Terry Pratchett,
Night Watch
(HarperCollins, 2002)

Terry Pratchett explores a somewhat darker side of the Discworld in Night Watch, a novel about the city Watch.

Commander Samuel Vimes has a good and comfortable life now, even if his formal responsibilities as a duke are a bit on the tedious side. He is about to become a father, but he finds himself wandering down to Pseudopolis Yard, wearing a sprig of lilac, where he and some of the others commemorate those fallen in the great uprising 30 years before.

But duty disregards entrances into and exits from life, and soon Vimes and his men are in pursuit of Carcer, a crazed killer who specializes in officers of the Watch. The pursuit takes them to the roof of the Unseen University, where a temporal build-up flings Carcer and Vimes 30 years into the past.

Vimes learns that the Monks of History are stretching the rules to give him a few days to help his earlier self become a good watchman. So he joins the Watch as John Keel, takes himself in hand and proceeds to set the Watch on its ear. His progress is impeded by Carcer, riots breaking out all over the city protesting the current regime and Patrician, the malevolent Captain Swing and his Cable Street Unmentionables and the upcoming uprising, but he perseveres right to the moment he is out of time.

The humor is subtler, the overall tone moodier as Vimes wrestles with doubts, fears and ceaseless frustration. There are fewer footnotes and less over the top humor, and because the tone of the book is restrained, the characters become less like caricatures. The reader meets Nobby Nobbs as a nimble-fingered street urchin, Fred Colon as a stolid and earnest young corporal, Reg Shoe as a budding revolutionary in his pre-zombie years and Havelock Veterinari as a cool-as-a-cucumber student of the Assassin's Guild. There is delicious fun in recognizing the characters and seeing their traits emerging, and we learn how Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler got his soubriquet.

Pratchett fans may be disappointed in the more somber tone of the book, but it seems entirely appropriate for the story Pratchett tells. The Discworld books often explore more serious concepts against the lighthearted background, and it is this core which gives the series its staying power.

Night Watch is engrossing, suspenseful and yes, fun, and the somewhat serious overtone demonstrates Terry Pratchett's talent for finding something new in something old.

- Rambles
written by Donna Scanlon
published 11 January 2003

Buy it from Amazon.com.