"There was The Beast, all around him. And that's all it was. A beast. Useful, but still a beast. You could hold it on a chain, and make it dance, and juggle balls. It didn't think. It was dumb. What you were, what you were, was not The Beast. "You didn't have to do what it wanted. If you did, Carcer won."
— Sam Vimes, Night Watch
All the little angels rise up, rise up.' All the little angels rise up high! How do they rise up, rise up, rise up? How do they rise up, rise up high?
The 27th Discworld novel and the sixth in the Watch theme. Should not be confused with the Night Watch books by Sergei Lukyanenko, or the film adaptation, or that one. The novel is named after the famous Rembrandt painting The Militia Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq (The Nightwatch), to which the front cover art by Paul Kidby is an homage and a reproduction of which adorns the back cover in the Hardcover edition.The framing events take place at the same time (such as it is) as the previous novel Thief of Time and also set up events for the following novel Monstrous Regiment. The Watch is on the hunt for a serial killer named Carcer, who has murdered Sergeant Stronginthearm. Vimes has him trapped on the University Library's roof, but then the lightning bolt from Thief of Time strikes, catapulting Vimes and Carcer thirty years back in time in a freak magical accident. Vimes soon inadvertently steps into the shoes of his old mentor, John Keel, and quickly lands himself right in the middle of the Ankh-Morpork civil war. Now he has to stop Carcer, fill his mentor's role in his younger self's life, protect the citizens of Ankh-Morpork and his fellow Watchmen from the impending war, and Get Back to the Future. Basically Life On Mars meets Les Misérables.The book has been noted for a much darker than usual tone, with fewer obvious jokes and a more serious story than previous installments.A note, two of the links at the top of the page (characters, literature) are for the Sergei Lukyanenko's Night Watch, and the rest are shared.Preceded by Thief of Time, followed by Monstrous Regiment. Preceded in the Watch series by The Fifth Elephant, followed by Thud!.
The book contains a sequence describing the ornamental armour Sam Vimes has to wear, and how it makes him feel like a class traitor. The pune-chline: "It was gilt by association."
And when the newold Patrician is appointed, a bilingual pun.
Slant:Ave! Duci novi, similis duci seneci.**
Hail! New leader, same as the old leader. Or, here comes the new boss, same as the old boss.
, or as we used to say in school, Ave! Bossa nova similis bossa seneca.
All The Myriad Ways: Lu-Tze and Vimes discuss the concept of many universes (which Vimes already knows about from Jingo), but Lu-Tze comforts him by telling them that, in all the great bounds of possibility, there is no universe in which Sam Vimes as he is now killed his wife, meaning that people's choices really do matter. This is a reference to a reality in which young Sam Vimes is given guidance by Carcer, if old Sam fails. Hence the as he is now instead of just there is no universe. That Sam recognizes this on some level is alluded to in other parts of the novel.
Annoying Arrows: Justified; they didn't bother Reg much because he was practically born to be a zombie.
Jocasta Wiggs realising, at her mentor's devising, there's a long way to go before she's good enough to graduate as an Assassin.
Arc Words: "Just do the job in front of you." and its variations.
Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Truth! Freedom! Justice! Reasonably priced love! And a hardboiled egg. Because Vimes won't be finding truth, freedom nor justice by the next morning, but he might just be able to eat a hardboiled egg. He isn't.
Banana in the Tailpipe: Well, cars do not exist on Discworld, but you can create quite a bit of havoc with oxen and a handful of fresh ginger... Which combines with a Brick Joke and Truth in Television. A jade is a worn out, tired horse. To sell it, you make it look more youthful and lively. To do that, you fleague it. What you do is shove a bit of ginger in its keister, which makes it a little antsy. If you've ever heard the saying "gingering things up" i.e. make them go a bit faster, you have the rough idea already.
Vimes pulls this well enough to make Moist von Lipwig weep. First he talks himself into becoming Sergeant-at-Arms to his superior. Who has him currently arrested. Then later, using this and a combination of Obstructive Bureaucrat and Obfuscating Stupidity, he manages to get one up on Unmentionables.
Also how he fleagues up Old Mary.
