2 min read

Night Watch is dark—and funny

I think Night Watch is the most low-key dark Discworld story I've read so far. It's funny, too, it's a Discworld book so of course it is. But there are lots of scenes and remarks that are surprisingly dark, sombre, or serious given the other books I've read so far.[1] It works amazingly well.

Here's an example. Spoilers for Nobby's backstory.

[Nobby said,] "Fact is, Sarge, she.. er, caught me snickering her nolly last month. Hell's bells, Sarge, she's got a punch on her like a mule! When I come round, we got to talking, and she said a keen young lad like me could be useful as, like, an ear on the street."

Vimes continued to glare, but he was impressed. Young Nobby had been a gifted pickpocket. Anyone who caught him in the act was quick indeed. He turned up the ferocity of his gaze.

"All right, Sarge, she said she'd turn me over to the Day Watch if I didn't," Nobby confessed, "and you go straight to the Tanty if a nob lays a comlpaint against you."

That's bloody true, thought Vimes. Private law again.

"I don't want to go to the Tanty, Sarge. Sconner's in there."

And he used to break your arms, Vimes remembered.

Sconner here is Nobby's father. This beat is concise, it's just the facts, zero reaction or narration. It lands.

And just a few paragraphs later it's another joke:

"So why's a fine lady interested in me, Nobby?" he said aloud.

"Didn't ask. I told 'er about you an' the hurry-up wagon and the Unmentionables and everything. She said you sounded fascinatin'. An' Rosie Palm's paying me a measly penny a day to keep an eye on you, too. Oh, an' Corporal Snubbs at Cable Street, he's payin' me one half-penny to watch you, but what is a half-penny these days, say I, so I don't watch you much on his account. Oh, and Lance Corporal Coates, I'm getting a penny from him, too."


"Dunno. He asked me this morning, too. A penny job." Nobby belched hugely. "Better out than in, eh? Who'd you want me to watch for you, Sarge?"

"Me," said Vimes. "If you can fit me into your busy schedule."

And somehow this back-and-forth between the sombre and funny bits works. It's not (always?) dark humor. It's dark and there's humor.

  1. Guards! Guards!, Men at Arms, Jingo, Reaper Man, Soul Music, The Hogfather, Small Gods, Unseen Academicals, and maybe one or two others I forgot. ↩︎