Nataliya's Reviews > Night Watch

Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko
Rate this book
Clear rating

by
3672777
's review
May 25, 14

bookshelves: soviet-and-modern-russian, 2012-reads, first-in-a-series
Read from July 22 to 25, 2012

2014: ***The reasons why I will never read another of Lukyanenko's books are at the bottom of the review. ***
------
2012: "We don't even know how to wish evil on anyone. Except that our Good is not any different from Evil."



How do you write the *real* Russian urban fantasy? Spice up your standard recipe with extreme moral ambiguity, questioning of morals and purpose, blend the distinctions between the forces of dark and light creating moral greyness, add questionable authority figures, question the benefit of one versus the benefit of the society, and you got the right mix!¹

¹ Other optional ingredients include: a touch of prejudice, some misogyny, a bit of latent homophobia. (Very unfortunately. But Russian society is, frankly, not known for being very accepting). And, of course, vodka.
"The Dark freedom is, first of all, the freedom from yourself, your consciousness and soul. When you feel no more pain in your chest - it's time to scream for help. Except for then it's too late."
Sergei Lukyanenko's Night Watch has all of the above. It starts as your typical urban fantasy featuring a magical cop who is one of the 'good guys' in the city filled with wizards and vampires and other outwordly stuff (Harry Dresden and Peter Grant immediately come to mind). But very quickly it takes a turn from magical adventures to moral dilemmas, questioning of Good and Evil, and blurring the distinctions between the Light and the Dark. What does it mean to be good or evil? Can the Light side cause as much harm or even more harm than the Dark side? (view spoiler) What is more important - individuals or society?
"It would have been so good had everything remained just as simple and clear as it was when you were twelve or twenty. If the world had only two colors: black and white. But even the most honest and simple cop, brought up on the stars-and-stripes ideals, will understand sooner or later that the streets have more than just Light and Dark. There are also agreements, contracts, concessions. Informants, traps, provocations. Sooner or later you'll have to sacrifice your own, plant packets of heroin into others' pockets, hit them in the kidneys - carefully, so no traces are left.

And all of this for the sake of the simplest rules.

To preserve the law. Persecute Evil. Protect the innocent.

I had to learn to understand that, too.
"



From very early on, you realize that the Light and the Dark are not fighting each other in Lukyanenko's Moscow. The goal instead is learning to coexist, to maintain the precarious balance, to uphold the laws, to live at a standstill, so to say. The balance that often requires sacrifices and questionable deeds - for example, the vampires who hunt people without permission are punished, yes, but what about the people who by the tacit agreement are meant to become nothing but food for the law-abiding predators?

This is the tenuous peace where distinctions are arbitrary and bureaucracy rules. This is the kind of peace that cannot sit well with anyone who is at all idealistic - but what is the alternative? The benefit of one versus that of many? That's enough to drive anyone crazy. And that is among the things that Anton Gorodetsky, an ordinary Moscow 'Other', a member of the Night Watch (the police force of the Light side) has to deal with. And it bothers him - and yet he knows why it is necessary. And I loved the moral dilemmas and ambiguity that come from that.
"The scariest thing in the war is to understand the enemy. To understand means to forgive. And we don't have the right to do that..."
Now, if you love your straightforward Good versus Evil and 'good guys always win' approaches, then this book will be frustrating as hell to you. If you prefer action over long ruminations about the nature of good and evil, you will be bored and annoyed. But if you love some philosophizing and a bit of moral ambiguity and Dostoyevsky-style moral dilemmas - well, my friend, you will probably have a great time reading this book.
'So why don't I understand where the boundary is, what is the difference between me and some witch that goes to black mass? Why am I asking these questions?'

'You will always ask them. At first, out loud. Then silently. This will never pass, ever. If you wanted to be rid of painful questions, you have chosen the wrong side.'

'I've chosen what I wanted.'

'I know. And therefore you will suffer.'

'My whole life?'

