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Thursday, October 02, 2003
Welcome back, Mister Pratchett. 

Title: Night Watch
Author: Terry Pratchett
Genre: Satire/Fantasy
This book is part of
The Discword Series
Practhett's an odd sort. No one can really make out what he's doing — perhaps because of the fact that he is, at the same time, both ubiquitous and cult — or perhaps because he's works are non-serious and humorous, and at the same time, deeply serious and profound. You can't really pin him down. He's either a sell-out or visionary; a hack or a genius; someone who's way past his prime in writing books, or someone who's only just beginning. We may never know.

I'm not a complete fan of Pratchett: his first and second book of the Discworld Series, ‘The Color of Magic’ and ‘the Light Fantastic’ tried too hard to be quirky and interesting, but he got the balance right in ‘Sourcery’ and ‘Equal Rites’. His books tend to be like Star Trek movies, except less predictable: it either is good, or slightly below average.

Pratchett has only gotten his world-building right in his last half-dozen or so books, but his characterizations usually were rock-solid: Granny Weatherwax remained Granny Weatherwax, Mustrum Ridcully remained as he was, and Rincewind's brand of cowardice sprinkled the series like the sandals abandoned by a too-fast sprinter. Characters rule, not the world. And so it goes with this book.

It's a Samuel Vimes book — the same crusty, world-weary, idealistic, contrary then-Captain-then-Commander-now-Duke of Ankh, but he isn't in the city of Ankh-Morpork any more. At least, not in the city we have known and loved in previous Discworld books: a city that is both a metropolis and cesspit, one that is perpetually falling apart, and yet manages to hold itself together. No, the city he finds himself in, due to a freak magical accident, is the old Ankh-Morpork: one that has less holding together-bits, and more falling-apart bits.

The man in charge of the city isn't the cold, calculating, brilliant Havelock Vetinari, but Lord Windle — a man so paranoid he'll tell you he'll eat the ninth slice of cake you cut, and then will gleefully snatch the fifth slice as you are cutting the cake. To top things off, Vimes realizes that his younger self — brash, naïve and occasionally idiotic — has just enlisted into the Night Watch, and severely needs guidance.

The good news is that Vimes gets to join the then-Night Watch, as John Keel, a hero that his younger self would learn to admire and learn from. The bad news is that the older Vimes knows that he won't live for more than a few days, if he continues on this course. So he decides to change things a little…

The change of location and tone is startling but also refershing: I was beginning to think that Pratchett was overpopulating his world with an assortment of characters, and thus painting himself into a corner. Ankh-Morpork of the years past is still essentially Ankh-Morpork, but gone are the dwarves, trolls and assorted minorities that peopled the city, and absent is the guiding hand of Lord Vetinari. There is, literally, nothing here for Vimes to get a hold of — his future wife is barely 16, and there is nowhere he can go to for succor. It's not as if Vimes hasn't been in this situation before — it could be argued that he's had it worse. But to complicate things more, there is a killer on the loose: one that has followed him back in time. Vimes realizes that he cannot leave until he has his quarry in custody.

I really recommend this book. Pratchett revisits characters we've known, and makes them younger: people like Nobby Nobbs, Mrs. Palm, Vimes' arch-nemesis Lord Ronald Rust, even the future Patrician himself. But Pratchett at his best doesn't merely write about his world, but tries to take a stab at satirising our world as well: from revolutions to governmental paranoia, to how riots and mobs work and form; nothing is spared.

This is, however, strictly a Vimes' book: none of his supporting characters from the previous books make an appearance — at least, not in forms we recognize. It's still a good read, and a must-read for Pratchett fans.

T-Boy  # 5:47 AM
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