Saturday, October 2, 2010

Girl on Book Action: The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko

The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko
ISBN: 0-385-66365-X


Walking the streets of Moscow, indistinguishable from the rest of its population, are the Others. Each owes allegiance to either the Dark or the Light, two powerful forces that long ago forged an uneasy truce in order to avert chaos and disaster. They watch each other closely, carefully maintaining the world’s precarious balance between good and evil.

Anton, a young Other of the Light, is a Night Watch agent who patrols the streets and subways of the city, protecting ordinary people from the agents – including vampires – of the Dark. On his rounds, Anton comes across a young woman, Svetlana, who is under a powerful curse that threatens to destroy the city, and a boy, Egor, an Other still unaware of his powers, whom Anton narrowly saves from the vampires of the Dark.

Anton and his partner, Olga, a powerful female Other who has been turned into an owl as punishment, work frantically with their Night Watch colleagues – each gifted with their own particular powers – to deflect Svetlana’s curse and to protect Egor from the creatures that pursue him.

Aside:  And here you go, my follow-up to Wren's review of the movie adaptation.  Enjoy!

My Thoughts:

As usual when I review a book that also has a movie version that I’ve seen I’m going to try to keep the comparisons to a minimum, but they may creep in here and there.

The first thing I want to address is that I was worried about the translation when I started reading this book, especially when thinking back to Let the Right One In.  I had concerns that some of the prose was problematic for me because of the way it was translated. My fears with regard to The Night Watch were unfounded. Not only was the prose pleasant enough to read, but I don’t have any typos to gripe about!

I really enjoyed that while there was quite a bit of action, the novel was also a meditation on Good and Evil, the boundary between the two, the grey areas. As Anton grows as a character and learns more about both the side of Light – the Night Watch – and the Dark – the Day Watch – the questions of who is right and who is wrong become more and more difficult to answer. Both sides have rules and regulations but they’re in a sort of cold war with small skirmishes and negotiations. The setting and mythology just really appealed to me. The idea of a Balance that needs to be maintained and that any action by either side not only has natural repercussions but also gives the other side the right to retaliate. It’s a book about choices and having to live with the consequences of your actions. And if you've been following for a while, you might recall that I was similarly pleased to find this type of meditation in the Recluse books (you can find the first review here).  The topic is approached in a more gritty, mature way here, so you need not fear that it's repetitive.

The story itself moved at a good clip and there were puzzles, clues, and ethical pondering. Between the mystery, the philosophizing and Anton’s character I kept turning pages. While the notions of Good and Evil are fairly universal, the setting and characters led to a bit of estrangement from these concepts. In some ways, the whole book reads like an intense, drug-induced hallucination and you’re just rushing along in a whirlwind of fantastic events.

The pace of the story was probably one of the few drawbacks of the book – sometimes it felt like things could have been explained more fully or described in more detail. More complete explication would not have detracted from the mysteries and puzzles. I’m mostly thinking about the organization of the two Watches, some of the understanding of how they work is mostly inferred from conversations and events, which is fine in a way, but when you set up a fairly complicated system explaining at least some of it in detail helps. I also would have liked to have seen some more action from the women. There are several female characters, all of them strong, but since the story is told from Anton’s point of view, we only get a limited view of these women.

Wow, did I really get this far without talking about the movie? Good for me and for you, too!

Okay, let me wrap this up. This book and the quality of the translation pleasantly surprised me. The setting and characters are memorable and make the pages fly past. I recommend this one and will be looking to get part two, Day Watch in the near future.

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