Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko (translated by Andrew Bromfield)

Set in modern day Moscow, Night Watch is a world as elaborate and imaginative as Tolkien or the best Asimov. Living among us are the “Others,” an ancient race of humans with supernatural powers who swear allegiance to either the Dark or the Light. A thousand-year treaty has maintained the balance of power, and the two sides coexist in an uneasy truce. But an ancient prophecy decrees that one supreme “Other” will rise up and tip the balance, plunging the world into a catastrophic war between the Dark and the Light. When a young boy with extraordinary powers emerges, fulfilling the first half of the prophecy, will the forces of the Light be able to keep the Dark from corrupting the boy and destroying the world?
An extraordinary translation from the Russian by noted translator Andrew Bromfield, this first English language edition of Night Watch is a chilling, engrossing read certain to reward those waiting in anticipation of its arrival. (taken from Amazon)

The thing about Night Watch is it’s cool, but it’s also a bit problematic. I am still sorting out whether I think the cool factor is enough that I can forget some of the parts that I had issue with. Basically, this review is going to be a rambling mess. So, let me roll up my sleeves and get right to it!

The premise of the book starts with a familiar concept – that of the otherworldly surrounding the everyday- and takes it in a new and creative direction. Anton is a low-level Light magician (meaning he’s one of the “good guys”), talented but not amazingly so. He is also a member of the Night Watch, a group of Others -such as magicians and shape changers- who keeps an eye on the other side (the “bad guys”-cue the menacing music). The other side, the Day Watch keeps an eye on the “good guys” as well. Both sides do this to make sure that everyone is adhering to the uneasy truce that has existed between those of the Light and those of the Dark for ages. Sounds pretty similar to many other books so far, right? From there it goes in an entirely different direction.

In the world of Night Watch, there are humans without a trace of the otherworldly, there are those on the side of light, those on the side of the dark, and potentials. Potentials are “Others” that have not chosen a side. Usually they are newly discovering their powers, but there are also rogues, etc. and sometimes they require the intervention of the Day Watch or the Night Watch. There’s an assumption that the two watches grudgingly work together, but that is only true on the surface. Their quiet war has become one of subterfuge and manipulation, and Anton finds himself squarely in the middle of it.

The pacing is very different than what I expect from a book of this nature, but it works. There is a lot of introspection and musing on the nature of “good” and “evil” and the sometimes blurry way they can be viewed. When does doing something good cause more evil? When is it acceptable to do nothing? Does the long game justify sacrifices along the way? These are questions that plague Anton, making for an interesting main character. While the world is engaging and the tricks and twists along the way are truly fascinating, it is this part of Anton’s character that makes Night Watch truly unique.

So, what did I find problematic? Some of the things the author said when referring to women, people of other nationalities, and lesbians were a bit on the offensive side. It was never quite enough to make me want to stop reading the book, but it did rankle at me. On the one hand, Night Watch was written several years ago, which could very well contribute to certain viewpoints, so it is something I tried not to focus on too much. However, it did bother me.

The creativity in the storytelling and the pondering of choices elevated this book above some of the others of this type that I’ve read. This is a reread for me, although it’s been at least fifteen years since my first time reading it. I think I enjoyed it more then than I do now, but Night Watch is still an enjoyable book, and one worth reading.

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11 thoughts on “Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko (translated by Andrew Bromfield)

  1. I think you are one of the first people I have come across who has read this one. I saw the movie before the book and it really helped me understand the world, just because the storytelling is so different to what I’m used to. I loved the exploration of good vs evil and all the ways things were being manipulated by both sides in the background. It’s such a dark, gritty world and i thought it was cool.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I did, I think I read four and thought that was all of them, but have recently discovered there is another one, so i’m not sure how many I have missed.
        Once my books are unpacked I plan on double checking which ones I have, doing a reread and then getting to the ones I have missed.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m admiring a reviewer that dares to challenge the moral crusader lobby. Just like with every lobby, there is always a hidden agenda beneath the public discourse. I think you shouldn’t only consider when it has been written, but also where. Russians have a completely different moral compass than the US oriented west. And it would not be the first time that this author steps upon the long toes of the moral lobby. In the past he offended them by creating a scandal about (shady?) western adoptions of Russian children. He had to swallow that criticism. Not because of the indignation of the moral crusaders, but because of real and believable threats on his life by the Russian adoption mob. The moral crusaders applauded.

    Liked by 1 person

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