Friday, February 3, 2017

Review of The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko (2006, Hyperion; 1998 Russian)

For a thousand years or more, a select group of supernatural humans, so-called ‘Others’, have lived among ordinary mortals, serving either the Dark or the Light.  While the Light feel duty bound to serve a common good and seek to produce a utopia, the Dark live to serve themselves.  Since calling a truce both sides honour a treaty, seeking to make sure each observes its remit while also trying to get the upperhand.  Anton is a mid-level member of the Night Watch who spend their time policing members of the Dark in Moscow.  Patrolling the metro one evening and tracking a young Other who has yet to choose the Light or Dark, Anton spots a young woman carrying a curse.  Both the child and woman, along with Anton, turn out to be highly significant pawns in a larger game being played by the respective bosses of the Light and Dark, and all three are in grave danger.  While Anton is not blessed with great magical powers he has enough guile to try and plot a path out of their predicament; it’s not clear though whether a willingness to try will be enough to save them and the city from catastrophe.

The Night Watch is an urban fantasy set in modern day Moscow.  It follows the adventures of Anton, a young member of the Night Watch who police the actions of the Dark, a collective of supernatural people who use their powers to further their own ends.  Members of the Light and Dark walk amongst ordinary people but can practice magic, take on other forms, and can slip into the Twilight, a kind of magical overlay that enables other kinds of interactions with time and space.  Following a young boy who is being called to a pair of vampires, Anton spots a young woman who is cursed.  The intersection of the three pull them into a strange interlinked nexus.  Both the boy and woman are ‘Others’ that have not yet chosen the Light or Dark and both sides want them to join their ranks.  It soon becomes clear, however, that a wider game is being played. It’s a testimony to the storytelling that Lukyanenko creates a full realised fantasy world that seems entirely natural to the reader from the first page.  Anton is an engaging character and is surrounded by other colourful members of the Night and Day Watch.  The plot is nicely constructed with good interplay between the characters and a shifting pattern of fortunes. Lukyanenko structures the tale into three interlinked parts, each of which is constructed as if it is a separate episode in a longer story arc.  The result is an entertaining and compelling tale of an unfolding battle between good and evil, the Light and the Dark.

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