Begone Bribe: Young Nobby follows people around until they pay him not to.
Be Careful What You Wish For: Although he doesn't exactly say it out loud, at the beginning of the book Vimes longs for the old days when things were simpler and he actually did real copper work. Then he gets transported back to really old days.
Normally amiable Fred Colon's reaction to a young corporal asking why they were wearing sprigs of lilac seems quite disproportionate, as it seems like a fair question to us, but as the reason becomes apparent later in the book the incident implies that the subject of the revolution is a Berserk Button for Colon.
Vimes' rant to Vetinari when the Patrician wants to put up a monument to the dead watchmen.
The oath for joining the Watch. "... uphold the Laws and Ordinances of the city of Ankh-Morpork comma serve the public trust comma and defend the subjects of His stroke Her bracket delete whichever is inappropriate bracket Majesty bracket name of reigning monarch bracket..." Nothing in there about obeying orders. It also doesn't say anything about serving or defending the ruler (King, Queen, or otherwise). Just the public.
Vimes also pulls an Obstructive Bureaucrat on Unmentionables with paperwork to sign when he has to hand over curfew breakers to them. The Unmentionables are expectantly uncooperative and Vimes gets them off the hook.
Also, one of the reactions of the coppers to Vimes insisting they do things by the book. They get very precise. "Obeying Orders To The Letter, With Gleeful Malignancy."
Captain Obvious: Imposed on Lords Selachii and Venturi, who due to their history have to avoid any topic that they might possibly disagree on. Leading to conversational topics like "I see you are standing up."
The ending of Night Watch even justifies the Vimes from early Guards Guards!After waking up to find his mentor and six other Watchmen dead on the Patrician's orders, Vimes spent about three decades having the potential to be the badass we know and love but not being able to do anything for fear of another attack on the Night Watch. That or his lack of confidence in the Law meant that the bottle was the only thing keeping the Beast at bay.
Lampshaded when Vimes wonders "Was I ever this young?" and ruefully recalls that he'll spend the next thirty years and half-dozen books becoming himself.
Colour Coded Timestop: During the brief moments time is "stopped" by Lu-tze just before Vimes faces off against Carcer, the whole world becomes gray.
Contest Winner Cameo: Dr Follett of the Assassin's Guild is actually a cameo for fellow British novelist Ken Follett.
Continuity Nod: Many of them. The Night Watch is based at the old watch house that the dragon burned down in Guards! Guards!, Leggy Gaskin from the same book is a young watchman, Vetinari's aunt briefly mentioned by Vimes in the book now appears as a main character, the Mended Drum is called the Broken Drum (as it was in The Colour of Magic), Sergeant Colon previously mentioned remembering Vetinari's predecessors Lord Snapcase and Lord Winder in Jingo and so on.
Crouching Moron Hidden Bad Ass: Despite the fact that he is a complete ass in his youth, it's pointed out that the young Downey is still quite capable and dangerous, such as when he instantly suspects that a dark passageway is a trap, despite being very drunk at the time. He's right. Not to mention that he goes on to become Head of the Assassin's Guild.
Darker and Edgier: The book basically begins with the death of a copper and memorial to an event so bad even the normally comic Colon and Nobby treat with solemnity. It quickly goes From Bad to Worse.
Death by Irony: Lord Winder is so paranoid about assassins that Vetinari doesn't even have to lay a finger on him — the man just dies from fear-induced shock when Vetinari enters.
Decapitated Army: Discussed. When the Monks finally take Vimes and Carcer back to the present, the bad guys leg it and the guards fight like tigers.
Doomed Moral Victor: Parodied, as the villains consider "You may take our lives, but you'll never take our freedom" to be the dumbest revolutionary slogan ever. Specifically, Carcer replies "Wrong," and cue the hail of crossbow bolts. However, if you think about it, they did take Reg's life, but they never took his freedom.
Which takes on a whole new (hilarious) meaning if you remember Brick Top's speech from Snatch: "Do you know what 'nemesis' means? A righteous infliction of retribution manifested by an appropriate agent. Personified in this case by an 'orrible cunt..." In this universe, Vimes.
