signing forms and attending meetings. When he corners a particularly nasty criminal called Carcer on a rooftop in the middle of a storm, and ends up being flung back in time thirty years, it looks like he might just get his wish.

And so the stage is set. Vimes must find his way back to the future, and return that which he inadvertently took with him into the past. He must also survive on dangerous streets where his reputation does not precede him. Not only that, he must be careful not to change history too much, although he finds out he already has just by being here. Most worryingly, he realizes that his arrival will prevent a certain young Lance Corporal Sam Vimes from being trained by the mentor he remembers. Meanwhile, unrest in the city is reaching crisis point and Vimes knows it's going to get ugly. He's been here before, after all. If he's going to preserve history and get back to his wife and unborn child, he's going to have to resist the chance to prevent good men from dying. But he's Sam Vimes, and this isn't the sort of thing he can easily walk away from.

There's no doubt that NIGHT WATCH is funny. Several lines had me laughing out loud, and there's always an awful pun hiding around the corner waiting to catch you unawares. But Pratchett's work has been maturing of late and a darker edge has been creeping into the DISCWORLD. Ankh Morpork has always been a dangerous place, and Pratchett has realized that in order to depict the city as being more dangerous in its turbulent past, he must up the stakes somewhat. The result is the inclusion of torture, mercy killings, mob violence and bloody deaths, but none of it feels gratuitous. It may not sound like a barrel of laughs, but the story is both funny and grim in equal parts. It's interesting that the book depicts such violence quite candidly, and yet skirts around the issue of prostitution though this does make for some very amusing lines about seamstresses and so called "tuppenny uprights".

The best part of the plot is Vimes's decision to take his younger self under his wing, which leads to fascinating scenes where Vimes must decide how much he should be told and how much he should find out for himself. It's an interesting tightrope to walk, and Vimes is the perfect character to carry it off because he will often bend the rules himself, and it's interesting to see how much of this bending he will allow his younger self to witness. He is forced to question his own actions many times, and this development is vital to the decision he must make right at the end of the story.

Pratchett has lots of fun with his time travelling plot. We meet younger versions of characters we know from previous novels such as Corporal Nobbs and Dibbler the dodgy pie seller. These scenes are rewarding for fans, but since these characters become important to the plot they are not just reduced to throwaway cameos.

The DISCWORLD novels are always enjoyable, even those that aren't quite as sharp or as funny as others. NIGHT WATCH suffers a little in places, especially when yet another character describes the art of not being seen, but it is a strong addition to the series. It has a self-contained story that benefits greatly from the established continuity but, impressively, doesn't depend on it so much that new readers will be lost.

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