Monday, 6 December 2010

Review: Night Watch

 Sir Sam Vimes, commander of the Ankh Morpork Watch,  is one of my favourite characters in Terry Pratchett's Disc World novels and it's always a pleasure to pick one up and discover that it's a Vime's story.  Pratchett's way of keeping the Disc World fresh through over two dozen books is to not only have a large cast of characters, but a number of different styles depending on the story being told. Some are high farce, others are droll, pun-heavy comedies, others are biting social satires.  When policeman Vimes is the main character, the reader is promised a gritty adventure story where, though laugh out loud funny, the humour often fades into the background to make way for real drama.

In Night Watch (2003), Same Vimes is at the peak of his career.  Having started out as a lowly constable on the Night Watch, which was little more than a joke when it comes to a police force, he'd risen from disillusionment and alcoholism to commander of the most formidable law enforcement organisation on the Disc, husband of the equally formidable Lady Sybil, a Duke in his own right, and wealthiest man in Ankh Morpork.  He is also, while awaiting the birth of his first child, having doubts about his life and where it's going–especially when he has to spend his evenings fishing unsuccessful assassins out of his home's bobby-trapped cesspit. 

Vimes's midlife crisis takes an unexpected turn while chasing a psychopathic killer across the rooftops of the library at the Unseen University.  An overload of magic and a lightning storm send Vimes and his quarry three decades back in time to when Ankh Morpork was little more than a lawless slum. Now, owing to the aggravating way in which time works, Vimes discovers that the sergeant who mentored him in his youth has been murdered and he has to take his place.  Worse, Ankh-Morpork is on the brink of revolution,.  Even worse, a killer with a knowledge of the future is loose. And worst of all, Vimes has lost his cigar case.

Then things get interesting.

Night Watch is a fun read and Pratchett keeps the twists and turns coming as Vimes tries to avoid what he knows is going to happen while forced to participate if he hopes to have a home in the future to return to.  He's one of the most vivid and certainly the most realistic of characters in the Disc World stories.  In fact, this honest cop in a corrupt world who will bend the rules into a hoop but never break them is so realistic he often feels as if he doesn't belong on the Disc at all.  He's not a man of magic and fancies, but one of anger and duty and a frustrated sense of justice.  His humour is often grim and his reactions more realistic than those of Pratchett's other creations. 

In many ways, this is an action story written by a confirmed pacifist. The solutions work, but they feel a bit too tidy in Sam Vimes's gritty part of the Disc World.  Everyone more or less gets along because it would be best if they did.  It's a very cozy notion.  The idea of one culture hell-bent on dominating all others and refusing to be mollified doesn't sit well in Pratchett's ethos.   He's also more than a bit of a multiculturalist for whom all change implies progress and never threatens to change his own culture out of existence. 

Nevertheless, this is an excellent addition to the Disc World corpus and if you can get your hands on a copy, read it before someone else nicks it from you.

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