Book(s) Review(s): Night Watch – Terry Pratchett

Or, of Sam Vimes.

Or, of His Grace, His Excellency, His Blackboard-Monitorship, The Duke of Ankh, Commander Sir Samuel Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, Lord of the Ramkin Estates, King of the River.

DISCLAIMER: SPOILERS GALORE!

The first Pratchett I ever read was Night Watch. I loved the book but certainly not as much as F.D. did. I put it down to a difference in taste and went back to my then twin obsessions of Indian authors and non-fiction. I read a few more of Pratchett’s books over years and absolutely loved “Small Gods” and “Pyramids” but I still didn’t feel the urge to binge read. I bought “Truth” and “Witches Abroad” on a whim during my vacation and after The Hero surprised me with a Kindle Voyage, I ended up completely addicted to the Watch novels.

Samuel_Vimes
Source: Wikipedia

We first meet Sam Vimes when he’s lying drunk in a gutter. We watch him pick himself up and fight a dragon. We root for him as he solves a series of mysterious murders. We understand his reluctance to induct the undead into the Watch. We feel fuzzy as he finally overcomes his distaste and hires a Golem and then a Zombie. We watch him jump onto a ship and pursue unknown political villains and become a Duke. His Blackboard Monitorship then assumes a blank face and embarks on a diplomatic mission (the blank face doesn’t last too long, though). In The Fifth Elephant, we finally understand him a little bit and the constant fight between the Commander of the Watch and The Beast. It all comes together in Night Watch as he prods some serious buttock. Oh, he also marries Lady Sybil along the way and they have a baby. How lovely!

As Sam Vimes matures, so do the novels. Each of the Watch books before Night Watch has its own flaws. In “Guards! Guards!” Ankh Morpork isn’t perfectly developed and Vetinari seems a bit cocky. The preaching about men being worse than dragons will spill over into “Men at Arms”. “Feet of Clay” could have been shorter and the minor theme of atheism less preachy. Only Sir Terry Pratchett could ever get away with the mess that is “Jingo”. “The Fifth Elephant” is a bit too neat. Everything wraps up too conveniently and there’s just a tad too much of everything including female dwarfs. But Night Watch, well, let’s just say Night Watch makes up for Jingo.

In Night Watch we finally know why Sam Vimes was able to pick himself out of the gutter and fight the dragon in “Guards! Guards!”. There are the usual puns in this book, but they’re not forced. There are underlying themes and references but there is no preaching. There is some nonsense but it fits seamlessly. There are even some weird religious figures but there’s no underhand ribbing. There is a villain but he’s not a caricature. Carcer is to Vimes what Khan is to Kirk and The Joker is to The Dark Knight.

The book has a different tone from the other Watch novels but it is not dark. It merely makes a case for Sam Vimes and his twisted, cynical idealism. It’s impossible for the book to be dark because it was written by an optimist who said:

A dark book, a truly dark book, is one where there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Where things start off going bad and carry on getting badder before they get worse and then it’s all over. I am kind of puzzled by the suggestion that it is dark. Things end up, shall we say, at least no worse than they were when they started… and that seems far from dark to me. The fact that it deals with some rather grim things is, I think, a different matter.

That’s what I love about the Watch novels. Things end well. Things get better. They might be cynics the whole lot of them but they work together to keep Ankh Morpork running. Vetinari’s thoughtful planning is complemented by Vimes’ action. Vetinari could never rid the city of a dragon by himself. Vimes’ cynicism is toned down by Carrot’s niceness. Only Carrot can put a Golem back together or set him/it free. Carrot’s niceness doesn’t fool Angua. She sees how he has a single claw of nasty. We understand not everyone can be a Vetinari or Vimes. We need the Colon’s and Nobbs’ of the world. Most importantly, we see there is no such thing as “The People”. There’s just a motely crowd of individuals doing the best they can. Barring the occasional psychopath, they’re all just nice people cutting their own throat selling sausages in buns, really.

That’s the thing about satire. Without a happy ending, it would all be just another cynical rant. We need these books with their puns and their silliness. We need Vimes and Carrot and Angua and Leonard of Quirm. We need Gaspode the Talking Dog. Most of all, we need to believe that it can all work out.


ps: I still have “Thud!” and “Snuff” to go.

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