Sunday, December 22, 2002

Review: "Night Watch," by Terry Pratchett

In "Night Watch," Terry Pratchett treats fans to a fun trip into the history of the city of Ankh-Morpork through the eyes of everyone's favorite City Watch captain Samuel Vimes.

When Vimes pursues a criminal named Carcer, accused of killing two coppers, they find themselves locked in a fight atop Unseen University, the school for wizards. As a storm rages around the two combatants, a freak accident sends Vimes through the roof of the school and into darkness.

When he wakes, things are a little strange. He soon finds that he's been transported back in time to his very first days as a copper. He takes on the identity of John Keel, a watchman who took Vimes under his wing in those days. And indeed, Vimes meets the younger version of himself in Lance Constable Samuel Vimes.

The times are turbulent ones for the city of Ankh-Morpork. The current patrician is completely insane, and the man plotting a revolution to take his place isn't much better. The streets are about to erupt in violence, and the results are one of the last things Vimes wants to relive. Unfortunately, it appears he's going to have to, despite his best efforts to change history.

What's worse is that Vimes discovers Carcer has come through with him, and he has a plan to change history himself - by killing one of Vimes' selves.

If my count is correct, "Night Watch" is Pratchett's 28th novel set on his whimsical Discworld, and in all those books, neither the place nor the characters have lost their charm.

The story itself is perhaps not as funny as some of the previous tales of the City Watch, but there are still plenty of laugh-out-loud funny moments.

The real fun of this installment is getting a chance to see how things were before Vetinari took over as patrician and before Vimes overhauled the City Watch. Readers caught glimpses of it in Pratchett's first novels about Vimes, but never knew the whole story.

In "Night Watch," readers get to see younger versions of watchmen Fred Colon and Nobby Nobbs, a Vimes who isn't nearly as savvy and cunning as the current version, watchman Reginald Shoe - before the unfortunate accident that made him a zombie - and a young, but skilled assassin named Havelock Vetinari. Oh, and there's also the birth of a legend, Ankh-Morpork's greatest salesman, "Cut Me Own Throat" Dibbler, who we find out actually got his catch line from Vimes - at least in this timeline.

Time travel stories can be tricky when writers let themselves get bogged down in the "rules." Fortunately, Pratchett throws all that nonsense out the window and just has fun with it. Of course, that's been Pratchett's trademark all along. He approaches everything about the Discworld with an anything goes attitude, and perhaps that's why the series has lasted so long without becoming stale.

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