25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on 27 October 2003
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.
41 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on 1 January 2003
This is probably a book best read after some of the other 'Watch' novels in the Discworld series - 'Guards, Guards!', 'Men at Arms', 'Feet of Clay', 'Jingo', 'The Fifth Elephant' (I think that's all of them!). It's a Vimes novel through and through, and it would help to have some previous knowledge of Sam Vimes's character beforehand.
I happen to be a great Vimes fan, and I enjoyed it immensely. This is a clever novel that is surprisingly serious for a Discworld book, and yet still retains Pratchett's innate wry humour which prevents it from becoming taxing or sentimental. It follows Sam Vimes (Or His Grace Commander Sir Samuel Vimes the Duke of Ankh) as, by a freak accident, he and a murderer he is pursuing are thrown back in time to an old and dystopian Ankh-Morpork. The adventure that follows is a gripping page turner, full of insights into the nature of evil and the nature of authority. It also features a living Reg Shoe, a young Havelock Vetinari (wonderful!), a child Nobby Nobbs, the novice Dibbler, a younger Sam Vimes, truth, justice, freedom, and a hard-boiled egg.
Our own Sam finds himself a sergeant again, mentoring his younger self and taking a lead role in the rebellion against the paranoid patrician of the time. Pratchett's gentle satire pokes fun at the idealistic rebels who are so sure they can fix everything, but also makes some very pertinent commentary about the role and the power of the police during riots and rebellions.
As usual, Pratchett's characters are cast vividly. Reg Shoe actually reminds me very much of a girl I know in the Socialist Workers' Student Society. Doctor Lawn (who is a doctor to ladies of negiotable affection!) is brilliantly cast as a cunning mixture of the sort of doctor no one respectable would ever visit and the sort of doctor everyone would like to have. Young Lance-Constable Vimes is endearingly naive. Havelock Vetinari is... well, Vetinari, only younger! And Sam Vimes himself is cast brilliantly as a complex and intense character. Pratchett portrays his skill, his passions, his dissatisfaction, his minor annoyances, his affection and even his dark side with great realism.
Perhaps the most disturbing characterisation would be that of Carcer - the murderer - and the 'Unmentionables' who are the patrician's 'special police' as it were. Pratchett realises the strange sanity possessed by the sociopathic Carcer, and excellently portrays the nature of dystopia in the secret and lawless world of the Unmentionables and their superstitious Captain Swing.
All in all, this was a book that was both humorous and serious, thought-provoking, 'unputdownable', touching in places, and all told with Terry Pratchett's affectionate yet satirical style. It's probably (dare I say it!) my favourite Discworld book yet, and although this may be merely my love of Vimes speaking, it's definitely up there with the best.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 11 November 2002
This book is excellent! It is a LOT darker than previous discworld books, although the guards series have been heading this way. It isn't a fantasy book (although I don't think the discworld series has been for a while). Vimes is sent back in time, to a Ankh Morpork which doesn't have dwarves, trolls etc, and so it is a story with Vimes very definitely the central character - there aren't humorous equal-opportunity side shows. As Ankh Morpork slides towards civil war Pratchett revisits some of the themes investigated in Jingo (how to steer a decent path through mobs, political manipulation, military incompetence), but unpicks the themes more thoroughly and effectively.
You need to read the other Guards books before reading this to get the best out of it - it's not a book to introduce you to the discworld. Reading Thief of Time would also help but is by no means essential. Don't expect a bundle of laughs, but do expect to get drawn in to a (on the whole) tightly written and gripping story.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Pratchett has rediscovered a lot of his skill by moving what he does best (Characterisation and dialogue) out of his increasingly restrictive 'modern-day' Ankh-Morpork and dumps Captain Vimes twenty years back in time, into his own past.
This frees him to be a lot more open in his plotting - under normal circumstances heroes and villains are pretty clear cut and the reader can tell from page 1 who they are; and there is no feeling of danger to any of the established characters.
Not as funny as he has been, this undoubtedly has the best plot and most satisfying for a Diskworld book in some time (i.e. one you can't predict the ending of within 20 pages). Furthermore, with Pratchetts trademark characterisation (which is second to none) the addition of a good plot makes this book fairly crackle along in a highly enjoyable fashion.
