In modern-day Moscow, things are not quite what they seem. The citizens of the city wake, watch television, go to work and live their lives. Amongst them, however, walk Warriors of Light and of Darkness, who are separated into the factions known as the Day Watch and the Night Watch. They are no ordinary people. They are vampires, witches, shape-shifters and mages, known only as Others. They exist in a world just below the surface of all things, in an otherworld known as the Twilight.
To enter the Twilight, an Other must be initiated, and in doing so must choose which path they will tread: Light or Dark. When they enter the Twilight, it feeds off of their lifeforce. To remain too long will result in being consumed, and they forever will be unable to return to the real world.
Ages ago, these two armies met and fought to a bloody stalemate, crafting a truce. To monitor the Warriors of Darkness, the forces of Light created the Night Watch, which patrols the evening hours, ensuring that the truce is upheld at all times. Likewise, the Day Watch, comprised of Dark forces, monitors the actions of the Forces of Light. A third group, the Inquisition, keeps a record of both sides to ensure that neither grows too powerful.
NIGHT WATCH is told from the perspective of Anton Gorodetsky, one of the Light Others and a reluctant member. At the outset of the novel, he is in pursuit of a child, Egor, who has fallen prey to The Call, a lure sent out by a darkside vampire. As the events of the novel unfold, it is found that Egor has what is known as a "clean slate," meaning that he has not yet chosen a side. It is believed that should he side with the Dark, the balance of power will shift and the Light will fall into ruin.
As if saving Egor wasn't enough, a young woman, Svetlana, has been cursed by the Dark, opening a great Vortex. It is up to Anton and his partner Olga, a powerful Other trapped in owl form as punishment for a past transgression, to find Svetlana and eliminate the curse that threatens to destroy all of Moscow.
Sergei Lukyanenko has created a stunning and gritty vision of Moscow and infused it with exquisite description of otherworldly imaginings. Within the three long stories that make up this novel is the concept that not all light is good and not all dark is evil. Shades of gray move about in all spaces, and although Anton is on the side of light, each section of the novel sees him finding it harder to believe in the cause of Light.
This is but the first installment in a tetralogy that has a rabid following in Russia. It is a deserved following. Lukyanenko has seen his books reach bestseller status and has been recognized as the premier science fiction writer in Russia. In 1999 he received the Aelita Award for general contribution to science fiction, the youngest Russian author to receive the award, and the film version of the novel became the biggest selling film in Russian history, surpassing even The Lord of the Rings and Spiderman 2.
Picking up NIGHT WATCH, it is not hard to see why the world will soon see more of Lukyanenko's work. It's a vivid and hard look at post-Soviet Russia, and readers are instantly swept up into the ultimate battle of wills. The beauty is in the conflict both within and without, and in Anton's struggle to find Light enough within Light to keep up the fight.
Lukyanenko does a masterful job of laying out the emotional and psychological conflicts while at the same time counter-balancing it with pure magic and mythic storytelling.
A dash of horror, a pinch of science fiction and a dab of modern day are expertly mixed into one phenomenal adventure that will easily keep you turning pages. And as noted in the opening pages, this translation is approved by both the Night Watch and the Day Watch.
Reviewed by Stephen Hubbard on July 26, 2006