Night Watch (Discworld)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Night Watch
AuthorTerry Pratchett
Cover artistPaul Kidby
  • Discworld
  • 29th novel – 6th City Watch novel (7th story)
Publication date
Preceded byThe Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents 
Followed byThe Wee Free Men 

Night Watch is a fantasy novel by British writer Terry Pratchett, the 29th book in his Discworld series, and the sixth starring the City Watch, published in 2002. The protagonist of the novel is Sir Samuel Vimes, commander of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch. A five-part radio adaptation of the novel was broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Night Watch placed second in the annual Locus Poll for best fantasy novel.

Plot summary[edit]

On the morning of the 30th anniversary of the Glorious Revolution of the Twenty-Fifth of May (and as such the anniversary of the death of John Keel, Vimes' hero and former mentor), Sam Vimes — whose wife is in labour with their first child — is caught in a storm while pursuing Carcer, a notorious criminal who has murdered several watchmen, to the roof of the Unseen University's Library. He awakens to find that he has somehow been sent back in time.

Vimes's first idea is to ask the wizards at the Unseen University to send him home, but before he can act on this, he is arrested for breaking curfew by a younger version of himself. Incarcerated in a cell next to his is Carcer, who after being released joins the Cable Street Particulars (otherwise known as the Unmentionables), the secret police carrying out the paranoid whims of the Patrician of the time, Homicidal Lord Winder.

When he is taken to be interrogated by the captain, time is frozen by Lu-Tze, who tells Vimes what has happened and that he must assume the identity of Sergeant-At-Arms John Keel, who was to have arrived that day but was murdered by Carcer. It is stated that the event which caused Vimes and Carcer to be sent into the past was a major temporal shattering. Vimes then returns to the office, time restarts and he convinces the captain that he is Keel.

Young Vimes believes Vimes to be Keel, allowing Vimes to teach Young Vimes the lessons for which Vimes idolized Keel. The novel climaxes in the Revolution. Vimes, taking command of the watchmen, successfully avoids the major bloodshed erupting all over the city and manages to keep his part of it relatively peaceful. After dealing with the Unmentionables' headquarters he has his haphazard forces barricade a few streets to keep people safe from the fighting between rebels and soldiers. However, the barricades are gradually pushed forward during the night (by Fred Colon and several other simple-minded watchmen) to encompass the surrounding streets until Vimes finds himself in control of a quarter of the city containing most of its food supplies, dubbed "The Glorious People's Republic of Treacle Mine Road", with a still alive Reg Shoe as one of the leading figures.

The ruler, Lord Winder, is effectively assassinated by the young Assassin's Guild student Havelock Vetinari, and the new Patrician Lord Snapcase calls for a complete amnesty. However, he sees Keel as a threat and sends Carcer to lead a death squad of Unmentionables, watchmen and the palace guard to murder Keel. Several policemen (the ones who died when the barricade fell in the original timeline) are killed in the battle, as is Reg Shoe; Vimes manages to fight off the attack until he can grab Carcer, at which point they are returned to the future and Keel's body is placed in the timeline Vimes has just left, to tie things up, as in the "real" history, Keel died in that fight.

Vimes' son is born, with the help of Doctor "Mossy" Lawn, whom Vimes met while in the past, and Vimes finally arrests Carcer, promising him a fair trial before he is hanged. A subsequent conversation with Lord Vetinari reveals that the Patrician alone knows Vimes took Keel's place, also that he fought alongside Keel's men against Carcer's death squad. He proposes that the old Watch House at Treacle Mine Road (where Keel was sergeant, and which was destroyed by the dragon in Guards! Guards!) be rebuilt, as Vimes outright refuses a monument commemorating the Twenty-Fifth of May.


