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The Day Watch, (Vol. 2 of the Night Watch Trilogy)
Sergei Lukyanenko, translated by Andrew Bromfield
Anchor Canada, 489 pages

The Day Watch
Sergei Lukyanenko
Born in Kazakhstan and educated as a psychiatrist, Sergei Lukyanenko is a prolific award-winning writer, author of over 25 books. He lives in Moscow with his family In Russia, the three volumes of the Night Watch Trilogy have sold over two million hard covers between them. The Night Watch has been adapted into film and has been distributed round the world. Internationally acclaimed, the film was Russia's contender for the 2004 foreign language Oscar award.

Sergei Lukyanenko Website
ISFDB Bibliography
Sergei Lukyanenko Biography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

I tend to be wary of overhyped and overly popular books, so I must admit that when first delving into Sergei Lukyanenko's The Day Watch, with no knowledge of its predecessor The Night Watch, I was ready -- almost expecting -- to be disappointed -- but, thankfully, such was not the case.

Some "marketers" have compared the Night Watch Trilogy to recent fantasy bestsellers such as J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series, but, unlike these, the Night Watch Trilogy involves realistic contemporary (post-communism modern, slightly decaying Russian) urban landscapes, strictly adult characters, with adult interests, motivations and issues, organized in highly hierachical multi-member fraternal organisations, battling on many fronts, and trying to intrigue their way to superiority over the other side. In this sense the Night and Day watches, which operate outside the ken of the 'mundanes' are much more reminiscent of the title characters in Katherine Kurtz's early Deryni series books.

In the world which Lukyanenko portrays, there exists a second, magic-powered parallel world, termed the Twilight, which remains unseen and unsensed by the "mundanes." The Others, Dark and Light use this arena to fight the age-old battle of 'good' vs. 'evil' -- though just what one chooses to see as 'good' and 'evil' are a question of perspective. Just as in Michael Moorcock's The War Amongst the Angels the 'good' can be seen as stiflers of freedom and progress, and the 'bad' as the reckless foe of the safe status quo, from The Day Watch one can generate a list of more or less fuzzy dichotomies to describe the two sides:

 The Day WatchThe Night Watch
Name of IndividualsDark OthersLight Others
What one might expect their motto to beDo what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law... (Aleister Crowley)Whatsoever ye would that men should doe to you, doe ye even so to them. (KJV Bible, 1611)
AttitudeSelf-centeredConcerned with others
Political viewpointLibertarians or
Social democrats or
Draw magical energy fromfear, sadness, hatredhappiness, love

It is these dichotomies and the author's relatively unbiased and non-judgmental portrayal of the two groups which renders the whole effort so entertaining.

When we join the action, some time in the late 90s, both sides, behind the cover of petty skirmishes, is developing, through intrigue and manipulation, a master blow that will overwhelmingly assert their dominance over the other side. Of course, when one starts reading the first of the three novellas in The Day Watch, "Unauthorized Personnel Permitted" -- at least without prior knowledge of the events in The Night Watch -- one isn't privy to what's really going on, behind the scenes. A female Dark One, Alice, and a male Light One, Igor, are drained of all but a fraction of their powers in a magic-driven street fight over an elderly woman who has been using magic without approval or licence -- how very mundane, if not 'mundane.' Under the rules set up between the two sides so that their age-old fight doesn't degenerate into a apocalyptic bloodbath, and overseen by an impartial but powerful organisation termed the Inquisition, Alice (and Igor) must gradually rebuild their powers. Working in a mundane's summer camp she meets a young man, they fall passionately in love, consummate their relationship, only to realise, when they have regained sufficient strength to recognize it, that she is Dark, and he, Igor, is Light. He kills her and his inattention results in a boy drowning. So far, ho-hum...not uninteresting, but where is all this going?

In "A Stranger Among Others" it becomes clear that the seemingly minor debacle over the old woman, actually had much more far-flung consequences than one might have expected. It has created somewhat of a long-term power vacuum on the Dark side, and both sides are scrambling to deal with or take advantage of it. Enter Vitaly Rogoza, a somewhat confused middle-aged man with no past, no memory of who he is; a man who tends towards the Dark, but develops unnaturally quickly and through unknown sources of power into a one-man rogue army, answering to neither side. Meanwhile, four multiethnic Dark 'brothers' steal an ancient Dark artefact from the Inquisition and bring it to Moscow. The Light are screaming 'foul' and eager to acquire the artefact, the Dark eager to hold on to it. A confluence of artefact, top Dark and Light operatives, and Vitaly occurs at a Moscow airport, where a magic showdown occurs that will alter the balance once again.

In the last story, "Another Power" a combination of intrigue, skullduggery and court-room drama, the Light Ones and Dark Ones lick their wounds and take their many grievances to the court of the Inquisition -- while, of course, continuing their scheming. This is where things really get interesting, where members on either side try to figure out how a number of disparate events fit together, whether they are pawns or players in the game, why Alice was seemingly sacrificed, who Vitaly was, and what master blows the two sides were planning. All this is developed in a manner that only gives things away bit by bit.

The fact that Lukyanenko allows his story to unfold slowly, results in the reader not being immediately clued into the greater picture, and necessitates the reader put the pieces of the puzzle together, to some degree along with the characters, in a manner somewhat reminiscent of a mystery novel. This along with the intrigues, the intelligence of the main characters, the almost corporate structure of the two sides, and the fact that all the characters are adults, makes The Day Watch very much an adult-targeted dark fantasy. Rowling and Pullman's works mentioned above, while entertaining for adults, are clearly targeted at younger readers. On the other hand, The Day Watch, which might almost be termed a novel of contrasting ideologies (not say that pretentious, scare-off-all-the-readers term, 'philosophical novel') -- if it didn't have elements of romance, action, fantasy and even 'mundane' novels -- again is clearly targeted at adult readers.

So, if you're looking purely for an entertaining throw-away read, then The Night Watch may not satisfy you, but certainly whether you tend to the dark or the light The Night Watch will provide an interesting look at the age-old dichotomy.

Copyright © 2008 by Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist whose interests lie predominantly in both English and French pre-1950 imaginative fiction. Besides reviews and articles at SFSite and in fanzines such as Argentus, Pulpdom and WARP, he has published peer-reviewed articles in fields ranging from folklore to water resource management. He is the creator and co-curator of The Ape-Man, His Kith and Kin a website exploring thematic precursors of Tarzan of the Apes, as well as works having possibly served as Edgar Rice Burroughs' documentary sources. The close to 100 e-texts include a number of first time translations from the French by himself and others. Georges is also the creator and curator of a website dedicated to William Murray Graydon (1864-1946), a prolific American-born author of boys' adventures. The website houses biographical, and bibliographical materials, as well as a score of novels, and over 100 short stories.

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