Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Review: The Night Watch, by Sergei Lukyanenko

A little while ago I mused on the Anglo-Saxon dominance of fantasy, and received a helpful suggestion (namely, The Night Watch, which is written in the first person).

It’s a very distinctive book in many ways, most of which I rather like. The story is set in modern day Russia, specifically Moscow, and Lukyanenko does a good job of painting a slightly bleak urban picture. Indeed, you might be able to pinpoint almost the exact year of its writing by the mention of Anton’s (the protagonist) mini-disc player.

The Night Watch, counter-intuitively, is actually an organisation of good. Light Ones can join the Night Watch, and Dark Ones can join the Day Watch. The Light and Dark Ones are people with special powers that make them more than human, whether magic or being a shape-shifter or vampire/werewolf.

Interestingly, the key difference between Light and Dark is not about yearning for dominion over the world (in their way, both sides want that) but a matter of perspective. The Light do what they can for others and are heavily bound by rules, the Dark emphasises freedom and self-advancement. Lukyanenko does well to make both sides seem valid perspectives. They live according to a Truce which has plenty of rules and regulations to help prevent an outright war.

The book is really three-in-one, and follows three relatively short stories about Anton over the course of roughly a year (in total). He’s a junior magician in the Night Watch, fairly new to the job (he’s been in it a few years but magicians can live to be centuries old) and still struggles with the brand of morality the Light employs.

I have to admit that I dislike the three miniature stories rather than one full one. I can’t really give anything about them away without spoiling them, suffice to say that I liked the first one the most, and the last the least. A single story would’ve allowed for a more fleshed out narrative.

However, it’s certainly the case that Anton and his relationships with a number of other Light Ones, particularly his boss/mentor Boris Ignatievich, are explored and progress over time.

There’s a lot I like about The Night Watch. The setting is immersive and the Light/Dark are a refreshing modern take on Good and Evil. Anton’s moral doubts and difficult relationships with the other Light Ones are also good. A single longer story arc, rather than three parts, would have been more to my taste.

I checked to make sure I’d spelt Ignatievich’s name right, and found that The Night Watch’s first story was made into a film so successful it made more money in Russia than Lord of the Rings.

Will I buy The Day Watch? It’s also a three-in-one type book. I think I may, but my reading list is of such ridiculous length it’s hard to say when I’ll get around to it.



  1. Glad you took me up on it :-) For the record, it's a four volume series - after Day Watch, there's Twilight Watch and Final Watch (by which point a lot of the action has moved to Edinburgh...). Without revealing any spoilers I'd also add that, whereas it feels like a collection of short stories at the moment, the various threads are integrated over the whole series and you'll see it's a single narrative by the end. The investment pays off though. If you like this sort of thing anyway.

    Oh, and as for the film - Night Watch is certainly entertaining, but the plot is only tangentially related to that of the novel, and the film of Day Watch is even more divergent. So divergent that there's a scene in Final Watch where a character has gained the ability to see parallel universes, one of which is the film series...

  2. That does sound quite intriguing, and thanks for the suggestion :)