- Genre: Fantasy; satire
- Series: Discworld
- Pages: 480
- My rating: 8,5/10
With Night Watch, I think it is no longer possible to say that you can just start anywhere in the Discworld series and jump right in. Night Watch is the sixth novel in the City Watch subseries, and a lot of development has preceded it. First, we saw the Watch recruit new officers from other species, like Angua the first werewolf and Detritus the first Troll. We saw Capt. Vimes match up with Lady Sybil and was given a royal title by the Patrician. The series quietly morphed into a vehicle for character development of Sam Vimes, and the sixth book focuses a lot on Vimes and his identity crisis.
I could never really pin down Vimes as a character (but neither could Ankh-Morpork’s Assassination Guild), but in this story he shows what a good down-to-earth guy he is. He’s a watchman with street smarts, but he’s never on the streets anymore and this worries him. But then a magical accident happens and he is flung back in time to the days of his first job as a watchman, and he’s forced to tackle the streets if he wants to save the future that he just came from. But he wasn’t that fond of that future before he accidentally left it, so this is where (or when) he has to make a choice.
I’m not too fond of time travel shenanigans. In the Discworld universe, however, that means we meet Lu-Tze the History Monk, one of Pratchett’s finest creations. And that’s not all. Vimes’s trip back in time shows us a lot of Ankh-Morporkian history and especially about the watch and the early days of Vimes, Colon and human-like thing known as Nobbs. Another reason why you can’t just dive into this book without being familiar with the watchmen.
The story is a bit like Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, complete with revolutions and street urchins. It’s also a bit like V for Vendetta. The tension is rising in Ankh-Morpork and the secret police is overstepping their boundaries. In comes Vimes with his street smarts. Most of Pratchett’s best characters understand the world better than those around them. The Patrician is cunning and practical, Granny Weatherwax uses headology to mess with people, and Vimes is like that too. A real Pratchettian hero in that he is grounded, smart and angry inside. He’s a complex character.
A general trend in Discworld is that in the later books the number of quick jokes and puns in the text goes down, while Pratchett’s skill in storytelling goes up. Night Watch is a typical latter-day entry in that the story is a bit more serious, complex and heartfelt and not so much about a concentrated bombardment of jokes. And Pratchett transformed through the years into a first-class storyteller. He always had an amazing command of the English language, but now that he couples it to a deeper exploration of character and a well-plotted storyline, we’ve got a really cracking good book.
Night Watch offers so much that it is an essential novel to read for Discworld fans, as it greatly deepens the characters and history of that world. Pratchett shows talents in character development, plotting and tension that I never really acknowledged before in reading his Discworld books.
This is one of the best Discworld novels and that automatically makes it one of the best fantasy novels of the ‘00s. Pratchett has a way of delving into human nature that is rarely seen in storytelling. It’s smarter than most books sold as “literature.”