December 12, 2002

Night Watch, by Terry Pratchett

This is Pratchett's latest novel; as usual when a new Discworld book comes out, I commenced to read it to Jane on the way home from the book store. It occupied our evenings quite nicely for the next week or so. It was a delight to read aloud, as is usual, it was sometimes sidesplittingly funny, as is usual, it was a good time all the way around, as is usual.

Sam Vimes is one of Pratchett's ever increasing cast of continuing characters. He first appears in Guards, Guards as the alcoholic Captain Sam Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork Night Watch. Over the next several books in which he appears, the city grows over more diverse, and Vimes rises in rank. By the time of this book he is Sir Samuel Vimes, Duke of Ankh, Commander of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, and a power in the city. And (though no longer a drunk) still the same hardnosed irascible copper he started out as.

As a thunderstorm brews, Vimes' watchmen (and dwarves, and trolls, etc.) have run a silver-tongued psychopath named Carcer to ground atop the roofs of Unseen University. Vimes himself mounts the dome of the University Library to capture him, just as lightning strikes.

On the Discworld, a lighting strike is always accompanied by a strong magic field. And as anyone familiar with Unseen University can tell you, the last place you'd want to be hit by lightning and the accompanying magic field is any part of the University Library. Both Vimes and Carcer are thrown thirty years into past, into an incredibly busy and fraught week.

It's the week after Vimes first joined the Night Watch. It's the week that Mad Lord Winder's madness reaches its peak. It's a week of revolution in the streets. And thanks to the cheerfully murderous Carcer, one of the most important players during that week is dead-on-arrival to Ankh-Morpork. As Vimes soon discovers, he has to take on the dead man's name and role--or history will be changed, and he'll never get back to his own time.

So much for plot summaries. This book is markedly different than its predecessors. It's still funny, it's still well-written, it's still greatly entertaining--but at the same time, it's also dead serious. It's about cities and civilization, and about making things work; it's about being responsible for your own job and your own patch of ground and insisting that here, at least, Evil Will Not Be Tolerated.

It isn't Pratchett's out-and-out funniest book; but it might well be his best to date.

Posted by Will Duquette at December 12, 2002 07:31 PM