Due to the Dead: Present day Morporkians remembering the Glorious 25th of May by wearing lilacs and taking care of the graves of the fallen. Only people who were there can wear the lilac.
Even Evil Has Standards: Lady Meserole was clearly as power-hungry a schemer as anyone else, whose nephew suggested that she let him kill Keel for expediency (though she only gave him empty threats). But when she sees Snapcase turn around and order his death despite the amnesty she's so disgusted she orders Vetinari to protect Keel, and he happily obliges.
The Night Watch aren't above accepting bribes and engaging in the occasional bit of police brutality. The Unmentionables' behavior make them very uncomfortable, though. And you do not drop your mates in the cacky.
Fascists' Bed Time: One of the jobs of the Night Watch is to patrol this and take people breaking curfew to Cable Street House. The first thing Vimes does when he becomes Sergeant-at-Arms of his station is bring this system to the ground, release the people he's captured and make himself a reputation in the process.
Foreshadowing: Lots of it. Both the lilac blooming and, as the story starts, with Sam Vimes and other Night Watch survivors of the Glorious People's Republic of Treacle Mine Road solemnly commemorating the anniversary of the deaths of their comrades, among them Sergeant Keel's.
Gone Horribly Right: In a non-science trope, Vimes' plan for the barricade. The original John Keel may have been a revolutionary, but Vimes just wanted to keep a few silly, innocent people safe and protect those in his street.
Handy Cuffs: Happens with Vimes as part of the "Were we ever really that bad?" sequence. Vimes' internal monologue points out how stupid this is.
"He had several pounds of metal on his wrists or, to put it another way, his arms were a hammer."
Haven't You Seen X Before?: When Ridcully is summoned from his bath, he asks the Watch "Haven't you lot ever seen a wizard before?" Carrot, being the honest soul he is, points out that they've never seen so much of a wizard before.
Having a Heart: Sergeant Keel has the eye of a mass-murderer. It's in his other coat.
A brief one, but when Vimes realizes that doing everything he can for the people behind the barricades might mean that all his friends, and his wife and unborn son, might never exist, it's not a good day to be him.
He wanted to go home. He wanted it so much that he trembled at the thought. But if the price of that was selling good men to the night, if the price was filling those graves, if the price was not fighting with every trick he knew... then it was too high.
The bit when Vimes is sitting helpless, staring blankly at a mirror as his son is born; this even shuts down his internal watchman, revealed in later books to be more powerful than a thousand year old pan-dimensional being of pure rage.
Vimes has an extremely powerful one right when he is ordered by Rust to take down the barricade. As he starts to tell the people behind the barricade that they shouldn't take the law into their own hands, he realizes suddenly that he has no idea what the law was at that moment. The feeling of despair and disconnection is so powerful in brings Vimes to his knees. Thankfully, the Time Monks show up at that very moment to provide him with the Heroic Reboot Key, a connection to the future that seems so distant: his silver cigar case.
Highly Visible Ninja: Vetinari when he kills Winder. He walks right up to him as the crowded hall ignores his presence, and Winder thinks that this isn't how assassins really operate: this is what happens in dreams. The Assassin's Guild in Discworld always wears the stereotypical ninja black clothes on the job. Vetinari shows the readers how much smarter he is when he reads a book on animal camouflage and goes for more appropriate clothes when they are called for. Downey shows how he isn't a match for Vetinari by burning the book instead of reading it and Vetinari shows what a Magnificent Bastard he is by having destroyed nearly every other copy of the book so no-one else can learn from it.
Honor Among Corrupt Coppers: The Night Watch bully citizens, openly accept bribes, and have no morale to speak of. But You Do Not Drop Your Mates In The Cacky.
Hope Spot: Winder is dead, Snapcase is Patrician and just as it seems the barricade can come down peacefully, Carcer's men attack and Sergeant Dickins picks up the lilac as Vimes' gang prepare to fight.
Humble Goal: The revolutionaries want a slogan that encapsulates what they're fighting for. After asking each of their members what they want, the result is "Truth, Justice, Reasonably-Priced Love and a Hard Boiled Egg".
