Some time in 1986 I saw a pair of books in a bookshop. They seemed to be an amusing and intriguing new fantasy set on a place called Discworld and captured my attention. Titled The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic they were by an author I’d never heard of, named Terry Pratchett and proved to be a entertaining read. The following year two more books were published and the flow continued for 41 books, almost all of which we bought soon after publication – quite a few of which were birthday presents.
The Discworld books mostly fall into three main categories though these are not exclusive. The first books were about the Wizards, then came the Witches stories (which can be further subdivided into the Lancre and The Chalk witches). And then came the Watch books. There are also various books that do not fit into any of these categories, but they all fit into the main Discworld milieu.
The first few books were mainly humorous but as the writing developed the themes of the books became deeper, the personalities became richer and the stories more complex. The humour remained of course; in some books (Soul Music and The Truth in particular) there’s a huge number of in-jokes, and many of the books have very funny footnotes.
The books about the Watch are those which are most grounded in humanity, with the Discworld magic more in the background rather than being part of the life experience of the people as is the case with the wizards and witches. And the exploration of humanity and self and and what it means to live in an ordered society grows through these books. At the same time Pratchett’s writing developed over the years. Night Watch is The 29th Discworld novel, the 6th in the Watch series and in my opinion shows Pratchett at his very best. It has a young Sam Vimes, young Fred Colon and a very young Nobby Nobbs, and also introduces a promising student assassin named Vetinari. It deals with tyranny, civil unrest, and great evil at both the individual and societal level and because of what it deals with and what Vimes discovers is the least funny of the Discworld books. Terry thought that humour just would not be appropriate given the subject matter.
For me it ranks with I Shall Wear Midnight as his very best books, even if the lack of humour is atypical. It is powerful, thought-provoking, engaging, and at the same time gives an insight into some of the history of Ankh-Morpork. It’s a book that leaves the reader in a slightly sombre frame of mind but at the same time content with the outcome.