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TSR obviously did not know how a good stuff when they see one. Some of its best books were published in innocuous covers with hardly any marketting support while it pulled out all stops for a number of its worst written drivels.
Night Watch, written by Robin Wayne Bailey (Thieves World), was published in 1990, just as TSR was experiencing a lot of difficulties (which they oft do but that's another topic). Gary Gygax, founder and anchor writer for the Greyhawk series, had left and the company turned to other writers to carry on the Greyhawk series, the results which was so bad that it cancelled the series before Night Watch was printed. As a result, Night Watch was published without the customary Greyhawk logo.
Despite not being a role-playing gamer, the author took painstaking efforts to study the Greyhawk setting for his first and only (to date) Greyhawk novel. The results produced should put to shame the works of many other TSR authors who began with greater familiarity, both past and present.
Instead of trying to ride on the formula of previous Greyhawk writers, Bailey created his own - a detective thriller in a fantasy setting. The novel was placed in an undefined time in Greyhawk, and without contradicting any canon, could be fitted almost anywhere in the Greyhawk timeline except the major wars.
Rather than revisiting the same scenes mentioned in the earlier Greyhawk book (Saga of the Old City), Bailey made his main character, Garett Starlen, captain of Greyhawk's Night Watch. He gave a brief glimpse to Garett's past, just enough to present him as an honest man, educated and competent in his duties without unjustified idealism, and was good enough to inspire loyalty from other competent subordinates - Blossom, a seven footer amazonian, Burge, a half-elf who hated his faerie ancestry, and Rudi, a short fighter sensitive to his height (or lack of).
Greyhawk, in an ordinary day, was bad enough. The poor had a hard life, regardless whether they had an honest job. The rich, protected by the privilige of wealth, spent their hours protecting their wealth. The district for temples were lined with religious institutions of varying, even opposing, dispositions. The city was governed by the Directorate, composed of various factions of power, including leaders of the Thieves Guild and Assassins Guild. All were aware that orderliness, with a smattering of chaos, was in their best interests and hence the Watch was not merely an instrument of the elite.
Magic was very much part of life in Greyhawk, and the story opened with the successive murders of the city's fabled seers by their own instruments, all within one night despite being quartered in different parts of the cities. It fell to the captain of the Night Watch, Garett, to investigate those murders, which were certainly caused by magic. While the Watch could normally seek help from the Wizards' Guild, there was no response at the Wizards's Tower, and no sane person would intrude a wizard's lair, much less the Tower of the Wizards's Guild.
Further disturbances in the form of unusual flocking of black birds, inexplicable departure of the city by elves, warned Garett that an approaching danger, which was why the seers had been killed. Garett could get no help from the Directorate, whose members were more keen in protecting or promoting their own interests than the city's. It would take an intercession from one of Oerth's legendary Circle of Eight to provide Garett with the clue to the threat and the instrument to overcome it.
Readers familiar with Dungeons and Dragons or Greyhawk settings might be put off by the portrayal of magic in this book. Instead of the usual spells like wands of fireball, the investigating characters were virtually bereft of magic. Instead of an adventuring group mixture of paladins, clerics and magic users, they were all fighters belonging to the Night Watch. And when contact with the Wizards' Guild was lost, there was no other magic-user in the city of Greyhawk they could turn to, a phenomena any Greyhawk fan would vow as impossible.
But as someone who appreciates the essence of fantasy more than game-mechanics or statistics from RPG supplements, I really like what the author had done.
The clues were well laid, but it took the main character to act upon his gut instinct and against incompetent superiors to get anywhere. Critics who say this is another Thieves' World novel in Greyhawk guise are probably right, but it should not mar the enjoyment of the novel. I need only to point to the Knights of Crown series by Roland Green, set in Dragonlance setting, as another example of enjoyable fantasy novels borrowing an established setting but lacked the distinctive "essence" of the setting. Even the recently published novel Keep on the Borderlands which was based on a well-known Greyhawk classic had hardly any Greyhawk-ness in it.
Having said that though, while I regret there is no sequel to Night Watch or Garett Starlen, to date, any further work should include more of Greyhawk-ness.