Top Ten Novels #7: Night Watch

Night Watch

Although I love writing I simply have to be reading at least one book that I can pick up at any given moment. I try to read a range of books, all types of fiction, biographies and, in particular, history. Over the years I’ve read some brilliant novels, some of which have inspired me in my own writing, others whose stories I cannot shake years after reading them. Compiling a list of my favourite books has proven a tall order but I have come up with what are currently my Top Ten Novels. I’ve stuck with fiction for this list as I may produce a similar one for non-fiction books I have had the pleasure of reading in the near future. The wonderful thing about books is I never tire of trying to find new masterpieces. I love the ten featured here but I wouldn’t be disappointed if ten more great novels came along that bettered them, though I think it’s unlikely to happen to all of these titles.

Terry Pratchett – Night Watch (2002)

Night WatchTerry Pratchett published his first Discworld novel, The Colour of Magic, in 1983 and hasn’t really looked back since. His novels continually appear in the bestsellers list and I have had the pleasure of reading the vast majority of Discworld, with the intention to acquire the few that have so far slipped through my grasp (I have dozens of books on the shelves still to negotiate, you see). While some of the Discworld novels featured one off appearances from some characters, the majority tend to include the likes of the Witches, Rincewind, the wizards of Unseen University and Death. However, my personal favourites have always been City Watch, the equivalent of the police force in the city of Ankh Morpork, which is often the setting of many of Pratchett’s Discworld novels. I’d happily feature most of the Discworld novels in this Top Ten but forced to condense the list down to one leaves me with the City Watch novels and finally with Night Watch narrowly defeating Jingo.

The 29thDiscworld novel and 7th to feature City Watch, Night Watch once again follows the wonderful Sam Vimes, commander of City Watch, who is now married into nobility and his wife is due to give birth to their first child. The novel begins with the 30thanniversary of the Glorious Revolution, a time where Vimes’ hero and teacher, John Keel, was killed. Away from the commemorations, Vimes crosses paths with yet another criminal, Carcer Dun, pursuing him onto the rooftops of Unseen University where he is struck by lightning which, combined with the magic emanating from the building, causes both Vimes and Carcer Dun to be transported back in time to the eve of the Glorious Revolution. While Carcer Dun joins Patrician Lord Winder’s secret police – The Unmentionables – Vimes is faced with an unwelcome paradox in time when John Keel, who was supposed to take charge of City Watch, is murdered by Carcer Dun, leaving Vimes to assume Keel’s identity and teach a young Sam Vimes to be the brilliant guard he is in the present. With Keel dead, Vimes is also left to lead City Watch when the Revolution breaks out throughout the city but can he restore the timelines?

I loved the City Watch characters from the moment I first read about them. The books got better and better as they progressed, particularly when the likes of Carrot, Angua and Detritus all joined up. City Watch’s policy of equal opportunities for all races, even the undead, always makes me smile and has left the Guards with a variety of races including trolls and werewolves. With Night Watch focusing on the past we have to make do without our favourite Guards for the vast majority of the novel with a young Vimes and Nobby being the notable characters retained. I worried that this would impact negatively but the story is so engaging and the insight into Ankh Morpork’s past is so enthralling that you simply don’t notice the absence of the other regulars. I particularly enjoyed seeing Vimes, on the brink of being a father in the present, having to assume a father figure role for his younger self, one who is very much a rookie in City Watch, a stark contrast to the tough Commander of the present.

Though humour is still present in Night Watch it does feel more serious than previous Discworld novels. Even the book’s cover marks a new change in direction with Paul Kidby assuming illustrative duties in place of the late Josh Kirby. Vimes’ attempts to not only restore the timelines but to protect the people of Ankh Morpork during the fierce Revolution makes for a tense experience with the occasional moments of laughter allowing us to have a welcome breather from the drama. Pratchett’s description of the Revolution captures the pandemonium of war brilliantly as Vimes secures small areas of the city and protects the citizens within the designated zone. His struggle sees him face the corrupt Patrician’s Unmentionables before finally meeting his nemesis, Carcer Dun.

Seeing Ankh Morpork in the past offers a welcome insight into previously unexplored parts of Pratchett’s history. It’s reassuring to see that even a youthful Nobby retains some of his unhygienic characteristics. How he continues in City Watch for so long is mind boggling but funny at the sme time. Perhaps the most intriguing revelation from the past is the character of Havelock Vetinari, the Patrician of Ankh Morpork in the present, but in this period of history he is a member of the Assassins Guild. The events of Night Watch and, in particular, his meeting with Vimes are integral to shaping his policies for ruling the city in the future when he does eventually become Patrician. As highly recommended as Night Watch is it shouldn’t be the first Discworld novel that you pick up. Reading the other novels in order of publication is probably best and not just the City Watch books as other novels refer to significant characters such as the Patrician and the wizards of Unseen University.

Night Watch is the perfect symbol of the genius of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. As a fantasy writer myself I have a great admiration for Pratchett in taking the genre to a new level and not being content to just recreate the works of the masters of fantasy. Humour and fantasy can work really well but as funny as Pratchett’s novels are, they can also have a serious tone to them. They are always action-packed, funny, full of great characters and settings and are over far too quickly, regardless of how many pages they have, such is the addictive nature once you dip into Discworld. Night Watch is, in my opinion, Terry Pratchett’s magnum opus, and a welcome addition to this Top 10 list.

Top Ten so far:-

7) Terry Pratchett – Night Watch

8) John Irving – The World According to Garp

9) Terry Goodkind – Wizard’s First Rule

10) Steve Toltz – A Fraction of the Whole

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Dave Brown

I was born in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England and have always been a bookworm and enjoyed creative writing at school. In 1999 I created the Elencheran Chronicles and have been writing ever since. My first novel, Fezariu's Epiphany, was published in May 2011. When not writing I'm a lover of films, games, books and blogging. I live in Barnsley, with my wife, Donna, and our six cats - Kain, Razz, Buggles, Charlie, Bilbo and Frodo.
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One comment

  1. Night Watch always remind me of Les Miserables and the mixture of pride and fear combining as the revolutionaries rise up. To me, it's another example of Pratchett taking a well known piece of art, fiction or history and using it as a small part of the material with which he weaves an enchanting tapestry of stories, characters and Discworld history. Great review.

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