Night Watch by Terry Pratchett
Review by Joshua S Hill
Whenever someone new comes to review books, there is always going to be a measure of consternation at their choices for best books. It gets worse when you narrow it down to genre, because then not only have you narrowed down the people, but in a most perplexing mathematic equation their passion for those books increases.
This is all to say that the book I am about to review (given away by the title) is one of my top books. And it only makes sense that the first few reviews that I write for FBR will focus on those that I love most. But bear with me; in a few weeks we’ll be at a point where I can rail on a book for you to offset the positivity.
So without further ado, let us take a look at simply one of the greatest pieces of English literature, Night Watch, by Terry Pratchett.
For those who know the Discworld, you will be aware of the characters that appear in this book. For those who aren’t as aware though; a brief primer. The Discworld rests atop the back of four elephants who themselves ride through space atop the back of the Great Atuin. Pratchett’s world is the same in each book, but you need not read book 1-36 to understand what happens in book 16. Each book is its own story – with a few notable exceptions – and does not need previous ones to make them work.
This is the case for Night Watch. In fact, of all the books Pratchett wrote, Night Watch is one of the few that could very well be set entirely out of the Discworld. Because, though the lead character (Samuel Vimes) has been introduced to us before, he is quickly sent back in time (it’s only happened the once in Discworld) and is very much on his own. Anything you already know is fun to have with you as you see reminders of it, but entirely unnecessary in the course of the greater story.
In fact, the story is so intricate that you are really left wondering just how on Earth Terry Pratchett’s brain work and whether “Earth” has anything to do with that function in the first place. In a genre of time paradoxes and rips in space and time, Pratchett manages to weave a story so complex and arrogant, but similarly brilliant, that by the time you finish you have no doubt that either Pratchett is a genius, or he was on the phone to Sam Vimes who told the tale to him.
The characters are sublime. Vimes is, as always, brilliant, made up of equal parts wit, intelligence, street smarts and a desire for alcohol. Seeing a young Nobby Nobbs is nothing short of scary, and Carcer will make you wet your pants by the end of the book. Ank Morkpok, the city in which this story is set, as always plays a part large enough to be mentioned in a line of TV credits. There are some beautiful scenes as Vimes gets a pair of old shoes and starts carrying himself around the city with his eyes closed that you will love.
Pratchett blows your mind though with the intricacy of the tale being told. Writing a story about time travel is difficult enough, especially if you have to have everything back to the way it was by the end of the story. But this wouldn’t be a Pratchett book without a twist and a plausible scientific theory to back it up.
“History finds a way. It’s like a shipwreck. You’re swimming to the shore. The waves will break whatever you do.”
So even though you think that the beginning of the story is the doom of history, by the time you reach the end, you wonder why you ever doubted Pratchett’s ability to get you there.
Night Watch is simply one of the best books I have ever read. Pratchett’s already mammoth skill, combined with a once in a lifetime tale, and a healthy dose of great characterization in the form of his lead character makes this book a must get for any fan of books.
The added bonus for those of you who have read previous Vimes related books, are the pages at the end of the book in the cemetery. You’ve always loved Vetinary, now you find out why!
What did you think about Night Watch?
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