Night Watch, by Terry Pratchett

You haven’t killed your wife.  Anywhere.  There is nowhere, however huge the multiverse is, where Sam Vimes as he is now has murdered Lady Sybil.  But the theory is quite clear.  It says that if anything can happen without breaking any physical laws, it must happen.  But it hasn’t.  And yet the ‘multiverse’ theory works.  Without it, no one would ever be able to make a decision at all.
So what people do matters!  People invent other laws.  What they do is important!  The Abbot’s very excited about this.  He nearly swallowed his biscuit.  It means the multiverse isn’t infinite, and people’s choices are far more vital than they think.  They can, by what they do, change the universe.
-Lu-Tze, Monk of History, and Commander Sam Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch

If you’ve read Pratchett’s books, you know may have a feeling for what you’re in for.  If not, Night Watch isn’t a bad book to get your feet wet in.

A lot has changed since Sam Vimes was a simple captain of the Night Watch.  Due to a number of odd events (even for the city of Ankh-Morpork), the Watch has increased in size, he’s been promoted all the way up to nobility, gotten married, and is perhaps a day away from the birth of his first child.  But sometimes, Sam misses the days where he could just walk the beat of the streets, feel the city through his boots.  Now he feels more like a politician or administrator.  Unfortunately, in Discworld, nobody’s yet coined the phrase “Be careful what you wish for”.

On the anniversary of a revolution, when several good men died above and beyond the call of duty, the Watch manages to corner a murderer named Carcer, with enough dementia to fit two heads-both of them nasty.  Even on this day, even with his wife just about ready to give birth, Sam is on the job, and makes a good play at capturing the killer.  Unfortunately, their chase takes them near Unseen University, and they happen to be falling through the ceiling during a thunderstorm…with lightning.  And that isn’t good in a place where the laws of physics tend to be considerably looser than other places on the Disc.

As a result, Sam wakes up in the past, and inconveniently a few days prior to that same revolution-and thanks to Carcer, history itself is already in danger.

This book is the latest of the Discworld books, but it is also the latest chronicling the…well, adventures isn’t quite right…of the City Watch of Ankh-Morpork.  While the previous books have been mostly an ensemble cast production, this one belongs to Sam Vimes, probably one of my top three favorite characters in the setting.  Honest (when he needs to be) and realistic (unless the cost is too high), he’s the very definition of a copper.  Not necessarily a good copper (he’s been known to toss aside the badge), but he always ends up doing the right thing.  So it isn’t surprising that he tries to step in someone’s shoes to fill the gap inadvertently opened up by Carcer’s murderous ways.

Night Watch gives the reader a peek at the early days of the career of Sam Vimes, showing the influence a man named John Keel had on him.  But we also get to see the early days of the other old members of the Watch, Nobby Nobbs and Fred Colon.  Even better, we see some of the early moments of some of Ankh-Morpork’s more famous (or at least infamous) individuals, including Patrician Vetinari and Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler.  And then there’s the revolution; readers might be interested to see how the city functioned before Vetinari came to power, and see just how much worse things were before he stepped into the scene.  The corruption even in the City Watch puts a city already on edge slowly over that edge.

It’s also interesting to see how Sam adapts to the past.  He’s a very different man now than he was then, and we get a good look at the contrasts between the two-and some of the similarities that seem to have held true over the years.  His experiences put him ahead of virtually everyone in the Watch, even though they don’t really know that.  It also means that things he considers old are new again.  Unfortunately, Carcer realizes that too, and he cashes in on some of his knowledge-and his rather unsavory habits-to put himself in positions where Sam can’t conveniently catch him and cause him “grievous bodily harm”.  However, Sam comes to realize that if Carcer can change history, he can too….including trying to ensure that there are a few less graves in the Cemetery of Small Gods.

Strangely enough, even though this is the latest of the City Watch books, it stands on its own two feet quite nicely.  Previous exposure to Discworld is hardly a requirement, as everything you need to know are contained between the two covers.  On the other hand, longtime readers will certainly appreciate references to characters and events in other Discworld books; they’ll also be better prepared to deal with Pratchett’s writing style.

If this review makes you think this is a serious book…well, it is.  At least it’s more serious than many of the other Discworld books, where insanity is a watchword, where Death has an odd sense of humor and the sense of a wizard’s power is how often he doesn’t need to fall back on his magic.  But this is Terry Pratchett we’re talking about, so there’s still a fair chunk of humor to be found, with a side of the ridiculous-it’s just not as obvious as in previous books.  Don’t let this put you off, though; Night Watch is a fine novel of Discworld, and a good fantasy novel to boot.  With this book, Pratchett demonstrates (again) that the Discworld isn’t just good for the funny bone; it’s also good for fantasy readers in general, too.

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