Shiny Shelf


Night Watch

By Mags L Halliday on 10 November 2003

Come winter, come another Terry Pratchett novel to give distant family members an easy Midwinter present for that ‘awkward one’ (you know, the one that still reads comics and SF even though they’re over 15).

Pratchett’s Discworld series now has so much history to it that it can accommodate time travel stories. ‘The Thief of Time’ introduced us to the Monks of Time – a rather philosophical bunch dedicated to ensuring time runs at the right speed and in the right order on the Discworld. Now Pratchett plunges his favourite character from Ankh-Morpork, Sam Vimes of the Watch, back thirty years into the past, with – so they say – hilarious consequences.

The plot will be familiar to anyone who has seen, well, pretty much any time travel film. Vimes is transported to the past in his pursuit of a criminal, with all the shades of ‘Demolition Man’. There he encounters his younger, na?ve self. We see many of the regulars of the Watch books as they were; Sgt Colon is a Constable; the future lady Sybil is a debutante; Nobby Nobbs is, to absolutely no-one’s surprise, the Artful Dodger. Vetinari, the future Patrician, is exactly how you imagine he was at Assassin’s school and, in a way, this is the whole problem with the plot. Pratchett’s success came because he would take a generic plot and characters and give them a twist, making the reader laugh at the way the cliches were stamped on. ‘Night Watch’ contains no such ‘Bored of the Rings’ flip. It’s almost as though by twisting the characters who began as spoofs, we return to the clich? originally being lampooned.

It does contain inner monologues from Vimes – the character you always suspect to be Pratchett’s nearest thing to an avatar – on fate, the law, governance and many other things besides. This is only a problem if you’ve already read any of the Watch books in the Discworld series as, wording aside, Vimes is reiterating what he first thought way back in ‘Guards! Guards!’, albeit more soberly.

By giving the Discworld more history, the old flexibility has gone. ‘Night Watch’ takes several familiar things and reassembles them in a different way but, unlike the best of the series (the first witch trilogy, ‘Reaper Man’, ‘Moving Pictures’, ‘Small Gods’, ‘The Truth’ and ‘The Amazing Maurice…’), the results are unsurprising. It is well-written, as always. The humour is the usual mix of puns, double-entrendre and black comedy. It’s very, well, Pratchetty. I’m a great believer in letting a series go when it’s time has come and, as yet another Hogswatch approaches and yet more distant great aunts buy Pratchett books for their awkward family members, I think the time is coming that the Discworld – or at least some of the over-familiar characters – should be allowed to swim gracefully away.

Buy ‘Night Watch’ at Amazon.


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