I am known as a Pratchett guy. Even before the blog this was a well-known fact about me. At one time my old roommate asked me why I seemed to have a Pratchett book in room of the house; she even called me out of the blue years later to tell me he had a new book on the shelf (as if I didn’t already know). Because of this I have answered the ‘where should I start in Discworld?’ question as more times than I could count. And while my answer has changed a few times a couple things were consistent. I never have recommended starting with Night Watch because of…reasons.
I retract this restriction as of now. Honestly I am not sure why I held out for so long. Go ahead and start with Night Watch. There is almost no reason not to an plenty of reasons to take the plunge right here. It is typically Pratchett’s top rated book by almost every fan for a reason. (Yeah yeah, Small Gods is right there on most lists too, WE KNOW).
Night Watch is the continuation of a sub-series that started as a way for the nameless guards that typically die early in fantasy stories to get their own voice. We have watched the watch itself grown from a group of four to a behemoth that is slowly adding law all across the land. At its head is Samuel Vimes, a character who has changed tremendously, but organically, throughout the series. While always the head of this series he has moved to the background some in later books. Night Watch brings the series right back where it belongs; on planet Vimes.
So you will miss some of Vimes growth and if you inevitably fall in love with the series and find you had a couple of minor things spoiled when you back to earlier books? Doesn’t matter. Because there are just so many reasons to read this book TODAY. Not tomorrow, but today.
Reason number 1: Tight, and I do mean TIGHT, plotting. If there is one thing Pratchett sometimes gets docked for it is the occasional loose end. He is one of those people that that effectively turns in a first draft; outlining is for other people. I wonder if he knew Night Watch was something special and it got extra care of if he was just in the zone this time because this story hummed from beginning to end. Little details built one big details until a perfectly crafted story emerged.
Reason number 2: Carcer. There are not a lot of memorable villains in Discworld. But there is Carcer. ‘I can see your house from here.’ Oh chills. Unpredictable, so insane he circles right back to a strange sort of sanity. I believe there are more decent books that involve Vimes in the future if my memory holds but really his story should have ended here because Carcer was his perfect foil. A man who actually does the things Vimes at times thinks about (including tricks that involve carbonated beverages).
Reason number 3: Time travel done right. Because let me tell you I hate time travel. I pick up on every paradox and plothole they present and it ruins the experience for me. But here, where explanations for what is going on includes ‘quantum…always bloody quantum.’ So when Vimes shows up looking just like someone in his own past while his younger self runs around we get this.
“Is that Narrative Causality, or Historic Imperative, or Just Plain Weird?”
No hiding the absurdity of the situation Vimes finds himself in, yet the serious nature of the revolution going on around him is never diminished. Which leads me to…
Reason number 4: The Glorious Revolution. Want to know more about it? Then read the damn book.
On top of all this Night Watch proves that Pratchett’s humor is even better when he holds it in check in his more serious outings. I laugh out loud every time I read this book. There are fewer throw away jokes, fewer gags hidden as asides, but plenty of humor; even if some of it was more of the gallows variety than normal. This keeps the serious nature of the book from ever turning grim. We know bad things are afoot and some bad things are going to happen. But there is always a ray of hope, laced with the humor.
I have thought all along Night Watch would hold up as my favorite Discworld book through this long reread. It may be conformation bias at work but that opinion has not yet changed.