Newest Review: ... and particularly from previous Watch books which have tended to be very light-hearted. If you go into this expecting standard Watch... more
Night Night Sam
Night Watch - Terry Pratchett
Member Name: SWSt
Night Watch - Terry Pratchett
Advantages: New environment takes Vimes back to his dark, cynical routes
Disadvantages: Slow starting due to extra information needed; lacks a threatening enemy
This was a Watch book with a twist, though. Following a magic-related accident, Vimes is transported back to a major event from his own past; to a time when Ankh Morpork was a nastier, more dangerous place and the City Watch was a joke. Worse still, Carcer, a hardened murderer from his own time is also transported back and is in his element in a city ruled by fear. Worse still, everyone thinks Vimes is Sergeant John Keel; Vimes' own mentor when he first joins the City Watch... and someone Vimes knows will soon be dead. Vimes must ensure the future unfolds correctly and get himself and Carcer back to their own time.
This is the point where the Discworld takes a much darker turn. From the oppressive dark coloured, static images on the dust jacket (as opposed to the colourful, vibrant ones that normally grace Discworld books) to the nastier characters; from the more sinister events and the edgier plot, it is clear that Pratchett is plunging his characters into much darker territory.
This shift in tone requires a shift in perception on the part of the reader. Night Watch is very different from other Discworld adventures and particularly from previous Watch books which have tended to be very light-hearted. If you go into this expecting standard Watch stuff, you are likely to be disappointed. Make the necessary mental adjustment, however, and the darker tone works well. It acts as a counter-point to earlier Watch books and helps to establish exactly why Sam Vimes has such a cynical outlook on life in his own time. It's also a book which improves on repeat reading. The first time I read it, I quite enjoyed it, but was slightly disappointed that it moved away from the Discworld I had grown to know and love over the course of 30+ books. On subsequent readings, I came to appreciate how Pratchett subtly subverts everything we know.
Whilst plenty of new faces are introduced, there are still some familiar ones that add some nice little touches. Paradoxes are always a big part of any time travel tale, and Pratchett uses them to good effect, accidentally having Vimes give CMOT Dibbler his catchphrase and nickname and recruiting Nobby Nobbs to the Watch. These are nice, humorous little touches that ensure that Nightwatch stays consistent with the version of Sam Vimes' future that we already know, whilst also paying homage to the conventions of science fiction and gently mocking them at the same time.
In particular, Sam Vimes comes across his younger self, a bright, keen and idealistic recruit to the Watch who has the survival instincts of a mayfly. Older Sam must take younger Sam under his wing and teach him how to be a copper to ensure that he survives - otherwise he will not have a future to which he can return. All this leads to lots of Back to the Future style confusion where Older Sam has far more knowledge of Ankh Morpork and young Sam's life than he should, and this proves a rich vein of humour.
The darker tone does, inevitably, have a slight impact on the pace of the book. Since this is not entirely the Ankh Morpork we know, Pratchett has to spend a bit of time building up the back-story, establishing the state of Ankh-Morpork politics and society in this timeline. He also needs to get across the version of these events that Future Sam remembers, so that we can see when the path starts to diverge as a result of his interference. All this background information is vital but it does slow things down, meaning that the book seems to take an age to get going.
This slightly slower pace also means that some of the madcap humour and insane events of previous Discworld books are lost. Jokes are scarcer and laced with a far darker cynicism and black humour than previous books. Some fans will not appreciate this, preferring instead the lunatic good cheer of "modern day" Ankh-Morpork. That said, it gives Pratchett a chance to return the character to his roots. When we first met Vimes in Guards! Guards! he was a bitter, twisted and deeply cynical loner, unable to trust anyone. Recent books have seen him become a far more contented figure, a family man and a respected and feared authority figure. Whilst this has allowed Pratchett to take the character in new directions, you sometimes feel that Vimes' edge has become slightly blunted by responsibility; jokes about paperwork and bureaucracy can only work for so long.
By throwing Sam Vimes back down to the bottom of the social ladder, he is much more like the character we first encountered in Guards! Guards! and contains the best both worlds. The Sam Vimes of Nightwatch is both the wiser(?), more experienced figure of later Discworld novels yet his new position in life also allows him to give full reign to that dark, cynical humour that has always been a popular part of the character.
The one thing the book does, perhaps, lack is a meaningful enemy. The Cable Street Secret Police (a sort of Ankh Morpork Gestapo) are not really developed sufficiently to make them a tangible threat and the promising Captain Swing is despatched far too early to make enough impact. The mad, despotic Patrician is too far removed to be a real threat and the dangerous Carcer disappears for too much of the plot (although he is excellent when he does feature.)
Nightwatch will divide Pratchett fans. If you prefer the madcap, zany plots and over-the-top humour of earlier books, then you will not appreciate the darker edge and more cynical humour of this one. On the other hand, if you miss the old, bitter Sam Vimes from Guards! Guards! then this is a rare opportunity to reacquaint yourself with the character we first met all those years ago. Read it and decide for yourself.
Corgi New Edition, 2003
© Copyright SWSt 2012
Summary: Different Discworld