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  Bookends: Dan Davidson

Night Watch

Reviewed: June 22, 2006
By: Terry Pratchett
Publisher: Corgi Books
474 pages, $11.99

Discworld is a sprawling, adventurous place that resides somewhere in the mind of its creator, Terry Pratchett. Though it began as a pun riddled satire (with footnotes) of the fantasy genre known as sword and sorcery, it has mutated over the decades into something much more complicated than that. Pratchett has used his creation to muse on the works of William Shakespeare the effect of the media on the functioning of reality, and all sorts of other topics. His central characters have included witches, swaggering barbarians, dukes, DEATH, and journalists.

Night Watch (with its lovely cover parody of the Rembrandt painting), is a sort of NYPD Blue goes Medieval. The central character in this outing is Sam Vines, the commander of the City Watch of Ankh-Morpork. The Watch has often been a minor feature in the other two dozen or so novels in this series, and Vines has been the force behind the Watch.

While leading the hunt for a noted villain name Carcer, Vines and his quarry are struck by a sort of mystic lightning and translated into Vine’s own past. There, he meets himself as a raw recruit to the force and sets himself on the path to his eventual elevation to the rank of Duke of Ankh, Commander of the City Watch.

Along the way he becomes involved in the events which lead to the installation of the current rulers of the city and takes part in a sort of parody of the European uprisings of 1848, as his precinct erects barricades to keep out the lawlessness that is sweeping the city.

In order to keep the peace in his precinct, Vines, operating under the name of John Keel, has to find a way to deal with the corrupt and duplicitous secret police known as the Unmentionables, an insane city administrator, the radical fringes of the revolutionary movement and a strange group of monks who seem to have the power to suspend time, and might just be able to get him back to his own time.

All this is told in a prose style which parodies the best fantasy has to offer, and always manages to find and skewer the silly bits.

“The Assassin moved quietly from roof to roof until he was well away from the excitement around the Watch House. His movements could have been called cat-like, except that he did not stop to spray urine up against things.” (p. 232)

There is also quite a bit of wisdom in the satire.

“One of the hardest lessons of young Sam’s life had been finding out that the people in charge weren’t in charge. It had been finding out that governments were not, on the whole, staffed by people who had a grip, and that plans were what people made instead of thinking.” (p. 292)

That’s a nicely subversive note on which to end this review. I’ve never been disappointed by Pratchett, other than by the fact that he’s even more prolific than Stephen King (by title, not by word count) and I can’t keep up with him.

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