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Sergei Lukyanenko's The Night Watch Reviewed
email this pageprint this pageemail usAlex Gomez - PVNN
January 28, 2010

The Night Watch
by Sergei Lukyanenko
Seal Books, 1998, 577 pp.

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Although the reader won't know this until he reads the novel to its end, its raisons d'etre are inscribed on the very first page: "This text has been approved for distribution as conductive to the cause of the Light." - The Night Watch.

"This text has been approved for distribution as conductive to the cause of the Dark." - The Day Watch. The members of the Night Watch and Day Watch are all Others, magicians (at many levels), vampires, shape-shifters, werewolves, analysts, administrators and programmers. What differentiates Others from ordinary humans is that Others are able to step in and out of the Twilight, or collective unconscious, where things move at different speeds to those of the ordinary world, where colours fade to black and grey, where the very air becomes hot and viscous.

Walking home in all innocence from swim practice, twelve-year-old Egor has no idea where the strange music that's pulling him forward is coming from, until he confronts two people as alike as brother and sister with faces that seem to be covered "by a dusty, semi-transparent gauze" awaiting him in an icy alleyway. The male of the two is a vampire, and his girlfriend is his creation. He has brought her out to feed on human blood for the first time. As the pair beckoned him with the music that only he seems to be able to hear, the female vampire now beckons him with her eyes.

Recently, in a not-so-distant area of Moscow, Anton is awakened by his boss's secretary and just before he brushes his teeth, he goes to his fridge to extract a colander full of bloody meat and the saucepan he's placed it on, only to down the pig's blood collected in it. Then he goes out into the night, since he's on watch.

Anton begins with a six-hour trip in the metro, sees a young, pretty girl in a fur coat with a black vortex hovering over her head. He's seen such black vortices before, and knows them to be the result of curses often casually cast on the people who have these black things hovering over their heads.

The vortex this particular girl is sporting is out of the ordinary; so powerful it will lead to more than just her own death. Anton then extracts a magical amulet from his bag, and feeling he has no choice, aims its power at the black vortex. Several people in the carriage find their migraines and hopeless miseries have suddenly left them, but the black vortex persists.

When the train slows to a stop, Anton senses the object of tonight's search nearby, and leaves the pretty cursed girl behind, knowing that there is nothing more he can do for her. He jumps out of the carriage at Marx Prospect because he can hear the call clearly now, and once he realizes it's a woman's call, he decides it's meant for the boy who exited the car before him.

Anton enters the Twilight, and through it moves much faster than if he'd remained in the ordinary world, closing in on the source of the music that has lured Egor into the dark alley. He comes upon the pair of vampires, the girl's fangs extended over the boy's exposed throat, and dispatches the both of them. The girl by throwing the remains of the bottle of vodka he bought at a street stand at her face, and by open-handedly striking the male's heart and breaking his spine. Anton was forced to drink pig's blood to enable him to acquire a vampire's strength and abilities. This is how Anton meets Egor, and realizes that the boy is also an Other, one with an undefined destiny.

From this point forward, the reader will find herself pulled along by the novel, which continues over a few hundred pages in the same frenetic pace. We are told about a war that's been raging for countless centuries, until a truce had to be called at the last millennium; for fear that the human race would be obliterated. In other words, the Cold War. And while the Night Watch exists to keep human beings safe, the Day Watch exists to exploit and manipulate them. Both sides exist because they were born of the human race.

It soon turns out that the vortex over the pretty girl's head from the metro is capable of devastating the whole of Moscow in one fell explosion. Since the boss, Gesar, the most powerful magician on the side of the good, sees that there is a link between Anton and the accursed girl Svetlana, he teams him with an Other who has been trapped in the body of an owl as punishment for a past crime, Olga.

Anton is to distract and find out from Sveta how she acquired her curse, while Olga dissevers the vortex. Accompanied by fellow warriors of the Light, like Tiger Cub, a young girl and former healer who has become a shape-shifter in order to do battle against the Dark, some witches and other operatives, Anton and Olga confront the master Magician of the Dark, Zabulon, who wants nothing more than for Moscow to be blown to bits.

The Night Watch is a story that takes place on two different but complementary realities; one of these is distinctly human. As Anton gets to know Svetlana, he ponders what her future would have been if she hadn't entered into the service of the Light; now that it's been established that Sveta, once a doctor, is a very powerful sorceress who cast the vortex that threatened all of Moscow upon herself, having felt guilty about her mother's death.

Anton thinks of humans like her, and wonders, "How many of you there still are, girls and boys of various ages, raised by naοve parents in the seventies. How many of you are there, so unhappy, not knowing how to be happy. How I long to take pity on you, how I long to help you. To touch you through the Twilight-gently, with no force at all. To give you just a little confidence in yourself, just a bit of optimism, a gram of willpower, a crumb of irony. To help you, so that you can help others."

Soon Anton discovers that the Night Watch is embroiled in a plan to eradicate evil behaviour from human life altogether, using Svetlana's extraordinary powers, with Egor to be cast as a new Messiah, and does everything in his power to stop it. It would only be a new sort of communism, and one that would not take into account the catastrophes that followed this system of government.

For once in my life, I agree with Quentin Tarantino: "The Night Watch is an epic of extraordinary power." It is also the first book in a tetralogy, comprised of this book, The Day Watch, The Dusk Watch and The Final Watch.
Alex Gomez is an award-winning writer, who'd die if he couldn't write. To date, he has written numerous short stories, hundreds of articles and two serious novels.

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