'Yes. Your life will be long, but you'll never get used to that. You'll never be able to stop questioning how right is every step of your way.
'
I found it very interesting to have a fantastical story set in Russia (and by a Russian author!) and not in the familiar Western surroundings. I loved the distinct post-Soviet feel of the story, the language and the references that easily pinpoint the time period of this book. The events take place in the late nineties, when the allure of capitalism and the sad realities of it were colliding in Russian society, when idealism and enthusiasm of early nineties were hit by the harsh reality and had to meet cynicism and disappointment. It created a very specific vibe in the society, the vibe that resonates throughout this book. And this vibe made the endings of each of the three stories that comprise this book feel not as much underwhelming (as some thought) but inevitable and unavoidable. Because life does not have to be fair, let's face it. Because nobody owes you anything. Because quite often life, honestly, sucks, and you can't have it all, and you can't be whatever you want to be regardless of what people tell you.
"We want so badly to have clean hands, warm heart and cool head. But somehow these three things cannot coexist. Ever. A wolf, a goat, and a cabbage - where is the insane ferryman who could stick them into the same boat?"

"The common benefit and the individual benefit rarely go together".
Yes, I understand. This is the truth.
But perhaps there are some truths that are worse than lies.
'
Overall, I liked this book. Yes, it is nowhere near perfect. Yes, there are bits of intolerance that spoil the overall picture and yet do not surprise me, a child of a post-Soviet country. But it was fun, and sad, and had just enough moral rumination to appear to my inner Russianism, and for all that I recommend it and give it 4 stars.
(view spoiler)
----------------

By the way, my review of the sequel, The Day Watch, is here - for your reading pleasure.
----------------
----------------

2014: *** Here are the reasons why I will never read another one of Lukyanenko's books. ***

The conflict in Ukraine has been all over the news. Regardless of which side you take, or whether you even care about anything that goes on in that part of the world, the disgusting remarks by Mr. Lukyanenko are impossible to ignore as they are filled with such vitriol, contempt and hate that it's hard to believe anyone would spout something like this in public, gleefully demeaning an entire ethnicity:

Taken (and translated) from Lukyanenkp's blog and his comments (http://dr-piliulkin.livejournal.com/5...):

"As for a Ukraine... Yes. Alas. Treachery is one of the qualities of the Maloross character ['maloross' coming from Malorussia , literally 'little Russia'- the old imperial Russian name for the southeastern part of Ukraine that used to be a part if 'greater' Russia]. Simply for the reason that the Malorosses are a peasant branch of the a Russian people. And peasants are always traitors by nature. That's life."

В Европе вообще понятие "предательство" мало понятно. :) Ибо там целесообразность.
А на Украине... да. Увы. Предательство - это одна из черт малороссийского характера. Просто по той причине, что малоросы - сельская ветвь русского народа. А селянин всегда по натуре предатель. Жизнь такая.

"There's not such a country as Ukraine. There's only an obmylok [used-up remnant of a bar of soap] with inflated ego and a bare ass. It's time for this soap remnant to realize its place in the world."

Нет такой страны, Украины. Есть обмылок с раздутым эго и голой жопой.
Что ж, пора этому обмылку понять свое место в мире.


Disgusting.
There are plenty of other writers who (a) write better than Lukyanenko, and (b) are not douchebags. Therefore I'm not wasting any more of my time reading his works.
87 likes · likeflag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Night Watch.
sign in »

Reading Progress

07/22/2012
33.0% "The scariest thing in the war is to understand the enemy. To understand is to forgive. And we don't have the right to do that..." 3 comments
07/22/2012
40.0% "Oh, the not-so-subtle occasional homophobic undertones! I guess it reminds me that it's a Russian book, after all. As a society, we are sadly not known for being particularly tolerant."
07/22/2012
67.0% 6 comments

Comments (showing 1-44 of 44) (44 new)

dateDown_arrow    newest »

message 1: by [Name Redacted] (last edited Jul 27, 2012 11:49PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

[Name Redacted] I think the only ending that really worked for me in this volume was that of the second story. Even with the sub-standard translation, it stood out and genuinely surprised me. The themes of grudging compromise and disillusionment were powerful there.

Also, the final story's ending actually DID feel like a normal Western fantasy ending, at least to me. ;)


Nataliya I agree, the second story had the best and the strongest ending. The saccharine sweet (view spoiler) of the ending of the third story was indeed reminiscent of the Western fantasy, but the whole (view spoiler) part was what impressed me, like a slap in the face. Poor Anton and his idealism...


Jenny (Reading Envy) Ooh I have this on my shelf and you make me want to move it up in the line!


Nataliya I hope you do move it up in the line! It's a good book, and it deserves more readers :)


message 5: by Ian (new)

Ian Heidin[+]Fisch You've turned reviews into an art form. Beautiful.


Nataliya Ian wrote: "You've turned reviews into an art form. Beautiful."

