Pratchett, Terry: (26) Thief of Time (re-read); (29) Night Watch

I had been putting off reading Terry Pratchett’s new Discworld book, Night Watch, because I was afraid that it would suck up too much of my valuable sleep time while I was so busy. The night I found out I passed the bar, though, one of my rewards to myself was a super-quick read through it: now I knew what happened, and could re-read at my leisure.

Of course, during the re-read, I got some bad personal news that made this just a bit darker than I wanted to be reading at the time. I’d been planning to re-read Thief of Time anyway, because I was intrigued by Pam’s comments about the History Monks. (Also, I particularly like this one, as I’ve said earlier.) The Monks actually first appear in Small Gods, where their stated purpose is to make sure history happens correctly, as it is written down in a bunch of big books. Of course, the monk in question doesn’t seem to feel particularly bound by what is written (perhaps taking a cue from Adam in Good Omens, who opines that “I don’t see why it matters what is written. Not when it’s about people. It can always be crossed out.”), with History none the worse for the wear as a result. Pam’s correct that, put that way, the History Monks really don’t fit in with either the Discworld or with the philosophy Pratchett seems to be espousing in the Discworld books. I’d be curious if Pratchett realized that and tried to backpedal somewhat, because in Thief, we’re told that yes, history is written down, but by the founding Monk who saw it all—which makes it sound a little less deterministic to me, if it’s just one person’s idea of history. Also, though originally their job was to see that history happened the right way, both Thief and Night Watch claim that, at present, it’s apparently all they can do just to make sure that history keeps happening at all. I do think that the History Monks don’t fit all that well with the Discworld, but neither do a lot of things that showed up in earlier books, so I’m willing to roll with it a bit. (Pam’s other spoiler complaint doesn’t bother me, because I’m willing to believe that it all makes sense in eighteen dimensions. Or something.)

The bad personal news got somewhat better later, and I was able to go back to re-reading Night Watch. As any number of people have said before me (Martin Wisse, Mike “no permalinks” Kozlowski, Chad, and Michael Dirda of the Washington Post, plus Pam), this book tells how Sam Vimes gets transported back in time while chasing a psychopath. The psychopath gets transported too, promptly kills an important person in Vimes’ life, and Vimes suddenly finds himself having to teach everything he knows to, well, himself.

The present-day sections of this book are just beautifully done, absolutely pitch-perfect. (I particularly like the line “Usually—always—there was a part of Vimes that watched the other parts, because he was at heart a policeman. This time it wasn’t there.” I know the feeling, though I can’t say it’s a career I’d be good at.) The past sections do have some wonderful moments, such as when we meet younger versions of well-known Discworld characters. The best, of course, is the Patrician as a young man. His repsonse to his aunt’s comment, “I do think Dog-Botherer is an unpleasant nickname”? “When your name is Vetinari, Madam, you’re happy enough if it’s merely Dog-Botherer.” I have this horrible urge to re-read all the Watch books now, as I remember very little about them—such as whether we’ve met Madam before, and why I thought Vetinari was considerably older than portrayed here . . . Perhaps in January, after I’ve disposed of the new books that I have no time for now (the new Brust, on its way from Amazon, and The Prize in the Game, which is flippin’ dedicated to me—it is truly wrong that I’m too busy to read that at the moment.)

However, I’m not sure that the past sections (which makes up almost all of the book) work overall. For some vague, indefinable reason, they don’t seem to me to cohere in terms of plot. Unfortunately, I can’t define it any more precisely than that. *shrug* Sorry. Maybe someday when my brain isn’t trying to crawl out my ear, I will re-read and be able to figure out what’s bothering me about it.

In other news, the US covers of the Discworld books: still ugly. The UK cover: done by the guy who did the art for The Last Hero, and very nice. That is all.


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  1. I like the US covers, these days. Tasteful and well-designed. And I hate comic fantasy art, so.

    (I plan to add permalinks, too; I have extravagant plans for revamping my pages; perhaps I’ll do that over Christmas.)

  2. “Tasteful and well-designed”?

    It’s _purple_ _and_ _yellow_.

  3. U.S. Discworld covers: I don’t think they’re hideous, but I think they’re pretty blah and undistinguished. They are an improvement over both the old Darrell Sweet covers and the mid-90s Harper-Collins ones whose designers subscribed to the theory that no book cover was complete without LOTS AND LOTS of shiny foil.

    I also had the impression that Vetinari was older than he apparently is, although his age, as portrayed in this book, is consistent with the illustration of him in The Last Hero.

    This post did remind me that I wanted to reread Guards, Guards! I suppose this is a sign that I ought to organize my books (they are still in post-move “cram them all into the bookcase in whatever order, so I can get rid of the damn boxes” condition).

  4. Purple and yellow are actually good together, I maintain. And it’s muted purple, and muted yellow. But mostly I mean, the fonts and illustration are low-key and elegantly done.

    Nobody would use the words “low-key” or “elegant” to describe the garish British covers (or the garish Roc covers of the old American versions).

  5. Mike, I’m with you. My favorite colors are purple, green, and yellow and I think they all go fabulously together. So does New Orleans.


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