Josh's Reviews > Night Watch

Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko
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's review
Dec 12, 13

bookshelves: fiction
Read in December, 2007

I read Sergei Lukyanenko's Night Watch after having already seen the films based on it. The movie Night Watch is more or less a faithful adaptation of the first section of the book with a few embellishments. The movie Day Watch is a much looser adaptation of the second and third sections.

On the first page of the book, there are two messages: One from the Night Watch that reads: "This text had been approved for distribution as conducive to the cause of Light." The message from the Day Watch is identical except that it states that the text is "conducive to the side of Darkness." These two statements sum up the novel very well. Lukyanenko imagines an all too familiar war between Light and Darkness and then turns it on its head. The war is fought by "Others" who are different from humans in that they have magical powers. But the war is long over in the present day Moscow in which the novel is set. There is a treaty between Light and Darkness that both sides need to adhere to and it allows very little direct intervention from either side. The most that either side can do is police the other side to make sure they do not break the treaty. And so we have the Night Watch, Light others who police the night, and the Day Watch, Dark others who police the day.

The story is told from the perspective of Anton, a computer programmer for the Night Watch who is getting his first taste of field work. Anton makes an interesting narrator. He's in a middle management sort of position in the Night Watch and you get the impression that he's an underachiever. He's reluctant to go into field work and, through the course of the novel, we begin to see why. Anton is a deeply introspective person who questions everything and, while he is fully on the side of Light, he has his questions about the Night Watch. His desk job allows him to avoid these questions but, in the field, he needs to face them. There is a family of Vampires, Dark others, in Anton's apartment complex that he is friendly with. They are Dark, but they don't feed on humans and Anton likes them. When Vampires do feed on humans, they get a license from the Night Watch. Does this make the Light others responsible for the vampire's victim? These are the questions that Anton asks himself and it makes the stark contrast between Light and Dark seem very gray.

Each section of the novel follows a similar structure. It begins with a threat to the balance between Light and Darkness. Anton finds himself intimately involved and struggles to find the right way forward. There is a moment at the end when an apocalypse seems imminent, but ultimately it is avoided. The true, complex machinations of both Light and Darkness are revealed at the end, such that neither side comes off very well, and the stalemate continues. Readers of traditional fantasy may find this frustrating, as the final showdown between Light and Darkness never materializes, but others will probably find Lukyanenko's work more true to life.

Anton's desire to do what is right never comes into question. However, we experience his difficulty in determining the right thing to do. The Night Watch always means well, but some of their schemes go horribly wrong. Communism, we are told, was a plan of the Light others gone wrong. And, in a remarkably even handed and subtle moment, we are told that the Nazis were the result of a Light other plan gone awry. We are left to question, not our values, but how we can do anything in our lives without making concessions to the Darkness within us.

If there is a problem with this book, it is that it becomes a little one-note after a while. A great deal of this book consists of conversations on morals and ethics between to characters or Anton's own internal musings. Still, the novel transcends all of this at the end, and we are left to believe that the love between two individuals might be more important than the battle between good and evil.
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