I Did What I Had to Do: Vetinari suggests "They Did the Job They Had to Do" as a slogan when he talks about putting up a monument for the fallen watchmen. Vimes' deconstruction of it as he shuts Vetinari up is both epic and heartbreaking.
"They did the job they didn't have to do and they died doing it and you can't give them anything."
If I Had a Nickel: If Colon had a dollar for every watchman's funeral he'd attended, he'd have $19.50. (One of them wasn't actually dead; fortunately he regained consciousness before they buried him.)
I Found You Like This: When Sam Vimes is unexpectedly thrown backwards in time, Rosie Palm finds him unconscious in the street and rescues him.
I Hate Past Me: Sort of. While Vimes doesn't hate young Sam, he's certainly put off and ashamed of how incredibly naive and idealistic he is.
"You're not me. You can't be. I don't think I was ever as young as you."
I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: Detritus and the Piecemaker. Although in this case, it's more like I Just Almost Blew Up My Boss' House and Its Gardens.
Vimes: What did I tell you about Mister Safety Catch? Detritus: When Mister Safety Catch Is Not On, Mister Crossbow Is Not Your Friend.
"Did I say they stole anything, sir? "Well, no, you didn't. That was me jumping to what we call a conclusion. Did they steal anything, then, or did they break in to deliver a box of chocolates and a small complimentary basket of fruit?"
That said, Discworld does have an established practice called "breaking and redecorating"...
The "box of chocolates" line is a reference to the old Milk Tray adverts, which involved a secret agent delivering the product in question to a lady.
Line In The Sand: Vimes makes one right before training his men for the barricade; later, history books will disagree about what happened but they all agreed about Sergeant Keel and the Line. Young Sam is the first to step over.
Mauve Shirt: Sergeant Abba Stronginthearm, who previously appeared in Men at Arms, Jingo and The Fifth Elephant, moving up the ranks but never becoming a main character. He's still well enough known for his death at Carcer's hands to be a shock.
Also, Ned Coates. A cynical badass watchman who seems to be on the inside with the real revolution, he seemingly opts out in the middle of the book, comes back to be a big help in the end... and then in the very last pages we learn that he died during the clash between the watch and Carcer's men.
Meaningful Name: Captain Swing was the name used on a number of threatening letters sent by participants in the Swing Riots in Britain in 1830. In a typical Pratchett twist, Swing is now working for the other side.
Meet the New Boss: Said by Mr Slant and Dr Follett after Winder dies and Snapcase becomes the new Patrician. In Latin, no less.
Mercy Kill: Perhaps the most controversial line in any Discworld novel if fan reaction was anything to go by:
Just in case, and without any feeling of guilt, Vimes removed his knife, and... gave what help he could.
Terry Pratchett supports assisted death and stated that he wishes to commit "assisted suicide" (although he dislikes that term) before his Alzheimer's disease progresses to a critical point.
Misfit Mobilization Moment: In a city where the citizens are attacking Watch houses for being tools of the oppressive state, Vimes wins over his neighborhood and oversees their barricades.
Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Although they are not given their epithets in this book of course, regular readers will recognize the Patricians here as Homicidal Lord Winder and Psychoneurotic Mad Lord Snapcase.
Necessary Fail: Consciously averted, look at the example higher on this page.
Noodle Implements: The Ginger Beer torture method. Pratchett eventually did reveal what the "Ginger Beer Trick" actually is, although he despaired a bit that people actually had to be told. You shake it up real good to get the fizz going, then you stick it up the poor bastard's nose. Ouch. For those familiar only with Ginger Ale, Ginger Beer is a whole different, and much HOTTER, sort of animal.
Noodle Incident / The Fun in Funeral: If Colon had one dollar for every officer funeral he went to he'd have nineteen and a half dollars. A half because in one of them, the officer woke up just in time and banged on the lid.
No Sympathy: Sort of. While Lu-Tse sympathizes with Vimes and tries to help him, we also have... this:
Thanks to time travel, Vimes gets to play this role for himself... though in reality he spends only a small portion of his time training his protégé and much more doing badass and heroic (or anti-heroic) things on his own, and takes pains to keep young Sam from doing anything that'd attract attention to himself. Also spending money like water, because he knows for a fact that he will "die" at the end of the week.