  • Carcer
  • Sergeant Fred Colon
  • Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler
  • Dr. Lawn
  • Lu-Tze (Sweeper)
  • Corporal Nobby Nobbs
  • Lady Sybil Ramkin
  • Reg Shoe
  • Mr Slant
  • Havelock Vetinari
  • Sir Samuel Vimes

Background and publication[edit]

Night Watch is the twenty-ninth novel in the comic fantasy Discworld series, written by Terry Pratchett, and the sixth to focus on the character of Sam Vimes. Pratchett felt the book was closer to Discworld novels like The Fifth Elephant more so than the first book, The Colour of Magic, believing the series had "evolved", attributing the series' success to its ability to change.[1] Pratchett called the humour in the book "the humour that comes out of bad situations", comparing it to the humour of M*A*S*H. The contents of the book, such as the secret police and the torture chamber, meant that an abundance of gags would seem wrong.[1]

Pratchett commented:

"The point was, if I had filled the torture chamber with the comfy chair and soft cushions from Monty Python's Spanish Inquisition sketch for a laugh, that would have been an obscenity."[1]
The book's cover parodies Rembrandt's The Night Watch.

Paul Kidby illustrated the cover of British edition, with Night Watch being the first main-sequence Discworld novel not to have a cover by the recently deceased Josh Kirby. Kidby had previously worked on Discworld in The Last Hero, The Pratchett Portfolio and Nanny Ogg's Cookbook, establishing "[his] own 'look'" for the series.[2] Kidby chose to parody Rembrandt's painting Night Watch, an idea he'd had since first reading Guards! Guards!, and talked with Pratchett about what characters to include. Kidby pays tribute to the late artist by placing him in the picture, in the position where Rembrandt is said to have painted himself.[2] At the time, Kidby recalls being criticised for making the cover "too brown".[2]


The book received critical acclaim. Robert Hanks of The Independent drew attention to a "slight softening of the funny bone" and a "hardening of the issues" in the later Discworld books, commenting on a lesser amount of jokes per page in Night Watch. He criticised the book's slow start, but called the book intriguing for its "Chestertonian common-sense morality" and drew comparison to the book's events to the Bloody Sunday.[3] The New York Times's Therese Littleton praised the book as "transcend[ing] standard genre fare with its sheer schoolboy humour and characters who reject their own stereotypes".[4]

Night Watch won the 2003 Prometheus Award,[5] and came runner-up in the Locus Poll for best fantasy novel.[6] On the suggestion of the book having "darker" themes, Pratchett responded:

A dark book, a truly dark book, is one where there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Where things start off going bad and carry on getting badder before they get worse and then it's all over. I am kind of puzzled by the suggestion that it is dark. Things end up, shall we say, at least no worse than they were when they started... and that seems far from dark to me. The fact that it deals with some rather grim things is, I think, a different matter.[1]


A five-part radio adaptation of the novel was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 from February 27, 2008 that featured Philip Jackson as Sam Vimes and Carl Prekopp as young Sam.[7]


  1. ^ a b c d Terry Pratchett (2003). "Discworld Divinity". SFcrowsnest (Interview). Interviewed by Phil Jones. Archived from the original on 30 October 2008. Retrieved 15 April 2015.
  2. ^ a b c Paul Kidby (11 October 2011). ""Fantastic fantasy artwork: Night Watch (Discworld) by Paul Kidby"" (Interview). Interviewed by Joshua S Hill. Fantasy Book Review. Retrieved 20 April 2016.
  3. ^ Hanks, Robert (29 November 2002). "Night Watch by Terry Pratchett". The Independent. Archived from the original on 21 June 2022. Retrieved 28 June 2016.
  4. ^ Littleton, Therese (15 December 2002). "Books in Brief: Fiction & Poetry". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 June 2016.
  5. ^ "The Locus Index to SF Awards: 2003 Prometheus Awards". Locus. Archived from the original on 16 October 2012. Retrieved 6 February 2014.
  6. ^ "2003 Locus Awards". Locus. Archived from the original on 15 November 2006. Retrieved 15 April 2015.
  7. ^ "Night Watch". BBC iPlayer.

External links[edit]

Reading order guide
Preceded by 29th Discworld Novel Succeeded by
Preceded by 7th City Watch Story
Published in 1999
Succeeded by
Awards and achievements
Preceded by Prometheus Award Recipient
Succeeded by