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The Night Watch
Sean Stewart
Ace Books, 338 pages

Art: McGovern-Benson
The Night Watch
Sean Stewart
Born in Lubbock, Texas in 1965, Sean Stewart moved with his family to Edmonton, Alberta, when he was three. While growing up there and going to school, he has worked as a roofer, a theatre director, and a research assistant, among other things. He received an Honours Degree in English from the University of Alberta in 1987. After living in Vancouver for several years, Sean Stewart now lives in Houston, Texas, with his wife and two children.

Sean Stewart Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Galveston
SF Site Review: The Night Watch
SF Site Review: Clouds End
SF Site Review: Mockingbird

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Donna McMahon

Sean Stewart is an outstandingly talented young writer who tells good stories and creates vivid, compelling characters. Best of all, he writes with passion and artistry, without bludgeoning his readers with style.

The Night Watch is a fantasy set in a post-apocalypse landscape of 2074. Small cores of survivors live in Edmonton and Vancouver. The apocalypse they survived was the re-emergence of magic into the world and its triumph over human technology. Technology still exists, but people have concentrated on learning the vital magic skills that allow them to co-exist with gods, ghosts and demons. However, like glaciers pulling back to the ice cap, magic may be starting to retreat, and it seems the world is about to change again.

This novel follows the story of Emily Thompson, heir to her grandfather's empire on the Southside of Edmonton, and Raining Chiu, who lives in the magical rain forest on the outskirts of the human enclave of Vancouver's Chinatown. And many other characters. Many, many.

Which is why I had so much trouble getting into this book. There are approximately 15 major characters and many more minor ones. While they are all well drawn and Stewart is a good enough writer that the reader is able to keep track of them, it isn't until about halfway through the book that we get close enough to any of these people to start caring what happens to them. It doesn't help that one of the first characters we get to know freezes to death in a dozen very long pages about a third of the way in.

Not being a fantasy aficionado anyway, I nearly gave up then. But I persevered and soon I was glad I did. Characters meet up, the pace accelerates, and by the end I was entirely fascinated. The stories of the people were remarkable. Even the poetry was good.

I did, however, have some trouble with Stewart's setting. Much of the action takes place in Vancouver's Chinatown, but it's a Chinatown built largely from Stewart's imagination. Stewart is yet another Westerner who views the Chinese through romantic eyes, and focuses on customs of the Mandarin upper crust rather than the rural Cantonese peasants who settled on the West Coast. Admittedly, this is a minor point in a good novel, but since I'm a native of Vancouver, it interfered a great deal with my suspension of disbelief. (I kept picturing my Chinese nephew-in-law guffawing.)

Stewart did a far better job portraying the magical rain surrounding the city, and his description of winter in Edmonton could only have been written by someone who has lived through deep prairie cold.

Every other book jacket I've read these days has some quote like "This is a writer to watch" (marvelously ambiguous if you think about it), but Stewart IS a rising star. He's winning awards and he'll be winning lots more.

Copyright © 2002 Donna McMahon

Donna McMahon discovered science fiction in high school and fandom in 1977, and never recovered. Dance of Knives, her first novel, was published by Tor in May, 2001, and her book reviews won an Aurora Award the same month. She likes to review books first as a reader (Was this a Good Read? Did I get my money's worth?) and second as a writer (What makes this book succeed/fail as a genre novel?). You can visit her website at

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