Madam also plays this role for Vetinari, being an older, Distaff Counterpart version of him, even owning an elderly and smelly tomcat (as he will one day have a smelly old dog). She educates him about the usefulness of men like Keel, and how killing someone isn't always the best answer (though she will if it is the best answer).
Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Just after Vimes has apprehended Carcer in the cemetery after both returned to the present, Lord Vetinari turns up. During the following conversation, it transpires that Vetinari was watching the final fight between the Night Watch and Carcer's gang of Particulars and, after Vimes-as-Keel disappeared, Vetinari joined the fight. It's described by Vetinari over one page, and that's it.
Vimes tries to do one by saying his authority (as he draws his crossbow) comes from "Mr Burleigh and Mr Stronginthearm." No-one gets it, however, as those two haven't gone into business yet in the past.
Another: Vimes finally revealed that he wasn't really Sergeant Keel to Ned Coates. He admitted he traveled through time. This is after a huge melee. Coates looked over Sam, blood and all, heavily-used swords in his hands, and once he was told Vimes was a time-traveler, he had just one thing to ask: "From how far back?"
Perspective Flip: Basically, the novel can be read as one of these on Les Misérables, with Vimes as a virtuous Inspector Javert and Carcer as an evil Valjean, and other characters filling roles from the novel. The Annotated Pratchett File described the difference between Javert and Vimes in an interesting way: both are obsessed with justice, but while Javert defines justice as the punishment of the guilty, Vimes defines it as the protection of the innocent.
The Poppy: The way the survivors of the last battle against Carcer treat the lilac on May 25th is very reminiscent of the Remembrance Day poppy: when new recruits don't understand its significance, they find themselves treading on a taboo.
Posthumous Character: Keel. Vimes makes his moves and decision with Keel's previous acts in mind, and we get a pretty good sense of who he was.
Powder Keg Crowd: People are already rioting against Watch houses elsewhere in the city. Vimes gives orders to prevent anything like that happening in his precinct. See To Win Without Fighting below.
Rats In A Box: Sped up brilliantly. Vimes finds he has three assassins in custody, two of whom are thoroughly professional, but the third is a showoffy twerp; Vimes classifies him as "the sort that gets a kick out of showing his dagger to women in bars". So, enjoying a ham and hoosegow sandwich, he drags the two others in back, but leaves the door open so Showoff Dan (who Vimes has dubbed "Ferret" for his weaselly demeanor) can hear all the screaming. Before he gets a chance to even grab the keys so Ferret can have his turn, the guy spills — and Vimes reveals that the screaming was just him and the boys goofing around. Ferret starts doing some mental arithmetic, then demands protective custody in return for ponying up everything else he knows.
Reasonable Authority Figure: Vimes, of course, but also the Abbot of the History Monks. He absolutely forbids Lu Tze to do what he's going to do, but follows it up by acknowledging that when he does, it will probably be for the best.
"But here's some advice, boy. Don't put your trust in revolutions. They always come around again. That's why they're called revolutions."
Right-Hand Cat: Vetinari instinctively feels that any cat you're going to stroke while discussing politics should be a white-haired, elegant thing, rather than a flatulent street moggy. His aunt doesn't seem to mind.
Rubber-Band History: Vimes and Carcer change many of the major events of the revolution and absolutely reverse the Glorious 25th of May, but the outcome of the revolution is the same: those seven graves are still filled, Snapcase replaces Winder, etc.
Save the Villain: Vimes sets fire to the Particulars' HQ, then remembers that he left one of their thugs strapped into a prisoner's chair inside. He runs back in, deciding that he'll only undo one of the straps before legging it, as it'll be more of a chance than any of their victims got. He runs into Swing, who's already killed him.
As the book is Discworld's take on Les Misérables, this is to be expected... but honestly, Gavroche's parallel turning out to be young Nobby Nobbs is somewhat unexpected. On the other hand, Reg Shoe as [ZOMBIE] Enjolras is made of all kinds of win.
