Duh duh dah duh!
"Night Watch" is one of the best Discworld books that I've read. That should come as no surprise, since it is as you might guess a Watch book. It also marks a major milestone in that it is the remaining "normal" Discworld book that's out there. Yup - as best as I can tell, I have now read all of the Witches, all of the Industrial Revolution, all of Rincewind, all of the Watch, and what little Ancient Civilizations there are. I still have not read the young adult/children's books (Hatful of Sky, Wee Free Men, etc.), nor some of the hard-to-find illustrated novels or short stories, nor the fabled "Science of Discworld" tomes. But pretty much anything that you would expect to find in your library's Fantasy section, is done. Hooray! And boo! This means that I'll now be dependent on Mr. Pratchett continuing to write more books if I want to read more.
Returning to the book itself - Night Watch is all about Sam Vimes, hands-down my favorite Discworld character. In a welcome break from its predecessor, it is set entirely within Ankh-Morpork, hands-down my favorite Discworld location. Goodness abounds.
What is a little unusual is the introduction of time travel. The Time Monks, who have appeared elsewhere, make a reappearance here after Vimes is sent back in time thirty years. He gets to experience as a mature adult the events that formed his character as a young man, and do it while standing beside that young man. The story is therefore a little like a flashback, but one that is changing as it occurs.
I'm used to Discworld books having larger satirical themes - racism, faith, media. This book has one as well, but it's a little hard to pin down. The biggest events are concerned with a revolution/rebellion/uprising that took place in A-M. This isn't the glorious sort of advancement of mankind that we read about in our history books, but instead the result of a bunch of scared, confused, oppressed people trying to make the pain go away. The precise "message," if there is one, is hard to pin down. Within the context of the revolution, the dominant phrase is "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss" - the poor will remain poor, the powerful will remain in charge, only the names will change. In the larger context, though, we know that Snapcase will eventually be replaced with Vetinari, who, while certainly not a nice man, is just as certainly not the same as the old boss. I think that, ultimately, the book is a bit of a paen to the little people whose lives get chewed up in the course of major social upheaval.
A couple of things puzzled me about the book. The biggest one is what Vetinari means when the Patrician asks, "Who are you?" and he replies, "Think of me as... your future self." Does this mean, as it suggests, that even at this early age Vetinari was specifically angling to become the Patrician one day? I didn't really get a sense of that ambition anywhere else in this book, although I suppose it does make sense. One doesn't fall into the position of Patrician any more than one accidentally becomes the Archchancellor.
I was also expecting there to be more about Vimes' drinking. Alcoholism is such a huge blight on his soul, and I was curious if his younger self would already be swimming in it, or if he would fall in to it during these events. It really isn't clear. Perhaps it came later, with rank?
The contrast between the old and new Ankh-Morpork was regularly fascinating, especially in regards to the races. Knowing that one day the Watch will be transformed into a polyglot society makes the few references to race especially interesting.
I'm glad that I saved this book for so long - while not my favorite Discworld book ever, it's probably in the top five, and yes, that IS saying a lot. It's good to head out on such a positive note. I'm sad to be temporarily Discworld-less, but happy to have at least one prolific author available, unlike some I could mention. How they rise up, rise up, rise up....