Thanks, Ian! I'm very flattered by your praise!


Bill brilliant review nataliya! i have to read this book now!!


Nataliya Bill wrote: "brilliant review nataliya! i have to read this book now!!"

Thanks, Bill! I hope you do read it and enjoy it!


Bill are you going to read the sequels? i think there are 4 more now.


Nataliya I plan to read the next in the series soon. I'm curious to see things from the perspective of the Day Watch.


message 11: by Bill (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bill i have both the Night Watch and Day Watch movies, but haven't watched them yet. i've heard that they are good though.


Andrea Excellent review, very thoughtful and beautifully written. Now I have to read this! Sounds fascinating.


message 13: by Olga (new)

Olga Godim Natalia, what a fantastic review! I agree with Ian – you made into an art form.
I read the book a few years ago, before I joined GR, so the details are blurry, but one thing stuck in my head. Anton represents many other Russian literary heroes: they ruminate, they moralize but they don’t act. They want their hands clean. And to a degree, I think their moralizing is another side of cowardice, not physical but mental. Anton allows others to solve his problems and dirty their hands: his boss, his girlfriend, but never him. And frankly, I despise him for that.
I think that’s why no Russian novel, however brilliant, ever became a bestseller in the West. Americans prefer people of action, even if the action is dubious in its moral undertones. That’s how many fictional series are built: the hero does something that hurts others, and in the next novel he is remorseful and tries to atone. But at least, he didn’t step aside and let others fight his battles.


message 14: by Darth Fierce (new)

Darth Fierce Been meaning to read this for like a decade now. Especially since one of the projects I'm trying to get off the ground is a vampire tale set mostly in Russia, though a period piece and not at all anything like the Watch's


Nataliya Olga wrote: "Natalia, what a fantastic review! I agree with Ian – you made into an art form.
I read the book a few years ago, before I joined GR, so the details are blurry, but one thing stuck in my head. Anto..."


Olga, that's an interesting thought. Russian characters do tend to ruminate instead of taking action. Action seems to be the traditional American value, just like you mention. American characters tend to act (and also act frequently in highly individualistic ways) while Russian characters antagonize over decisions and moralize and thinks some more (while often taking a stand based on what is beneficial to the society as a whole over the benefit of the individual; they tend to self-sacrifice quite a bit). I would not attribute it to cowardice, however. I think it's the internalized cultural difference, the desire to see the problem from different angles and think about the impact of your actions on others, and the "I is the last letter of the alphabet" attitude that again values the group over ego and therefore restricts your actions based on your desires and wishes. I don't think that action is always the best thing to do; sometimes sitting back and reflecting yields better results than immediately springing to action. Sometimes it may be better to let others fight their battles and step aside - blindly jumping into the thick of things, especially when you're only using your own morals and convictions to judge the situation, may be the worse course of conduct. That's why Russian books feel refreshing to me after having long Western book binges.

Michael wrote: "Been meaning to read this for like a decade now. Especially since one of the projects I'm trying to get off the ground is a vampire tale set mostly in Russia, though a period piece and not at all a..."

Hey, as long as you do your research before setting a tale in Russia - it's amazing how many mistakes and misconceptions Western writers who set their stories in Eastern Europe can make.

Andrea wrote: "Excellent review, very thoughtful and beautifully written. Now I have to read this! Sounds fascinating."

Thanks, Andrea! I hope that you will read it - it's a good book.

Bill wrote: "i have both the Night Watch and Day Watch movies, but haven't watched them yet. i've heard that they are good though."

I plan to find both movies after I read "Day Watch". I heard the first one was decent, but the opinions have been split on the second one. We'll see, we'll see...


Andrea Bought it for my Kindle a minute ago! Looking forward very much.


message 17: by Bill (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bill just about to start reading this!


Nataliya Bill wrote: "just about to start reading this!"

Awesome :) I'll keep an eye out for your updates.


Candiss Another wonderful review, Nataliya!

I love this entire series. Yes, there are imperfections and all the symptoms of intolerance you point out, but we find such things in so many of the classic Western fantasies, as well. For me, it just sets a sense of time and place. (Furthermore, without being spoilery, at least with regards to misogyny we definitely see some seriously powerful female characters rise up as the series progresses.)

Further regarding the series as a whole - The stories vary widely in impact and enjoyment factor, but there are none that are "bad," and I think whichever appeals less to one reader will be the favorite of another.