I shan't give away any of the plot as it wouldn't be fair to spoil somehting so satisfying, but I can heartily recommend this book: somehting I have not been able to say about a Diskworld book without blushing and looking at my feet for quite some time.
If I have one complaint, it is that the production values of the publishers are so low - faint ink on toilet paper is less quality than one would expect for the UKs best selling author, and I'm irritated that they plainly feel they can get away with corner cutting in production as hey, all the fans will just buy it any ay.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 20 November 2002
Whilst being a massive fan of the complete Diskworld series, which I personally consider to be the most innovative, imaginative and funny series of stories in existence, I have never before felt moved to write a review.
Whilst Terry Pratchett has been remarkably consistant regarding the quality of the books that make up the series, there have been the occasional effort that has fallen just short of the extremely high standards he has set for himself.
Having read Nightwatch, I can confirm that this book represents Pratchett's best book since the Silver Horde conquered the Counterweight Continent in Interesting Times, which I rate as comparible in class to the best of his books from early in the Diskworld series.
I have struggled to put my finger on exactly what made this book superior to some of the more recent Diskworld novels. The storyline was engaging and the look back at some younger versions of well known characters was interesting and amusing, (with young Nobby Nobb's being a particular favorite). I think that the real difference is the quality of the one liners, which for the first time in a long time made me laugh out loud.
I recommend this book to all Diskworld fans and can guarantee that you will not be disappointed if Santa should happen to bring you this book for Christmas!
38 of 41 people found the following review helpful
Terry Pratchett is a paragon among writers. While some authors achieve a peak and slide away, even if only temporarily, Pratchett climbs upward, one step [book] at a time, reaching new crests. This work is indisputably his finest endeavor. Unlike other "fantasy" [ugh!] writers, he is able to draw on scientific sources to support his stories. In this instance it's quantum physics, time travel and probability. Oh, yes, and people. Plot and environment are set gently aside in Pratchett's quest to portray folks. Real people in real circumstances. Or at least as real as living in Ankh-Morpork, the Discworld's major city, will allow. We are once again confronted with the puzzle of how much is Sam Vimes Pratchett's idol and how much is Pratchett himself?
All Terry Pratchett's characters are fascinating in their own way. Rincewind, a spectacular coward, expresses a survivor's continuing agonies of fear and distrust. Esme Weatherwax dons a cape of firm self-assurance you could roof a shed with - until she's alone and surveying her frailties. In Sam Vimes, however, Pratchett produced someone special. In his own view Sam sometimes strides on feet of clay. Plagued by self-doubts, worrying about problems often not his, beset by hordes of enemies and unpredictable circumstances, Vimes manages to trot up to the finish line soiled but sturdy. We live in an era when "character" is a disreputable phrase. Still, Sam Vimes arrives at each finale by employing resolute self discipline, applying it to himself or imparting it to others. In this book, that example becomes bifurcated by Sam's knowledge that he's coaching his younger self. Maintaining his own standards while imparting them to young Lance-Constable Vimes is a challenging situation. He was pursuing a killer in his own time - he continues the pursuit in the past. He's also, once again, caught up in Ankh-Morpork politics.
Transported back in time, Vimes remains burdened with memories. Sybil, his wife, is about to produce their first born [promised in Fifth Elephant]. A Watch mainstay, Fred Colon, is an established Corporal, while Nobby Nobbs, a social stain, is a street urchin seeking the main chance. Sam encounters old friends and makes new ones. Some don't survive. Pratchett's ability to give life to each of his characters brings a sense of grief at their loss other authors fail to achieve. You cannot prevent a pause in your reading when you learn of their deaths. There is one character you're eager to see "pass on," but Pratchett denies you that comfort. Fantasy or no, reality is firmly established here. As always with Pratchett, the characters are your neighbours and family. You know them intimately, never mind their distance in time and place. You rejoice in their successes and mourn their losses. It's all part of Pratchett's ability to capture the reader - new or long- standing.
Back in an earlier Ankh-Morpork, Vimes assumes the identity of John Keel. In this role, he establishes new standards in the Watch - dress, behaviour, skills, attitudes. Those who can't conform are eased [at least] out. Inevitably, the role of the Watch in relation to the military arises. Pratchett has addressed this issue before, of course, and it remains unresolved. Especially in times of civil unrest and resentment over government and taxes. The old labour movement refrain "Which Side Are You On" might have replaced the tune running through this book.
