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VINE VOICEon July 15, 2006
I have been a reader of Sci-Fi and Fantasy for almost 50 years, and I can say that this is the best "first novel in a series" I have read in about ten years. In fact, I literally could not put it down, starting it at 10PM on Friday night and finishing it at 3AM on Saturday morning. Then I couldn't sleep thinking about the ideas in the book.
If you have read translated Russian fiction, you will find a familiar feel to the translation that accentuates the best of the Russian Masters. At the same time, as ideas go, the premise is an ingenious variation on a recurrent and Manichean theme -- Light versus Dark. The story is told through the perspective of Anton, a Night Watcher, who works for an Agency that (1) keeps its eyes on the forces of the Dark; (2) enforces an uneasy and temporary truce with them; (3) pursues its own inscrutable agenda in preparation for the inevitible struggle to tip the balance of humanity one way or the other. I have not enjoyed a novel on this theme one-tenth as much since the late Roger Zelazny's "Jack of Shadows", which I thought superb. Yet, Night Watch is even better and more nuanced.

While long (about 500 pp), it is deliciously detailed but fast paced. The characters are wonderfully drawn as we discover new things about them through Anton's eyes, and he becomes increasingly ambivalent about the "party line." I agree that only a contemporary Russian could tell this story as effectively, given the recent history of that country. You will be constantly surprised and entertained as you deduce the real rules that govern this Earth and see the characters develop.

This was a great read, and I can't wait for the next installment. Because the novel is told in the first person point-of-view, I have some skepticism of how well this can be turned into a movie, and still convey the complex ideas and character development -- especially that going on in Anton.
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on March 28, 2007
Night Watch is a well written and stimulating new entry into the genre of contemporary gothic horror. The novel follows the progress of agent Anton of the Night Watch in Moscow as he is gaining his first field experience after working a desk job for the Watch for several years. Anton is referred to as a Light Magician with some potential but little experience, and the Night Watch he works for is the mystical law-enforcement agency that oversees the actions of the dark magical beings; werewolves, vampires, and dark witches and sorcerers. As part of the Night Watch Anton interacts with a cast of interesting mystical characters, both light and dark with their own motivations and emotions as he tries to unravel the series of mysteries presented to him. These characters (both light and dark) grow on you over the course of the novel, where they may seem to be paper thin creations when you first encounter them they each deepen in the course of the novel and in the sequels.

The novel is broken into three novellas that happen sequentially. Each novella stands mostly on it's own, but does build on the events of the previous. In the first section, Anton must determine the cause of a curse hanging over a single woman that threatens all of Moscow and possibly the world. In the second Anton is framed for the murders of dark ones and must find the real culprit and clear his name. In the last, all the pieces scattered around the board are gathered together into an end-game, Anton is torn between duty and his own motives as he slowly sees the potential outcomes of his actions in the previous two stories. As he pieces everything together he has to determine what forces are at work and how his actions and his motives work into the final intrigue, whether he is a force for good, evil or if his motivations merely selfish.

The Watch Series focuses on the agencies of light and darkness (good and evil if you will, though the tags are not entirely appropriate for this series). The Night Watch are agents of light watching over the practitioners of the dark during their preferred hours. The Day Watch are agents of darkness watching over the practitioners of the light during their period of the day. Their goal is to make sure that neither side tips the scales of light and darkness in their own favor in their over-reaching struggle for the fate of the world.

The over-reaching fantasy mechanism is the existence of "The Twilight" is the magical realm parallel to our own which the "Others" have access to. Emotions and the spiritual essence of the world fuel the Twilight as light, or dark energies (happiness or grief respectively). An "Other's" ability to manipulate this emotional energy in the Twilight defines his or her ability as a light or dark magician. Various creatures of myth appear, mostly as denizens of the darkness, but one can imagine there are an equal number of light creatures waiting in the wings that just don't get any page-time.

The author, Sergei Lukyanenko is a Russian psychologist and writer, and the Watch series novels are his first works translated to English. Night Watch (the source is primarily just the first novella of the novel) has been made into a feature film, which is quite watchable (especially the subtitled version Night Watch). Even in translation the moods and feelings of the characters are very readable. I found the internal struggle of the Light agents easy to comprehend. Although there is a little too much exposition in the internal thoughts of Anton, I didn't find it bogging down the pace of the story.

