Night Watch, the 27th Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett, is a wonderful character study of Samuel Vimes, the head of the City Watch of Ankh-Morpork. In this one, Pratchett turns kind of serious, though there are some amusing bits. Unlike Small Gods, it appears to work in this one. Maybe I just wasn't ready for it before. Or maybe Vimes is such an interesting character that I was willing to forgive. Whichever way it is, Night Watch is yet another masterpiece from Pratchett.
Carcer is one of Pratchett's best villains, I believe, because he's "normal." Yes, he's insane, but he could very well live in the world we live in, unlike some of Pratchett's other bad guys. Not to say that they weren't good as well, but Carcer adds that extra bit of chill. He's a survivor, able to adapt to many different situations. It takes some time for Vimes to adapt himself to what he has to do once he discovers what has happened. Even when the Monks of History (the main source of any humour in this book) tell him what he must do, he is still reluctant. Carcer, on the other hand, jumps in with both feet, ingratiating himself with the higher-ups, and starts establishing himself. Once he realizes what the situation is with Vimes (and the younger Vimes) it gets even chillier. He's very effective, and the reader is often left wondering just how Vimes can beat him.
This book, however, is Sam Vimes' book. I've always found Vimes to be a fascinating character, throughout all of the City Watch books, and this book just builds on those. Every City Watch book is really about the development of Vimes, and Night Watch takes it to the next level, with an in depth character study, where you get under his skin and find out what makes him tick. When he's taken out of his element and dumped back in time, he has nothing to go on but his copper instincts. Times may change, politics may change, but coppers are coppers, and they just have to do what is right. Catch the bad guys, keep the peace. He sees himself as an extraordinarily simple man, and in a way, he is. But he's very dedicated to what he does, very strongly determined to do what's right, no matter what the consequences. When rebellion is flourishing all over the city, and the Unmentionables (the current government's secret police) is fomenting even more, Vimes is determined to make sure it doesn't reach the area of the Watch house. He uses some very unorthodox methods to make sure this happens, which doesn't put him on the good side of the Unmentionables (especially a new member, who has seemingly appeared out of nowhere). Vimes continues to show his intelligence, as well as his moralistic thinking. He's put through the ringer in this one, and a very interesting character throughout the previous books becomes a fascinating one instead.
The relationship between him (as John Keel) and the young Sam is a joy to watch. The young Sam is very impressionable. He wants to do the right thing, but he doesn't really know what that is. He took part in the round-ups of curfew-breakers (and delivering them to the Unmentionables) only because he didn't know any different. When Vimes arrives and sees what Sam is in danger of becoming, memories flood over him, and he becomes determined to ensure that Sam becomes what Vimes is. He also tries desperately to keep him out of danger, because he has to keep history going along the path it did before. The relationship is wonderful, and really aids in fleshing out the character of Vimes that we all know and love.
The plot is very interesting as well. Rebellion against the current Patrician of Ankh-Morpork is hitting the city all over the place. It is touching to watch the tragic inevitability of what happens, knowing that as much as Vimes tries, he really has to ensure that history repeats itself. The Lilac rebellion must occur in some fashion, and some good people, who he is getting to know again, are going to die. Carcer is going to do his best to make Vimes' life miserable, and if that involves changing history, too bad.
Pratchett ties everything together nicely into a tight plot with no holes that I could see. The story contains some interesting time travel theories, wonderful writing by Pratchett, and interesting characters. Fans of the series will be glad to see that not only are the Watch back (though they are only there in the present-day sequences), but also the Wizards play a small role. The Monks of History are around, trying to make sure that History is not damaged too badly by what is going on. Also, we get some history on Nobby Nobs, Sergeant Colon, Reg Shoe, Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler and we find out a very interesting aspect of the current Patrician, Vetinari. I've noticed that in recent books, Pratchett picks and chooses characters from his series to throw together into a book, and I think it really works.
But make no mistake. This book is about Samuel Vimes. He carries the book on his shoulders, and he does it very well. I wasn't sure if Pratchett could do much more with Vimes other than just another "adventure of the City Watch," but Pratchett proved me wrong. In spades. This is a wonderful book. While it's certainly readable as a first Discworld book, it loses a lot of its impact that way, so I would not recommend starting here. Get some background, then come back to this one. It's a keeper.