Recommended Read: Night Watch
Russian title: Ночной дозор, Nochnoy Dozor
Author: Sergei Lukyanenko
Translated by Andrew Bromfield
Published originally in Russia: 1998
Published in US: 2008
Night Watch is a thrilling urban-fantasy about the uneasy truce maintained by two opposing organizations comprised of magical beings known as “Others.”
Set in modern-day Moscow, the titular Night Watch is the organization comprised of the Light Others, who are essentially the good guys. The opposing organization is called the Day Watch comprised of the Dark Others, the bad guys.
The Others live in secret alongside humanity. In the past, Light Others and Dark Others battled constantly resulting in massive death and destruction to normal humans and each other. So, they decided to sign a treaty, obliging them not to attack each other or humans or to substantially alter the course of the world for good or evil, something they normally would be striving for. Thus throughout the years, they have maintained a frustrating, bitter balance that tips close to the precipice of all-out war more often than not.
The story is told mainly in first person by Anton, an Other who has just moved out of the office onto patrol duty. He is an everyman—as far as you can be among a group of magical beings possessing fantastic powers—and he thus makes for a relatable entry into this unusual world.
Night Watch is told in three connected stories. The first called Destiny is about both Watches dealing with a cursed woman who could destroy all of Moscow. The second, Among His Own Kind, follows Anton trying to clear his name after being suspected for recent murders of Others. The third, All for My Own Kind, deals with a mystical artifact capable of turning the tides of power for either the Light or Dark Others. Each part builds upon the previous, and all the loose threads culminate in the third part.
Good and Evil
Night Watch features a hodgepodge of common fantasy and horror tropes: vampires, witches, magicians, psychics, and magical powers. But where it is unique is in its treatment of the concepts of good and evil.
At first glance, there is a very clear delineation between the two. The Others are inherently bound to either the Light or the Dark. This moral alliance is not so much a choice as a permanent affiliation bound to their character when they enter the magical realm known as the Twilight and first acquire their magical abilities.
But with this clear delineation as a background, the novel does explore the gray between the two.
There is much gray in the story, in how the characters act and in philosophical musings on the nature of Good and Evil, their similarities, differences, and how they can be two sides to the same coin.
For instance, what is grayer than the forces of Light and Dark abandoning the hope of winning the war completely? How about the fact that they allow each other indulgences for their nature, such as the Light Others give licenses to vampires sometimes to hunt a set number of humans. And also, should one side breach the Treaty, the opposite side is given the right to make an equal offense to the other side.
Indeed a bitter, dark melancholy pervades the book. Anton struggles constantly with the nature of good and evil. Rationalizing and justifying his actions, debating philosophy and how much good the Others really do. He struggles with the sense that they are too small to affect great change in the world. He agonizes over whether what they are doing is right or wrong, as maybe the concepts of Light and Dark don’t necessarily align with the concepts of right and wrong.
Yet, hope seems to rest below these gloomy waters, however deep it may seem buried at times. And, although Anton may struggle, he demonstrates such moments of understanding and compassion that we are elevated from these suffocating emotions.
So, the novel takes a simple and a complex approach to this theme.
Featuring plenty of mystery, intrigue, espionage, action, magical powers, and adventure, Night Watch is a thrilling, fun time not to be missed out or misconstrued as just another run-of-the-mill urban fantasy to pass on. Being a Russian novel, a different feel is presented to the reader that I think will feel fresh for many American readers.
Night Watch is just book one of five. Each one progresses the story, yet there is not a direct presence of a larger looming threat connecting all the books such as Voldermort in Harry Potter. Yet the books do progress in order and advance the larger world’s mythology and characters.
There are also two short stories or novels set in the world of the Others, but I believe they are not published in English. So, let’s read more of this author’s work and hope more is translated, not just of this series but of the many other books he has written.
Always on the brink of all-out war should the Others’ Treaty be broken, this high-octane urban-fantasy world is not to be missed.
If anyone has knowledge of the quality of the translation of the Night Watch books from Russian to English, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
This article is written by Michael DeCesaris