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Night Watch by Terry Pratchett
Review by ConundrumFor those of you who have never read any Discworld books before: Stop what you are doing. Go to the nearest book store. Buy Guards! Guards! or Interesting Times or Thief Of Time. Read that book. Enjoy. Buy the rest of them. Read them. Enjoy. Consider yourself foolish for never having tried them before.
In case you couldn't figure it out, this latest book from the pen of uber-scribe Terry Pratchett is about the Ankh-Morpork City Watch (centering primarily on Sam Vimes). It follows on from Guards! Guards!, Men At Arms, Feet Of Clay, Jingo and Fifth Elephant. In fact so steeped in the history of the previous books, by all rights it should specify on the cover that it's part 6 of an ongoing series. You can certainly follow the main story without having read any of the previous books but a lot of the point of the novel (not to mention vast sections of Sam Vimes' internal monologue) will be pretty hard to fathom.
It picks up a few short months from the end of The Fifth Elephant (how many months precisely is unclear, but seeing as how Lady Ramkin anounced her pregnancy in the previous book and this book starts with her going into labour ... I would estimate it's less than nine *g*), and straight away we are thrown into the every day life of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch. All the old favourites are there, with little or no explanation given as to who they are or where they come from, but after 30 or so pages it no longer matters who they are. For Sam Vimes chases a Nasty Man (tm) into the grounds of Unseen Universtiy and both of them are caught in a magical accident that transports them through time ...
They find themselves back 30 years still in Ankh-Morpork. And this is where you knowledge of Discworld history is needed as very little explanation is given as to the differences between 'todays' Ankh-Morpork and the Ankh-Morpork of yesteryear. Carrot has yet to be born (let alone come to the City), Colon is a Corporal, Nobby is 6, and the Sam Vimes of then is a raw recruit still very wet behind the ears.
For those of you who have read Guards! Guards! ... remember what the Watch was like before Carrot came along? Well that is what the NightWatch is like here, excpet it's a little larger. Most of the actual policing and maintaining of law and order is done by the Particulars, the day watch. The NightWatch just goes around at night picking up people breaking curfew, and even that they don't do very well. Into this arena steps the pragmatic, anti-authoritarian aurhority figure of a sober Duke Vimes, Commander of the City Watch ...
Light the blue touch paper and stand well back.
Except it never goes off bang.
It's sad to report that this is probably Pratchett's least engaging novel since Hogfather. Possible even since Sourcery. Apart from the elder Vimes, none of the other characters are given much room to do anyhting or even to come across as much more than plot devices. We more than once meet 30-year younger versions of many of some of the Discworld regualrs but we are never given much chance to see any difference betwen them then and now, other than the bearest of cosmetic changes. Even the younger Dibbler is wasted. The only real changes that are evident in the younger characters are the differences between young and old Vimes, and the pre-pubescent Nobby Nobbs as opposed to the version we know and ... know.
But the changes Vimes evidently goes through in the intervening 30 years are never looked at closely. There is little change in the young Vimes thorughout the course of the book, in fact the plot soon speeds up and overshadows most other matters and if it weren't neccesaary for the older vimes to remember these events from the first time around, it would have been more than possible to remove the younger Vimes from the book altogether. I can't help but feel that a golden opportunity has been wasted.
The writing itself is as engaging as ever, with possibly a fewer less laugh-out-loud moments than in the previous few Discworld books. But it's still a thoroughly entertaining read with one or two moments of pure genius (the definition of 'cheesing' being one that I will probably find myself using in day to day conversation *g*).
As usual, Pratchett neatly ties up all the plot threads (he has gone on record as being opposed to the style of writing where the hero ends the book hanging over a cliff) in satisfying manner and inevitably when you close the book you will feel you know more about these characters. But only about their history.
The trouble with basing a book more or less completely on a character like Vimes is that most Discwrold readers know him very well. He is a brilliantly written character, never failing to engage the reader. But I know how he's going to react in each and every moment. The writing of the previous books is such good quality that Sam Vimes cannot (I feel) surprise and remain in character any more. Other characters need to take center-stage for a few books (Mr. Pratchett, are you reading this? *g*) so we can get to know them too. I certainly could not predict the behaviour and reactions of other members of the City Watch even half as well as Vimes, not even those characters who have been around as long as Vimes himself (anyone reckon they can say for sure what Colon's reaction to being attacked would be?). It's a case of familiarity breeds contempt, which is a shame because in the earlier novels Sam Vimes is easily the best DiscWorld character (after Gaspode *g*).
Go (re-)read Jingo instead ...
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