Regarding the films: Both are good in many ways - treatment of such things as sympathetic magic, that moral ambiguity, etc., and a wonderfully dark and believable sense of atmosphere. But both are also cheesy in some ways. However, I just take the cheese with the awesomeness, and considering I've watched them both several times, I can say that I enjoyed them. They get better with re-watching, and they are definite cult classic material. I loved the books far more, but honestly...Hollywood could really learn a thing or three hundred from this director - Timur Bekmambetov - about making an intriguing dark fantasy. (Since he actually started making films for Hollywood, he has been far less enjoyable for me. They seem to encourage certain things about his style - bullet time, certainly - and stifle other more intangible and special parts of his creativity.)

Long story short: Loved the review, love this book series, like the films. :)


Nataliya Thanks, Candiss!
And you are right - the female characters are very powerful - Olga, Svetlana, Tigrenok, even young Yulia. The misogyny is just ingrained in the fabric of this book as it is, sadly, a part of the culture, and seems quite unconscious and frequently subtle. Lukyanenko, I'm pretty sure, did his best to not have it overtly showing, but there's only so much he could do. It's just part of the culture, and if you want to stay true to it, the ugly little things will seep through into the writing. (Having visited the former USSR recently, I have to say I was unpleasantly surprised by many attitudes that I've managed to forget throughout my life in the US).

"However, I just take the cheese with the awesomeness, and considering I've watched them both several times, I can say that I enjoyed them."

Well, now I'm even more excited to see those movies, and I would not want to miss out on the cult classic material.


message 21: by Bill (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bill hi nataliya, just finished this book, and really enjoyed it. thanks for convincing me to read it!


Nataliya That's great, Bill! I'm really glad you liked it. Do you plan to read the next one in the series?


message 23: by Bill (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bill yes, i definitely am. going to watch the movies at some point as well.


Dominika I'm sorry if I missed something posted in the commends.. I have one question - did you read it in Russian or English?:)


Nataliya Dominika wrote: "I'm sorry if I missed something posted in the commends.. I have one question - did you read it in Russian or English?:)"

I read it in Russian. My rule is to try to read the books in the original language if I can, and I definitely can with Russian.


Dominika True :) I was just wondering, because the passages you quoted were in English:) I can't speak Russian, but if I have a choice, I usually choose the Polish version over the English one - I know that in the end the translation will be as good as the translator, but somehow it seems like there are bigger chances if the languages are a bit closer to each other (and the realities, too). Having said that, my Polish version of The Master and Margarita arrived today and I'm really excited about it! I have to admit I missed that one in high school and it's about time I did something about it ;)


message 27: by Bill (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bill hey nataliya, how many languages can you read? i, unfortunately can only read english. if i had to pick one other language, it would probably be spanish. i'd love to read don quixote in the original.


message 28: by Darth Fierce (new)

Darth Fierce I wish I could read Russian.

There is a fantasy book only in Russian I wish I could read about the Werewolf Prince, Vseslav of Polotsk, aka Vseslav the Sorceror, who reigned in the 11th century. Here's a link to it if you're bored enough to check it out:

http://www.insellbooks.com/books/1295...

Nick Perumov also wrote a Lord Of The Rings trilogy but it won't be released in the states for 2 or 3 decades and is also only in Russian. though I'm sure just the idea of it is hated by purists.


[Name Redacted] I can't remember if i mentioned it before, but the English translation is one of the worst i have ever read. Almost as bad as some anime subtitles/dubbings.


Nataliya Dominika wrote: "True :) I was just wondering, because the passages you quoted were in English:)"

I just quickly translated the bits I wanted to quote, that's all.
Btw, I'm excited that you get to read M&M - it's such an amazing book! Wasn't there a Polish movie version of this story once?

Bill wrote: "hey nataliya, how many languages can you read? i, unfortunately can only read english. if i had to pick one other language, it would probably be spanish. i'd love to read don quixote in the original."

I fluently read English, Russian and Ukrainian. My Spanish is not good enough to actually read fiction, but I hope that someday I will be able to.

Michael wrote: "I wish I could read Russian.

There is a fantasy book only in Russian I wish I could read about the Werewolf Prince, Vseslav of Polotsk, aka Vseslav the Sorceror, who reigned in the 11th century. ..."


Maybe one of these days, as I get through my pile of library books that are almost due to be returned, I will give this one a try.

