Review

Night Watch

by Terry Pratchett



Attempting to assign a genre to Terry Pratchett is like trying to
identify the parentage of a rescue league dog. As you get to know
the beast, there are so many fascinating possibilities and
ancestors evident that finally you just throw up your hands and
say, "Who cares?" If you enjoy it and want to keep it around for
company, why not just let it be called whatever it answers
to.

I am not a fantasy reader, nor am I a sci-fi fan. There are
exceptions of course, but neither genre label will draw me
inexorably down a bookstore aisle. A voracious reader friend who
rarely leads me astray first introduced me to Terry Pratchett a few
years ago. Now, just let me spy a Terry Pratchett Discworld novel I
haven't read (a rare commodity these days since I first started
collecting these deliciously droll satires) and it's mine. Snatched
up, bought, wrapped and out the door.

For the uninitiated, Pratchett has discovered a planet, perhaps in
our solar system, perhaps not, called Discworld. It is a strange,
flat planet inhabited by humans --- more or less. It's also
inhabited by trolls, dwarves, witches and wizards, the occasional
imp, (useful creatures for picture taking and reminding its owners
of important appointments) werewolves, vampires, zombies,
gargoyles, a talking dog and, ultimately, the Man in Black, the
Grim Reaper, the Keeper of Personal Hour Glasses --- DEATH. The
humans are under the impression that they rule Discworld, which
amuses the other beings to no end. It also amuses the millions of
fans who devour each book as it hits the shelves.

NIGHT WATCH adds an element never before encountered in a Pratchett
book --- time travel. Commander Samuel Vimes of the capitol city's
City Watch, is in hot pursuit of an arch criminal threatening
Vimes' home and wife, who is in labor with his first-born child. As
they grapple for control of a deadly crossbow in a thunderstorm on
the roof of the Unseen University, home of Discworld's Wizards and
source of poorly controlled magic at times, a lightning bolt
catapults them 30 years back in time.

There, Sam finds himself in the body of a legendary hero, Sergeant
of the Night Watch John Keel. An alarming discovery, for Vimes
knows full well that Sgt. Keel lies in a hero's grave, the result
of brave action in the bloody 25th of May Rebellion. The date is
the dawn of that fateful day and Sam realizes, once he assesses his
situation, that he has not only unwillingly become a part of his
own history but, when he looks around the watch room, he sees Young
Lance Corporal Sam Vimes, a raw recruit of a few weeks. He will
have the opportunity to mentor him and what a disappointing
prospect Young Sam seems to be.

"He wondered if it was at all possible to give this idiot some
lessons in basic politics. That was always the dream, wasn't it? 'I
wish I knew then what I know now'? But when you got older, you
found out that You Now wasn't You Then. You Then was a twerp. You
Then was what you had to be to start out on the rocky road of
becoming You Now, and one of the rocky patches on that road was
being a twerp. A much better dream, one that'd ensure sounder
sleep, was not to know now what you didn't know then."

NIGHT WATCH delves deeper into the philosophy of war and leadership
than most of the Discworld books. It also offers more action than
any others in the collection. For the initiated, you will discover
how Reg Shoe becomes a zombie, you will meet Lord Vetineri as a
young and promising student of the Assassin's Guild and discover
how Knobby Knobs becomes a faithful follower of Commander Vimes in
later years.

Series books should stand alone so that new readers can follow the
story. NIGHT WATCH no doubt succeeds in this. Perhaps because it is
almost, but not quite, a prequel to the rest of Discworld's
adventures, readers new to Pratchett will haunt booksellers for
previous editions.

Reviewed by Roz Shea on January 22, 2011

Night Watch
by Terry Pratchett

  • Publication Date: November 1, 2002
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins
  • ISBN-10: 0060013117
  • ISBN-13: 9780060013110