The Day Watch
by Sergei Lukyanenko
Review by Iain Emsley
William Heinemann Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 0434014435
Date: 04 January, 2007 List Price £11.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
It feels strange reviewing a novel which is better known as a film. However Sergei Lukyanenko's series is one that ought to be read and in spite of comments and quotations to the contrary, this book has nothing whatsoever to do with J.K. Rowling!
Both The Night Watch and this latest release, The Day Watch, (part two of this trilogy) are divided into three sections, each thematically linked. The first section relates the doomed love story of Alisa, a Dark Witch, and Igor, a Light Mage, who are sent to a resort to restore themselves after a fierce battle in Moscow. The second covers the coming of Vitaly, a mirror sent by the Inquisition to restore the balance between Light and Dark, which expands the worlds of the book, in terms of clans and also geographically, setting up the change of location in the third and final section, which binds the characters together and begins to explain the various threads from the first book and the novellas in this volume.
Russian writing, or at least the bits that I've read, has a tendency to lean toward the bizarre or the depressing and Lukyanenko's two books published here thus far bear this out - both are wonderfully bizarre yet with a slightly depressed feeling. One comes away with a sense that something can be done with the vampire novel - it is not yet (un)dead despite the amount of stakes, mirrors and critics thrown at it. Horror is a genre which works best when it uncovers the world, removing the surface sheen. The last time, to my mind, that horror really shone was with Poppy Brite's Lost Souls and Kathe Koje's Skin in the early Nineties, the literature working within the intrigues of personal relationships. It also reflects Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire and the losing oneself to a greater power, though not necessarily a religious one.
Secret societies allied to Light and Dark control the balance of the world, finding themselves constantly fighting to control the power of the other side. It would be easy to allow the human world to be controlled but Lukyanenko leaves the Others in a state of constant flux. The lower orders find themselves needing to trust the Greater Mages on both sides, wondering what is happening with their own destinies in the greater game. Yet even these Mages are bound to a higher power, one that sees both sides dispassionately providing necessary, if not always demanded, guidance under the Treaty. They see the world clearly through the Twilight, the secret societies' way of moving through the world. One gets the idea that the author knows and appreciates the weaknesses of genre writing and finds ways of supporting them: the great power does not give divine comment but pushes the protagonists to better themselves, none of the supernatural beings gain truly absurd powers. All the time the strange is grounded in the real.
Both books clearly join the rising voices of criticism of post-Soviet politics but The Day Watch extends the cast list, adding to the characters. The books are developing a powerful critique of post-Soviet Russia, removing the layers of crud and accreted political spin. This is a distinctly Russian novel yet it also joins the literature that decodes the world. This series is a powerful combination of New and Old Russia, the post-Soviet quasi-democracy rubbing shoulders with the older, more entrenched folk Russia, both aiding and abetting each other. The distinctly modern way of writing works so well with the Older folk archetypes that inhabit the pages. No doubt the final volume will grant us a view of the game of chess which underlies these stories. Will Heinemann be so kind as to publish it quickly?