Once again I am about to write an inferior review of a Terry Pratchett book. The problem is compounded here because this is the best Discworld book I’ve read so far. The better the Pratchett book, the more it speaks to me, the more incapable I am of articulating why I loved it so much. I just get so overwhelmed.
There couldn’t be a worse time for Sam Vimes to accidentally time travel. He’s literally about to be a father at any moment, and he’s mid-chase to catch a violent criminal that has been terrorizing the city and the Watch for months. But time travel he does! And on the anniversary of an uprising in the city, where good men were lost, including his own mentor. Turns out Vimes is his own mentor. Or at least, will be in this timeline. Vimes gets caught up in a semi-revolution, as the people rise up and a corrupt leader is taken down. Another problem: the violent criminal, Carcer, has time traveled back with him.
“I’ll get suspicious.”
“You’ll have to make it convincing.”
“I’ll still be suspicious.”
“You won’t even trust yourself?”
“I’m a devious character. I could be hiding something.”
Thirty years ago Ankh-Morpork is, impressively, even more of a lawless, dirty place than it is nowadays, with Vimes running the watch, and Lord Vetinari as the Patrician. In old Ankh-Morpork, Vimes is a only rookie on the watch, which is small and ineffectual, and doesn’t yet embrace all its citizens. It is, so far, an (alive) human only endeavor.
I was surprised (I don’t know why) by how insightful and timely this was, all while it was making me laugh. Pratchett has some nuanced, important things to say about policing and governance and duty, and the complicated nature of humanity (and, er, vampirity, trollness, werewolfness, etc). I said this on a status update on Goodreads, but basically this book is like if you added time travel to Les Miserables, and Vimes played all the major parts at the same time in one character.
“And so the children of the revolution were faced with the age-old problem: it wasn’t that you had the wrong kind of government, which was obvious, but that you had the wrong kind of people.
As soon as you saw people as things to be measured, they didn’t measure up.”
I have loved all the City Watch books, and many other Discworld books, but there’s something really special about this one. It’s been almost twenty years since this was first published, and it feels just as fresh as it must have felt then. Vimes’ particular brand of everyman hero, a perceptive, smart guy with a core of iron hard decency, is such a compelling foundation to rest the book on. Even as things fall apart around him, Vimes himself is a rock, and he steadies everyone around him. It’s also really fun to see how Pratchett handles time travel, and fun to see how he envisions Ankh-Morpork having evolved over the years. And the subject matter is somehow comforting and revolutionary at the same time (fitting for a book with a small revolution at its core).
Long live the Glorious People’s Republic of Treacle Mine Road.
“Who knew what evil lurked in the hearts of men? A copper, that’s who. After ten years, you thought you’d seen it all, but the shadows always dished up more. You saw how close men lived to The Beast. You found that people like Carcer were not mad. They were incredibly sane. They were simply men without a shield. They’d looked at the world and realized that all the rules didn’t have to apply to them, not if they didn’t want them to. They weren’t fooled by all the little stories. They shook hands with The Beast.
But he, Sam Vimes, had stuck by the badge, except for that time when even that hadn’t been enough and he’d stuck by the bottle instead . . .
He felt as if he’d stuck by the bottle now. The world was spinning. Where was the law? There was the barricade. Who was it protecting from what? The city was run by a madman and his shadowy chums, so where was the law?
Coppers liked to say that people shouldn’t take the law into their own hands, and they thought they knew what they meant. But they were thinking about peaceful times, and men who went around to sort out a neighbor with a club because his dog had crapped once too often on their doorstep. But at times like these, who did the law belong to? If it shouldn’t be in the hands of the people, where the hell should it be?”
CBR BINGO: Old Series