The settings in Moscow are worth the price of entry alone. Lukyanenko builds are gritty and believable world out of modern day Moscow and it's inhabitants both of the real world and the Twilight world. Particular attention to Soviet era architecture and how it affects the mood of the story. Because the author clearly has strong feelings for the city and it's environment, the streets, apartment buildings, subways, clubs and restaurants all come alive to the reader without trying to enforce a point of view about how great or awful any particular thing is about the city.

Overall Lukyanenko writes with a calm sensibility for the horror genre, these novels don't reek of the leather jacket cool of Shadow-Punk pop-culture much similar modern-day horror is riddled with. These novels have qualities similar to William Gibson's work in his seminal Sprawl series. Both share a touch of Raymond Chandler's gritty and personal story-telling mixed with a fully realized fantasy world of their own genres without a touch of sentimentality. Lukyanenko also brings a post-communism Russian feel to the stories that remind me slightly of the Salman Rushdie novels, in which the fantasy is a window into a culture re-inventing itself after political upheaval. Lukyanenko mostly avoids destroying the magical illusion with overly scientific explanations of how it all works, thus keeping much of the magic alive (Writers note: The trick isn't fun when you know how it works. This is what ultimately bogged down the vampire series by Anne Rice. JK Rowling in the Potter series does this best in the contemporary set, just letting the magic be magic following in the footsteps of Tolkien and Lewis).

Lukyanenko paints in shades of gray over the motivations and actions for both the light and darkness as they wage their battles over the fate of Moscow and ostensibly the rest of the world. The light represents order and obligation and darkness representing freedom and individuality. Where these qualities taken to extremes, allegiance to good and evil fades away into the background and the stories illustrate those distinctions as being more similar than different.

I have read the second installment in the series and look forward to the English release of the third.

Day Watch

Twilight Watch
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on July 24, 2006
I have been waiting on this book for months. I am a great fan of the film and wanted to read the book it was based on. I should note that the films Night Watch and Day Watch actually come from the first two sections of this book. A world of good and evil that exists around us. A world where a single moment could tip one towards good or towards evil as we are all just an action away from being lost to the other side. A world of spells, vampires, and the gloom but more importantly a world where the line between good and evil is not always clear.
I found the translations to be clear and easy to read but with an actual flair to them. This is not some boring by numbers translation.
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VINE VOICEon December 23, 2006
I saw the movie, then ordered the book. The book is far better. It's new-feeling even though the dystopic, gritty, urban fantasy landscape is getting pretty common in the US market. It's fresh to our eyes because the setting is in Russia, and the characters have different outlooks than we are used to seeing. There's a "life sucks, so deal with what you're dealt and don't whine" sort of underlying attitude that I found interesting. The POV character is seemingly depressed, but he muddles along, and is a good guy. The evil is evil but you can sort of see their side of things, too. In short, it is a world made up of gray, and you are ultimately left to decide for yourself what is right and wrong with this world. Also, a killer mystery/thriller plot.
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on July 21, 2006
I saw the movie when the limited screening was released in Los Angeles. I loved the movie so much that I had to read the book, I only had to wait 6 months till that happened. I read the book in 3 nights and I was very surprised, I didnt realize that the movie was made following only 1/3 of the book, just the first story. I found the other two parts just as good and it really made me enjoy the movie even more. All in all a very good book and a very fast read, I'll definately read it again and I can't wait until Day Watch comes out in January!
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on March 15, 2006
Moscow is swept with the Night / Day / Twilight Watch mania these days. Obviously, I became intrigued with the concept and promptly picked up the book this winter not to be disappointed. The plot draws you quickly into the mystery world of the two opposites: the Light and the Dark (note that NOT the Good and the Evil). One can clearly see multiple parallels with Master and Margarita, albeit modernized and less humorous and delivered in a less literary language than Bulgakov's. The similarity is not coincidental given that both novels were written in the periods of Russian history when the lines between what is clear and what is not are not obvious and each participant in the daily living drama must make his or her own moral or judgment call. The book is very visual - you can literally see each of the episodes play out in front of you. The movie adaptation is equally good although has the same drawbacks - the storyline is a bit choppy and it is sometimes hard to follow the plot. Overall, both the book and the movie are worthwhile endeavors.
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VINE VOICEon December 20, 2006
I had my husband read this first, after he read the Russian version, so he could tell me how good the translation was (he was born in Russia). He tells me the translation from Russian is very good, as good as could be expected considering there are so many Russian words and phrases that simply cannot be translated into English with the same amount of impact. Apparently the Russian version of this book has a great deal of humor in it - what I primarily found was a fairly melancholic air, as this book - all three parts of it - focus on Anton, a 5-year veteran of the Nightwatch. The Nightwatch is a group of Light Others - magicians, shapeshifters, etc. - who work to ensure that the Dark Others (led by the Daywatch) keep the truce that was set up by both sides as a result of WWII (as far as I could tell judging from the time frame). Anton is having what could be most closely defined as a crisis of faith; he feels that maybe the ends do NOT justify the means and that the Nightwatch is NOT acting in the best interests of humankind after all. However, he does not want to switch allegiances - in fact, as far as he knows no one can - and he cannot act directly against the Nightwatch or he will be sent into the Twilight forever.

