NIGHT WATCH

by Terry Pratchett

Harper

0-06-001311-7

338pp/$24.95/November 2002

Reviewed by Steven H Silver


And so Sam Vimes finds himself leaping from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong and hoping each time that his next leap will be the leap home.  Terry Pratchettís Night Watch feels, in many ways, like an episode of "Quantum Leap."  While chasing the psychopathic cop-killer Carcer on the rooftops of Unseen University, Commander Vimes and Carcer are both sent through a time warp back to a point early in Vimesís career.

Vimesís attempts to catch Carcer, who may be the least sympathetic character Pratchett has ever created, are hampered by his lack of official standing in this earlier version of Ankh-Morpork.  Vimes quickly finds himself surrounded by the Night Watch, although more as a suspect than anything else.   Making matters even worse, the Watchmen in whose custody he finds himself include a young Fred Colon and a young Samuel Vimes.  The older Vimes makes his first big mistake when, upon his arrest, he gives the name of John Keel, his former mentor, who was anachronistically murdered the night before.

Using the Keel alias, Vimes eventually manages to join the force, taking over his mentorís role on the eve of a city-wide insurrection.  Although Vimes knows what should happen, his, and Carcerís, appearance has already changed history.  To make the similarities between Night Watch and "Quantum Leap" even greater, Vimes is provided with his own guide to the past with whom only he can communicate, the monk of history Lu Tze.  Although the scenes between Lu Tze and Vimes are minimal, they manage to build a reasonable, if frustrating relationship as Lu Tze tries to give Vimes guidance without revealing too much and Vimes argues for more information.

The historical placement of Night Watch is interesting since it gives Pratchett a chance to return to the more gritty and less civilized version of Ankh Morpork which permeated the earliest books in the Discworld cycle.  At the same time, it is a more complex city because Pratchett has a more clear understanding of the way the city functions than he did when he was first writing about it.  Furthermore, Night Watch gives him a chance to explore the youth of characters who are so familiar.  Part of the appeal of characters like Colon and Nobby is there constancy.  The world around them has little to do with who they are or how they respond to it.  In Night Watch, Pratchett successfully presents earlier versions of these characters who are different, but with many of the familiar characteristics.

Pratchett does a fantastic job with both the character of the city and those of his characters in Night Watch.  He traces back from the Ankh-Morpork he has slowly built over so many novels to show what it was like in an earlier period, keeping true to what he has let on in earlier references.  While frequently this type of flashback is disappointing, Night Watch lives up to the best of the city guard novels Pratchett has written.


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