Portal to the Pages

A quick glimpse into my thoughts on various fiction

Retrospective: The Night Watch – Sergei Lukyanenko

on January 1, 2013
Book cover of "The Night Watch" by Sergei Lukyanenko

The Night Watch

I originally read The Night Watch about five or six years ago, but I never got around to reading the full series. My brother recently gave me the final book in the series, which prompted me to start from the beginning and reread The Night Watch before checking out any of the other books.

The Night Watch is set in Russia; however it is slightly different from the Russia that we know as it is populated by both humans and “Others”. These Others are supernatural beings who range from magicians to vampires and everything in between. All Others become aligned either to the Light or the Dark when they come of age and accept their powers properly. Both the Light and the Dark have their own form of authority to watch over each other, known as the Night Watch and the Day Watch respectively.

The Night Watch follows the exploits of Anton Gorodetsky, an inexperienced magician in the Night Watch. His story is separated into three sub stories that occur separately but feed into one overarching story also. Anton’s inexperience also allows for certain aspects of the universe of The Night Watch to be explained to the reader without breaking their sense of immersion.

Upon rereading The Night Watch, I was surprised, and delighted, to find that I remembered very little of the plot and even less of the various twists that occurred. In some ways, I felt as if I was reading the book for the first time, which I find to be extremely enjoyable when I revisit the book. However there were certain images that stuck in my mind when I thought of The Night Watch. I’m unsure whether this is due to these being particularly powerful scenes or simply a result of certain locations being visited frequently over the course of the book.

One theme that I find The Night Watch tackles well is that of good vs. evil and the concept that doing good can cause great evil at times. Many of the characters in the book, both those of the Light and of the Dark, alluded to the effects of their actions on the overall balance between good and evil in the mortal world. I particularly liked how various historical events were brought into play. For example, it is mentioned that the rise of communism in Russia was not started by the forces of the Light, but they did encourage it when it arose, in order to bring about a greater good for all of the Russian populace, however their plans failed before they were brought to fruition. The forces of the Dark stated that the Light usually ended up helping the cause of the Dark with these grand schemes, as the Light adopted a “the ends justify the means” approach wherein many individual people may suffer in the process.

An odd point to note in relation to this theme is that few characters seemed to be concerned with this approach. Anton visibly struggles with what he views as an almost callous attitude, as he feels that he should be trying to do as much good as possible at all times. Another character who is yet to become aligned with either the Light or the Dark is appalled by this approach also, but most of the other characters appear to have simply accepted it, even those who work at a relatively low level within the Night Watch.

Perhaps this approach was used to help the reader identify with Anton, as it helps to single him out against the other characters as being different and a worthy protagonist. This may also come into play at a later stage in the series, where perhaps Anton’s struggle with the methods of the Light will lead him to the Dark, however I am merely speculating at that. Maybe this approach is supposed to highlight how a fresh mind can be appalled at something that people who live with it every day have simply gotten used to and accepted. Regardless of the reason for this separation of Anton, I am glad that the author included it as it questions the concept of absolute good and whether any action can be without evil.

If I were to raise one criticism against The Night Watch, it would have to be its use of product placement. This was one aspect of the book that I didn’t notice on my first reading, but this time I found it glaringly obvious. The fact that I noticed them may be due to the fact that I have been studying marketing for almost five years now, but I really found the product placements jarring. I would be interested to know if these occurred in the original version of the book (as it was translated from Russian) or if they were an addition to the English version. Perhaps the brands were more localised when it was changed to English? On the off-chance any of you are fluent in Russian and have read the original version, do let me know!

Overall, however, I thoroughly enjoyed rereading The Night Watch and will definitely be seeking out the other books in the series. Unfortunately my local library only stocks The Night Watch so it may take me some time to hunt it down. Until then, I shall be constantly thinking and rethinking the consequences of every “good” deed I do.

Sinead

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