Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko
Published in 1998
Andrew Bromfield Translation
“The escalator crept along slowly, straining upward.”
So begins a tale of Others; supernatural beings that range from magicians and shape-shifters, to vampires and werewolves. Sergei Lukyanenko’s 1998 novel, Night Watch, tells the story of a member of the Night Watch; a secret society keeping the balance between Light and Darkness in the world of humans. What begins as a promising story with interesting world-building and moral dilemmas is eventually bogged down by a less-than-fulfilling ending in this first book of a series by the Russian author.
There is an ongoing struggle for the soul of humanity as a whole, and it is fought between the forces of Darkness and Light. In order to keep the final decision in the hands of humanity, there was a treaty created between the opposing forces, and two organizations were created: the Night Watch, which serves the Light and keeps tabs on Others on side of Darkness, and the Day Watch, which serves the Darkness and intervenes when the Light has overstepped its bounds. This balance is so important that even when Anton curses, it is either “Darkness and Light” or “Light and Darkness”, alternating based on whichever previous form was.
Anton is a low-level magician in the Night Watch who happens to find two extraordinarily magical people: a young boy named Egor and a young woman named Svetlana. Egor was attacked by vampires and is currently being hunted by one of them; Svetlana has a black vortex floating above her, which portends impending doom. Anton is the only one who can help her because his destiny is somehow connected with hers. Anton is paired with a stuffed, reanimated owl as his partner for the assignment; her name is Olga, and she was obviously someone once very powerful, as the more senior members of both Watches recognize and are afraid of her. She was taken from her human form as a punishment for a past transgression, and hopes that helping Anton in his quest will help her case be pardoned.
The Others are able to influence humans for good or ill, and doing so often leads to reparations or punishment. If one ill deed is done by a member of the Darkness, then the Light gets to counteract it with an equally good deed. This keeps the balance between Light and Dark in order to allow humans to decide their ultimate fate. The Others tap into the Twilight; an alternate dimension made up of three levels, with each becoming more harmful to the Other inside. The Twilight both gives and takes Other’s powers and allows them to become undetectable in the real world since humans cannot see it.
Night Watch is comprised of three stories that are connected and build off one another. The narration in the book is primarily from Anton’s point of view, but it switches to Egor, Maxim, and members of the Day Watch at various times in the three stories. Anton enjoys listening to his Walkman on random, and the songs often happen to fit the mood or situation he is in. Due to this, there are intermittent song lyrics throughout the novel which adds another level of connection to his character.
I enjoyed the first two stories in Night Watch; I found the dynamic between Light and Darkness, the way that each Watch deals with the other and how the Others justify their actions really refreshing. Where the novel falters is in its third story, which brings all of the good world-building to a grinding halt in favor of a lackluster finale. There was a sense of urgency and a decent pace at the beginning of the novel that keep it interesting, but I found myself checking how many pages were left when Anton’s character is reduced to a flat, selfish man stuck in a predictable story of love. The machinations of the Watches are decimated by one man’s wish to restore glory to his love, but it doesn’t match with the earlier two-thirds of the book. Overall, I did enjoy the book until it’s last part, so I don’t feel bad about giving it a 3, though it flirted dangerously close to a 2. Though this is the beginning of a series, I was left disappointed by the end of the book and really have no interest in following the adventures of the Night Watch or their enemies any further.
Verdict: 3 morally gray Others out of 5
Recommended for: Fans of the word “darkness”, fans of the word “light”, those who enjoy moral discussions, fans of supernatural elements in storytelling, and those who like it when a story runs too long.
Not recommended for: The easily confused, those who enjoy satisfying endings, fans of Terry Pratchett’s book Night Watch, the Day Watch, or people who dislike it when a story runs too long.