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Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Review: The Night Watch

Author: Sergei Lukyanenko

Translator: Andrew Bromfield
Release date: July 2007
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Target audience: Adult
UK Publisher: Arrow, Random House


The Night Watch is an Urban Fantasy translated from Russian.

Anton is an Other – an Other of the Light. A member of the Night Watch who are responsible for monitoring those of the Dark – the Day Watch. Anton is a low-grade magician. Usually he works in the analyst division of the Night Watch. When the story begins, he is in the middle of his field operative training under the orders of the Boss. He is searching for a rogue member of the Dark – a vampire who is hunting prey. Whilst travelling on the Moscow Metro, Anton spots a girl with a Dark vortex hovering above her head. He attempts to disperse it but is unsuccessful. Torn between pursuing the vampire and helping the girl, Anton must decide which is his priority as a member of the Watch.

This isn’t your standard good versus evil story. The Night Watch and The Day Watch signed a treaty which prevents them from acting in the extreme. The thing the separates them is that those of Light act selflessly. Those of the Dark act self-interestedly. They both can take power from the ordinary humans who live among them unaware of their existence. The Light chooses not to. The Dark enjoy it. One of the things that I liked about this novel was that being of the Light was a struggle. It was a constant battle with the conscience to act for the benefit of others rather than for one’s own interest. This seems to me exactly what goodness is.

When I started reading The Night Watch I was entertained by the elements that stood out to me as fitting with the idea if Russia – the bitter cold, the vodka, even the vampires. But this novelty soon wore off and I found this book a frustrating read overall. It is told in three “stoires” but I didn’t realise this until I got to the end of Story One. Suddenly, I was wondering if I was going to have to locate myself in the world all over again. That wasn’t the case but I carried on reading feeling unsettled. The “stories” should have been called “parts”. There were also turns of phrase which were really off-putting using things like double negatives and confusing me as to the meaning of a sentence. Could this have been a process of the translation? The translator perhaps trying to stay true to the Russian and thus losing the understanding of a British reader?

Other things that I had difficulty with were placing the age of the main character – I couldn’t picture Anton at all. Yet I could visualise the scene and the secondary characters. The ending – I didn’t actually understand what Anton did. The constant referring to the Boss with his forename and surname - that was irritating.

The plot of the book is complicated. It’s meant to be. Think of a game of chess. Both the Light and the Dark are moving pawns, knights, rooks. They make moves seeing many steps ahead in the game. Now think of one of the pawns telling the story. This is The Night Watch. The main character is frustrated with his passive role. As I reader, I was too. I just didn’t understand what was going on half the time. The Russian feel of the book was great. But the plot was confusing. The Night Watch was a disappointing read for me.

Source: Bought copy from a second-hand bookshop.

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