Ian wrote: "I can't remember if i mentioned it before, but the English translation is one of the worst i have ever read. Almost as bad as some anime subtitles/dubbings."

Then I'm very happy that I read it in Russian. It was actually decently written, not anything special about the language but overall a decent writing quality.


message 31: by Darth Fierce (new)

Darth Fierce My Russian friend, Chris, said he read most of the English translation right after the Russian and said it was "terrible" but still recommended I read it, which I had already wanted to do. I hope it's not so bad I won't like it.


message 32: by Olga (new)

Olga Godim I read it in English. It's not bad, I don't think so. It's an interesting story and I wouldn't say the translation is terrible. But maybe for those who read the original it feels inadequate. Literary translation is a tricky craft. I tried it once, translated a classic novella from Russian to English. The languages and the cultures are so different, it's not enough to be fluent in both languages to do a good job of it. I think the translator of Night Watch managed pretty decently.


Dominika Yep yep, there is a miniseries :) Although I don't think I've seen it... if I did, then I must've been still a kid and don't remember it ;) Might as well watch it after I read the book! I'm really excited!!! Especially since my mom is in love with M&M. she couldn't stop talking about it after she read it :)


Nataliya Olga wrote: "Literary translation is a tricky craft. I tried it once, translated a classic novella from Russian to English. The languages and the cultures are so different, it's not enough to be fluent in both languages to do a good job of it. I think the translator of Night Watch managed pretty decently. "

I think a lot of Russian nuances would be lost in translation, and sadly that is inevitable for exact reasons that you state. Russian is not an easy language to translate from. I realized that I can gripe about translations all I want, but when I try to translate a quote or two myself I inevitably realize how difficult it actually is.


Carol. [All cynic, all the time] Wow--thanks for the update and the translation.


Nataliya Carol. [All cynic, all the time] wrote: "Wow--thanks for the update and the translation."

You are welcome. Despicable behavior should be made known. I'd hate to have my money accidentally fatten the pockets of such a person.


Nataliya Logan wrote: "Have you read https://www.google.com/search?tbo=p&a... ?"

No, I haven't.


Logan I think you will like them. They are some of my favorites. I began that series the same time I began Nightwatch. I really fell in love with the Witcher series, but not as much the Nightwatch series. Both are dark fantasy. I think both are German if I remember correctly, although the Witcher may be Polish, I can not recall. Let me know if you do read them, I'd love to hear your thoughts.


Marilena Derdelakou thank you for the update. I wouldn't want to read the books of someone who thinks like that... this was the first and last of his books for me.


message 41: by Dennis (new)

Dennis Don't bring politics into reading.
Lukyanenko is a giant douchebag for a whole lot more reasons.

I tried imagining myself stopping reading books by an certain author because of his personal opinions and couldn't bring myself to give a damn. As long as these opinions don't translate into books, it's all fine.


Nataliya Dennis wrote: "Don't bring politics into reading.
Lukyanenko is a giant douchebag for a whole lot more reasons.

I tried imagining myself stopping reading books by an certain author because of his personal opini..."


I disagree with your opinion, Dennis. I find books to be pretty influential in forming opinions and worldviews and therefore I do care whether they are authored by someone with such obnoxious political views and repulsive personality as Lukyanenko. I would love to know that my money or my opinions are not in any way benefitting such people. There are thousands of books that I'd rather read than something written by a person who can in all seriousness spout such hatred as Lukyanenko did. Plus, politics is impossible to avoid given that it determines the course of our lives in quite substantial ways. It comes into reading just as it manages to sneak into so many other parts of life.


message 43: by Dennis (new)

Dennis Nataliya wrote: "I disagree with your opinion, Dennis. I find books to be pretty influential in forming opinions and worldviews and therefore I do care whether they are authored by someone with such obnoxious political views and repulsive personality as Lukyanenko..."

What can I say? That is a fair point. But I still think that if author's views/opinions aren't expressed in the books, then they (obviously) can't influence people badly.

The "benefitting" point is absolutely true though.


message 44: by Mari (last edited Aug 07, 2014 10:48AM) (new) - added it

Mari Ugh, I knew I shouldn't have read your "reasons why I will never read another one of Lukyanenko's books", since I'm not even done with book #1 yet. Because I'm loving it, sure, but I also happen to be Ukrainian, and I am simply disgusted by the man now... I'm still going to finish the book, but, like you, won't read anything else by this author. He's not getting more of my money. Thanks for the info.


back to top