Clearly, Pratchett is far more interested in helping his readers confront the world than in carving himself a comfortable niche among escapist fantasy writers. Those who bemoan the loss of "humour" in his recent works [although the asides in this book are among his best], are ignoring the message. He's a serious thinker imparting his ideas using the methods at his command. To pigeonhole him is to ignore his message or reject it. He deserves better.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 7 October 2004
I've read most of the Discworld series now and have to say that until this book came along I couldn't decide which one was my favourite. Now I know.
Even if you haven't read the rest of the 'Guards' series this book stands out as an excellent read. The usual social humour is as abundant as ever, but it's tempered with gritty realism that is not found in other Discworld novels.
A lot of background information relating to characters met in earlier books (which are actually set in the future) is also found here. As well as some intriguing characters that we've not heard of before such as Lady Roberta Masserole.
This is a city of no guilds, corrupt politicians and no right or wrong sides in a political struggle that ends up in civil war that is absurdly funny in the way its fought (beware grannies behind barricades).
If you are a fan of Sam Vimes and Lu-Tze then get this book as they finally get to occupy the same paragraphs.
But more than that buy it just to find out who Henry the Hamster is, why you should be careful of young women in possession of a mushroom and just what is a tuppeny upright!?
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 7 November 2002
I found it almost impossible to put this down, but it's certainly not a book to read as your first Discworld novel.
TP's usual humour is there, and there were plenty of 'laugh out load' moments, but the tone of the book gets darker towards the end. The story is about a very different Ankh-Morpork than the city seen in the previous Discworld books. The city Vimes finds himself in, decades in his past, is a crueller, more violent one than Discworld fans are probably used to, and as the story builds to its conclusion, I felt that the tone darkened in recognition of this. Actually, in some ways, this Ankh-Morpork feels like a far more real description of an old city than you might expect if you pigeon-hole TP as a writer of 'comic fantasy'.
Having said that, the laughs are in abundance at the start of the book, and it turns into a superbly tense thriller by the end, as Vimes struggles to keep history on track. Given some of the characters are inevitable younger versions of those in other Watch books, there are some entertaining in-jokes for the fans as well.
Definitely worth the read.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 20 January 2003
That's all I want to say, really. It truly is. As a long-time fan of Pratchett, I'd been waiting for this with worried anticipation - when I first read the synopsis of Vimes going back in time, I didn't think it would work very well - I don't know why, it just didn't sound the sort of thing that Vimes normally does....
But this is the point, really. It isn't. In the last few books, much as I love Vimes, there has been too much around him stopping him from really being Vimes - paperwork, delegation and politics. In this book, he's in his element - rough streets, no law as such and a lot of people to outwit before they kill him. It has already been said by somebody else that this novel ignores everybody else in the Watch. It does, pretty much. But I don't think that makes it a bad book. If you like Vimes, you will, you really will love this book. It's ALL vimes - 2 of them, for a start.... but even if you don't like Vimes, this is still an excellent book.
Also, the supporting characters are brilliant. As has already been said, a student Vetinari is just as good as a patrician one, and Nobby is just brilliant, although amazingly even more repulsive than usual! And Mossy Lawn (why, even when pratchett is writing a fairly dark and thoughtful book, does he still come up with brilliant names?!) is one of the best new characters we've had for a while.
So, yes. Read it. I ended up buying it in hardback even though i swore I would wait for the paperback version to come out, because it was just too good. Before this book came out, I refused to pick a favourite out of pratchett's books - i had about ten favourites - but this is now definitely my all-time favourite, no question. It's that good. Go read it! Now!
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 16 December 2002
that there wasn't any more of it!!! I absolutely loved this book, one of the best I've ever read! I finished it in 3 days and I had to force myself to put it down because I needed to know what happened next! I am a huge Terry Pratchett fan, and love the stories to do with the Watch. This is definately my favourite one to date. Vimes, Nobby, Ventinari, Fred Colon and many other great characters in their younger days are amazing, and Carcer is one of the best villains I've ever read. Full of all the interesting twists and turns we've all come to expect from Terry Pratchett, it'll hook you right from the start, and continue to keep you guessing 'til the end. Comic genius at its best, Terry Pratchett is the greatest English writer in a long time. My only critism of Terry Pratchett is he doesn't write fast enough! I am egerly awaiting the next chapter of the Discworld saga. Long may it continue!