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Reviews Comments: Pratchett's Greatest Work Night Watch film/book review by gneissisnice

Night Watch is considered to be the most somber book in the Discworld series, and for good reason. It has a much darker tone than the others and has fewer obvious jokes. Yet I would argue that despite this, or maybe because of this, it is Pratchett's greatest work.

Pratchett has parodied pretty much every fantasy pastiche in existence, so it was only inevitable that he would eventually tackle the idea of time travel (which he did one book earlier in Thief of Time, but in a different manner). Sam Vimes, Commander of the Ankh-Morpork Watch, is sent back 30 years into the past with the serial killer he was trying to apprehend, due to a freak magical accident. Carcer, the killer manages to escape Vimes' grasp and ends up murdering Sergeant John Keel, the man who taught Vimes everything he knows. It's now up to Vimes to mentor his younger self and make sure that he grows up to be the man he is in the future, while trying to subdue Carcer and bring him to justice. But that's not his only goal; he's been plunged into the middle of a revolution, and it seems that it's up to him to prevent civil war. Yet Vimes knows how it all turns out; he lived it, after all. And he knows that Sergeant John Keel died in these riots, trying to protect freedom. Can Sam Vimes fight fate, or is history doomed to repeat itself?

At first glance, it seems like a typical time travel plot; man goes back in time and needs to preserve the events of the past in order to save the future. But it's so much more than that. It's a homage to Les Miserables, complete with a corrupt Valjean, a heroic Javert, and a zombie Enjolras. It's a look at Ankh-Morpok's past and how one man reforms the Night Watch and creates law out of chaos. It's an insight into the nature of Man. But most of all, it's the compelling and surprisingly deep story of good versus evil, with tons of laughs, excellent characterization, and entertaining writing that will have you thinking long after you put the book down.

Pratchett is a literary genius; any of his works will show you that. But he truly shines in Night Watch, where he has the perfect blend of wit, drama, and insight that will keep you on the edge of your seat for the entire novel. Forget The Great Gatsby or Grapes of Wrath: THIS is the kind of book that should be required reading in schools.


  • SweetMadness
  • 2nd Jun 11
I agree, this is not just THE definitive City Watch book of the series, it's a brilliant illustration of the character of Sam Vimes and what makes him tick. That kind of character study also happens to be a thought-provoking look into human nature, and the nature of governments, duty and obediance to your fellow man and those governments, and just plain Doing The Right Thing.
  • DominusTemporis
  • 22nd Feb 12
I swing back and forth between this and Thud! as my favorite of the City Watch books, but I agree wholeheartedly with this review. Sir Terry's dramatic chops are at the top of his game in this one, and it's honestly one of the most emotionally moving books I've ever written. This book alone makes me glad I started reading the tales of the Discworld.
  • Tomwithnonumbers
  • 22nd Feb 12
Exactly the same as the above, I think Thud! and Night Watch are very similar in tone, but I can see how other people might find the choice clearer cut.

I've never worked out if someone can start with Night Watch though. I've got to the point where I realised that it's good to advise people not to read Colour of Magic/Light Fantastic/Sourcery/Equal Rites/ (Maybe even Pyramids) first but I wonder if maybe Night Watch is best read when you already know the kind of person Sam Vimes is, so you can see where he's got to go to and why he wants to preserve that. But then I'm not sure if Guards Guards has the same slightly less refined style problem that the earlier ones share (as well as being a parody of old fantasy stereotypes instead of newer deeper things like Night Watch)
  • situationalstudent
  • 21st Jul 12
I agree with all of the above. Night Watch is one of the few Discworld novels to make me cry (the others being Feet of Clay and Thud! that I can think of off hand). As for starting with Night Watch, I say no. I'm all for all the other sub-series to be read in any order, but the fun of the Watch books is seeing Vimes develop as a character. I have a friend who accidentally read Night Watch first, not realizing it was a Discworld novel, and isn't terribly happy about it.
  • LastHussar
  • 11th Jan 13
A friend read Jing and enjoyed it. I started her with Guards Guards, and am lending the Watch Books in order, so she can read Nightwatch.

If Nightwatch is about anything, it is about what you do when faced by a choice. Do you opt out, or do you stand up for what you know to be right, even if you will lose by that? The repeated 'The time is now...' is the examination of this, exemplified by Vimes having to choose between filling the graves, and his !Future, and he chooses those he stood with, knowing that it could undo his future happiness.
  • Smoko
  • 24th Apr 14
@Tomwithnonumbers I started Discworld with Night's Watch and loved it. A dark, beautiful and extremely human book. It's going to stay with me for a while.

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