The first part of the book is the part that most closely resembles the movie that was created from these novels - they must again save Egor, a young boy, from a female vampire, after Anton has saved him once and killed her paramour, who illegally turned her after falling in love with her when he was licensed to take her (I presume the "legal" result of this transaction would be the death of the girl, but it is never baldly stated this way). At the same time, a large dark vortex has opened over the city and they must find first the person over whom it has risen and secondly the Magician or Sorceress who has set it.

The second part of the book finds Anton in a great deal of danger when a Maverick Other, who does not even realize that he IS an Other, has been killing off Dark Others for around 3 years. He must find the Maverick and bring him in before the Daywatch catches up to him (or the Maverick - but the Daywatch is certain is it Anton himself who is doing the deeds).

Finally in the 3rd section of the book, we find Moscow under an unusual heat wave and the Nightwatch cut to a skeleton crew, with the rest being sent off on vacation. Anton fears that Svetlana - who, he is told, is destined to be a Great One - is being pushed too far, too fast and that, as a result, the fragile love that has grown between them will be snapped. As a result, he pushes her even farther away and finally ends up making a deal with the Dark Ones; however, he redeems himself in the finale, before announcing to Gesar and Svetlana that he has realized this whole situation has been a feint and distraction to keep the Dark Ones from knowing what is actually going on (of course, we ourselves have very little idea ourselves, as Anton doesn't deign to actually state out loud much about the actions going on.)

Maybe more perceptive readers than I will figure out what is going on in the background, but a lot of this feels like a book by L E Modesitt, Jr, where I never quite know what the heck is going on, but I love it anyway.

Don't miss this one - it's a terrific book.
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on January 8, 2013
The book is based in a world where Others exist alongside the human world we know. Others are your fantasy and creatures of legends, magicians, werewolves, vampires, etc. The Other society is split in to two factions, the light ones and the dark ones who have been fighting an enternal battle. The battle continues but the two sides have agreed upon some basic rules and these are enforced by police forces on either side, the Night Watch (light ones) and Day Watch (dark ones). While it seems like a straight forward good (light ones) versus evil (dark ones), the author works to show that it's not always that clean cut.

The book tells three connected stories about the agent Anton, a magician/system analyst whose reluctantly pulled into field assignments for the Night Watch. The stories tend to start dealing with a simple problem, but as the stories unfold they get more complex as the plots from both sides are revealed in their ongoing battles.

The stories were well paced, and the world of the Others was well constructed. I did get a bit confused once or twice with the actions flipping between the real world and twighlight (kind of an alternate universe), but not enough that it detracted from the book. I enjoyed the way the stories always contained more going on just what was on the surface, the plots and intrigues of the different Watches were interesting to see revealed.
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on July 18, 2006
Truly a diamond in the rough. I couldn't put it down. I can see why this was a bestseller in Russia, and I wonder how long it will take for this to become popular in the United States. The story moves fast and holds your attention on each page. You may be a little lost at first, but you catch on fast. I rate this 5/5 and hope that other people enjoyed it as much as I did!
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on May 19, 2008
Night Watch has some terrific and quirky ideas. A story of Light and Dark magicians vying with one another in post-Soviet Moscow, this has a great deal of complexity and a lack of obvious stereotypes. This is a world where vampires are not monsters but neighbours, and where "good" and "evil" are not as clear-cut as you might imagine. However, the fact that these are three stories tacked together means that the pace is awkward and the whole novel seems long and rather flabby. The ending is anticlimactic which is a shame. Incisive editing would have been a great help.
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