Night Watch

night watch sergei lukyanenko harperNight Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko, translated by Andrew Bromfield, 4/5

The three stories in this book are set in a fantasy version of Moscow that is home to both humans and the supernatural “Other” (magicians, vampires, healers and shape-shifters).  Each Other chooses to be affiliated with either Light or Dark, living a life of benevolence or selfishness.  The main character, Anton Gorodetsky, is a member of the Night Watch, a police-like entity composed of Light Others that monitors the behaviour of Dark Others, while the Dark Others in the Day Watch keep an eye on the Light.

Rather than pit the Light and Dark against each other in a cliched portrayal of the battle between Good and Evil, author Lukyanenko portrays the two Watches as functioning cooperatively, each side making concessions to the other in order to avoid an apocalyptic battle that would wipe out humankind (which is not in the interests of either side).  Neither the benevolent actions of the Light Others or the malevolent actions of the Dark Others are unregulated–if one is allowed a kind action, the other is allowed a cruel one; balance is the key.  Ultimately, the prevalence of one side or the other is determined by Humanity’s preference (an aspect of the story that seems weak–I hope it is elaborated on later in the series).

Lukyanenko explores the moral issues that arise in this counter-intuitive scenario, skillfully exploiting its dramatic potential.  I appreciate how the author lets his characters’ interactions with the environment reveal how the fantasy world operates, rather than explaining everything in painful detail or using forced dialogue.  The downside of this approach, and the fact that some nuances might be lost in the translation, is that a few parts of the stories are difficult to understand.  Thankfully, the novel’s Wikipedia article provides very helpful summaries, which I referred to periodically in order to clarify some plot details.

I have to mention Gregg Kulick’s cover design for this HarperCollins edition–one of the most beautiful modern covers I’ve ever come across.  If it were available as a poster, I’d be tempted.

[Why I read it: the confusing Russian films loosely based on this series did not inspire me to pursue it further, and it wasn’t until I recognised it in the i09.com list “10 Book Series So Addictive, You Never Want Them to End,” that I thought I’d give it a try.  Part of the attraction was the claim that the series had a good ending, though I guess that point is moot now that a new book will be released in May.]

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