First Published: 2002
Pages: 364 (Hardback)
Series: Discworld #29
Subseries: The City Watch #6
Commander Sam Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch had it all. But now he’s back in his own rough, tough past without even the clothes he was standing up in when the lightning struck.
Living in the past is hard. Dying in the past is incredibly easy. But he must survive, because he has a job to do. He must track down a murderer, teach his younger self how to be a good copper and change the outcome of a bloody rebellion. There’s a problem: if he wins, he’s got no wife, no child, no future.
A Discworld Tale of One City, with a chorus of street urchins, ladies of negotiable affection, rebels, secret policemen and other children of the revolution.
Truth! Justice! Freedom!
And a Hard-boiled Egg!
A reread in memory of Terry Pratchett. RIP.
I was first introduced to Terry Pratchett when I was twelve. My big sister was playing Ysabell in a year 10 house play production of Mort. Neither of us were familiar with Discworld at the time, but she borrowed the book from the student director and I borrowed the book from her. And that was it. It was wonderful and clever and different from anything I had read before.
Over the next few years I attempted to complete the whole series of (then) around 25 book. With no budget for buying books, and so many to read, I borrowed them from the town library, the school library, the earlier mentioned student director (who was then dating my sister and thought he was only lending them to her), and once I had older male admirers of my own, from them as well.I can’t remember what order I ended up reading them all in, but it was whatever was available at the time, and most certainly not the ‘correct’ order. I read Carpe Jugulam before Wyrd Sisters and got confused by the change of cast, and Feet of Clay before Guards! Guards! and was distressed to find Angua not in the earlier book. The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic (the first two books in the series) were the final books I read in my catch up – which was probably good as they are by far the weakest. But throughout this disorganised mishmash or chronology and characters there was one subseries, and one character, who always remained my favourites. The City Watch, and Commander Samuel Vimes.
I watched the City Watch of Ankh-Morpork shrink and grow and shrink and grow as I erratically read whatever I was able to get hold of at that moment. Only when I had caught up – and my parents had caught up enough on mine and my sister’s shared love of the series to start buying them for us at Christmas – did I start to read them in order. And the first of these Christmas presents gifted to me rather than my sister, was Night Watch. I had finished it by boxing day morning.
Still, when I heard the news of Terry Pratchett’s death this Thursday, it was Guards! Guards! I sought out, and the excuse to finally read The City Watch series in the correct order. As I could not locate the book, however, I picked up Night Watch instead. And I think, even had I found the book I was initially looking for, Night Watch was the right choice. It’s one of the most poignant and most human stories in the whole series. A policeman and a murderer, sent back in time through a freak magical accident (more details on that in Thief of Time) to a time when the city watch was incompetent, the ruler of Ankh-Morpok relied on torture and secret police, and rebellion was brewing in the slums. And a young Sam Vimes needs to learn to become the man (and the policeman) he will be. Only one problem – the murderer’s first act is to kill the man who would teach him that, and potentially change the course of history forever. Its up to Commander Vimes to step into his mentor’s role, teach his younger self the morals of policing, and become the leader of a revolution he already knows is doomed.
But Vimes (wonderful Vimes!) never half-arses a job. And, as the timeline changes in subtle ways, he realises that perhaps things aren’t so doomed after all. If he does things right this time and learns from his past, maybe this time the revolution will be successful, the friends who died might live – but doing so would change his future forever; he would lose both his wife and his unborn child. And this is why Vimes is my favourite character in the whole of the Disc. It’s all exemplified in this one book. Although Vimes is grumpy and pragmatic and cynical and never fails to fight dirty, he will always always do what is right and he will follow a job through right to the end. He adores his wife, but that’s who he is, and he cannot let the people around him down by not trying his best. Its one of the more angsty, more depressing, and most beautiful Discworld books from what I regard the best period of Pratchett’s writing.
And as it deals with Commander Vimes travelling back into his own past, well prior to the events of Guards! Guards!, it serves my rereading from the beginning purpose even better than the first book of the series itself! It sets up what the characters and the city were like before Vimes’ meteoritic rise through the ranks better than any of the early books do, and I’m sure will make me appreciate just how much Vimes achieves in the rest of the series.
So 5 stars. Forever 5 stars. Funny, sad, and thoughtful. A good book for grieving a wonderful wonderful author and a brilliant person. RIP Terry Pratchett. You will be missed.
Sidenote: My copy of Guards! Guards! has now been found, the next two books are reserved from the library. This City Watch reread is totally happening! Watch this space! And I promise future reviews will try to be more about the book than this one.