Also contains a shoutout to Braveheart with the worst battlecry ever: "You may take our lives but you'll never take our freedom."
Major Clive Mountjoy-Standfast is a possible reference to the Duke of Wellington as he was born in Quirm but considers himself a patriotic Ankh-Morporkian, just like how Arthur Wellesley was born in Ireland but thought of as the greatest English general of all time.
Stable Time Loop: Averted, sort of. Lu-Tze explains John Keel was a real person and the Sam Vimes we know now was not tutored by himself, unlike Vimes had thought. However, Vimes and Carcer arriving in the past changed that timeline when Carcer killed Keel and so Vimes has to substitute for him as mentor.
Lu-Tze also claims that it is not quite a Stable Time Loop in the first place, that Vimes was trained by John Keel, that the rebellion was crushed as he remembered, and all that. Strangely, though, Vetinari remembers the events of the book's past, and not the one that Vimes remembers. Which means either the Sweeper was wrong, that the past and present changed but only Vimes remembers it, or that Lu-Tze was lying to make sure Vimes maintained the loop.
A gentle one on the subject of the kind of ostentatious patriotism that perplexes non-Americans:
"I'd be very worried if I saw a man singing the national anthem and waving the flag, sir. It's really a thing foreigners do." "Really? Why?" "We don't need to show we're patriotic, sir... We don't have to make a fuss about being the best. We just know."
Another at Braveheart: At one point, Reg Shoe turns to the enemy and shouts out, "You can take our lives, but you can never take our freedom!" There's a long pause and some mumbling while everyone runs that sentence through their heads again and decides that, yes, it's the stupidest battle cry they've ever heard. Finally, Carcer just shouts, "Wrong!" and shoots him.
Hardly counts, considering how integral the words "Night Watch" are to the story. However, in one scene Vimes is struggling with the violent side of his nature "that was the nature of the beast." Guess what one of the alternate titles which Terry and the publishers considered was.
To Win Without Fighting: Inverted: Vimes wisely choosing not to fight is what defuses a mob situation without incident.
Took a Level in Badass: Reg takes out about half a dozen of Carcer's thugs... after being shot full of arrows and dying.
Torture Cellar: What the Cable Street Particulars have. The Torture Technician that Captain Swing employs, however, is not a sadistic self-declared "artist" but merely a big bruiser who — as Vimes suspects — thinks nothing of hitting people long after they're unconscious and beating (or raping) them to death. It's all just a job to him.
Verbal Judo: Vimes handles a Powder Keg Crowd amazingly, making sure not to provoke them in any of the ways almost anyone else in his position would have felt only the natural way to react.
Villains Blend In Better: Carcer adapts to being sent back in time a lot faster than Vimes: although when Vimes catches up, he catches up rather spectacularly. It's reflected by Vimes that, in a time of chaos, those who remain firm and authoritative and full of conviction can rise to the top very quickly and dictate major events. Which is of course very similar to how "revolutions" can sometimes succeed despite what seem titanic odds.
World Half Empty: Past Ankh-Morpork sucks even worse than present, with insane rulers, tyrannical and cruel authorities and even more rampant crime. Vimes repeatedly calls the Watch "just another gang" in his monologues. And he's explicitly told upfront that he cannot, cannot change any major events, such as a clearly pointless war borne of the Patrician's insanity which will last just long enough to kill many innocent people, or the deaths of many watchmen. However, rather than sitting there and taking it, he makes efforts to reform the watch, prevents a bloodbath on Morphic Street, and changes history by holding his barricade through the entire night when the original Keel failed halfway through, reducing his side's casualties to perhaps a dozen (during the battle, anyways). And he takes down Carcer in the most lawful way possible.
You Will Be Beethoven: Vimes takes Keel's place after Carcer murders him. Subverted, though, as it's openly stated that the John Keel that Vimes knew was the real John Keel... but time travel works as it does in the Back to the Future series, meaning that Vimes' replacement of Keel and the much longer-lived barricade don't undo the fact that Vimes originally was taught by Keel himself. The book is then Vimes' attempt to replicate Keel as accurately as possible.