Night Watch
by Terry Pratchett
Review by Ann Cecil

Fans of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series will need only to know that this a Vimes book. They can stop reading here and go buy this one (if they haven't already).

For the rest of you, I'll add some background. Terry Pratchett, who is a Brit with enormous style, wit, and sharp observation of the foibles of Humanity. On a good day, he's right up there with William Tenn; on a bad day, he's just funny.

A number of years ago, having made a small splash with some good, insightful, inventive sf, but not much money, he turned to fantasy. But, being Terry Pratchett, he invented a format all his own: Discworld. It is NOT fantasy in the traditional sense. Discworld conforms to its own rules, which only Pratchett understands. While there are 33 or 34 books all labeled 'Discworld,' there are four discernable threads or types of Discworld novels. The original books were about a hapless wizard named Rincewind, whose spells mostly didn't work; these books are mostly broad parodies. The next set is about female wizards, the Grannies, whose spells most definitely work. And then came books about Vimes, who belongs to the Night Watch; Vimes' books tend more toward social satire. And last but not least, the archetype, Death, has become the hero of his own set of books, which defy description. Mostly they defy description because you are either laughing too hard, or hit by an odd touch of pathos. Pratchett has the touch of a master; at his best, he can mix the two so as to catch you unawares and go straight to your heart.

Vimes' books, which started out to just be about the Night Watch in Ankh-Morpork, your typical very large, very corrupt city, have morphed into something with a great deal more substance. The latest, Night Watch, uses a standard fantasy device to send Sam Vimes, now a successful Commander of the Watch, Duke, and about-to-be father, back in time. Back to meet the raw, wet-behind-the-ears Constable Vimes, who needs some sage advice. The advice is critical. A turning point, in many senses, for Ankh-Morpork and many of its inhabitants, is about to occur.

And Vimes wrestles with moral dilemmas, not once but throughout the book. Needless to say, the reader gets some new insights into the backgrounds of several of the recurring characters; Pratchett develops his minor characters as thoroughly as the heroes and villains. This one has its fair number of chuckles, and one really good laugh-out-loud scene, but it is more thoughtful than hilarious. And that's only fair, since Sam Vimes has continued to grow impressively in this series.

Highly recommended, of course, by Ann Cecil.

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