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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Night Watch

Night Watch (Discworld Series, Vol. 29)

by Terry Pratchett

(4/5 stars)

NOTE: My previous reviews of the series have covered up to volume 27 "The Last Hero." Volume 28 "The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents" is one of the four young adult books in the series that I will not be reading at this time.

In the 28 other Discworld books a lot of sci-fi/fantasy staples have already been lampooned: heroic quests, magic swords, wizards, witches, vampires, werewolves, elves, and so forth. The one staple not yet really tackled has been time travel. "Night Watch" takes care of this glaring error in relatively entertaining style.

As his wife is involved in a long labor to give birth to their first child, Commader Sam Vimes of the City Watch is involved in cornering a cop-killing madman named Carcer. In hot pursuit of Carcer, Vimes climbs up onto the roof of the library for Unseen University (the school for wizards) during a thunderstorm. When a bolt of lightning strikes the library, Vimes and Carcer are transported back in time 30 years.

And of course it is a pivotal moment in the history of the metropolis of Ankh-Morpork. The brutal Lord Winder has been heavily taxing people and rounding up any who dissent. Revolt is fermenting, all it needs is a spark.

Vimes takes on the identity of his mentor in the City Watch, John Keel, after the real Keel is killed by Carcer, who joins a secret police force known as the Unmentionables. Vimes has enough time to teach his younger self a few lessons about policing before that spark hits and the entire city erupts in violence. Now Vimes has to somehow keep the peace, keep himself (both of himselves) alive, and bring Carcer to justice. A tall order to be sure.

This book is an interesting addition to the series because it provides a little more background on some of the Ankh-Morpork characters like Vimes, Lord Vetinari, Nobby Nobbs, and even Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler the crooked merchant. I was disappointed there was really nothing included about the wizards, especially the Librarian--who was turned into an orangutan in a magical accident; I kept waiting to see if there'd be an appearance by him in human form.

My biggest complaint though is the story drags a little. Part of that is the nature of time travel stories like this. We already know there's going to be a riot because technically it's already happened. And we know in that riot there's going to be a final showdown between Vimes and Carcer, just like you knew Marty McFly would have to have it out with Biff Tannen in "Back to the Future." It's inevitable, so let's just cut to the chase.

Still, like most of these books, there's a good message underneath the action. In particular is the concept that the reason they're called "revolutions" is that they typically go in a circular fashion. Or in other words the new regime is rarely better than the old one. The main point of reference in the book is the French Revolution, only in this case no one loses their heads--literally at least.

We're down to just three more of these books now.

That is all.

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