Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Review of The Night Watch by Terry Pratchett (2002, Doubleday)

It’s the anniversary of the Lilac uprising and the more senior members of the Night Watch make their annual pilgrimage to the Cemetery of Small Gods and the grave of John Keel and the six other watchmen who gave their lives. Commander Sam Vimes was a week-old lance-corporal at the time of the revolution that saw the fall of a tyrant patrician and the end to his secret police. Thirty years later he’s head of the Night Watch and a Duke and about to become a father for the first time. He’s also in pursuit of a charismatic psychopathic killer, who’s been cornered at the Unseen University. As Vimes pursues Carcer over the rooftops a terrible storm is brewing and with a large lightning strike the duo find themselves back at the time of Lilac revolution. Carcer’s first act is to kill John Keel leaving Vimes to step into the role to make history unfold roughly as intended while a group of monks seek a way to get him back to the future. Making history repeat, however, is not straightforward, especially with Carcer doing his best to stop the revolution and Vimes having to keep an eye on his younger self.

The Night Watch is the sixth book in the City Watch series, and #29 in the Discworld series. In this outing, Commander Sam Vimes has to contend with quantum physics, revolution, and a serial killer as he’s hurtled back in time to the Lilac uprising. It is a time when Sergeant John Keel of the Treacle Mine Road Watch House sought to barricade the surrounding streets to protect citizens from the secret police and a mad patrician seeking to cling onto power. Only Keel is dead at the hands of Carcer, the serial killer he’s pursuing, and Vimes has to take his place to ensure that history maintains it approximate course. While he does his best to organize his old watch house and lookout for his youthful self, a monastic order of time-altering monks work on a way to send him back to the future. As usual, Pratchett uses the Discworld series to explore (pseudo)scientific ideas such as quantum physics, time travel and craniometry, and social themes such as secret police and social revolution, through a lens shot through with humour and observational insight. The story is a little slow to get going, but by the latter half it’s found its stride gaining verve, pace and wit. Vimes is in his element as he organizes his lacklustre Night Watch, seeks to ensure that the Lilac Revolution takes place, and that he’s a future to return to. It’s engaging and entertaining fare, light-but-big hearted, with a good dose of incidental, thoughtful, reflexive social commentary.

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