Sunday, October 5, 2008

Ночной дозор

I recently read Ночной дозор (Night Watch) by Sergei Lukyanenko. I’m not usually into fantasy – cute dwarves, elves and fairies just don’t do it for me – but this grabbed me. It is definitely written for adults, not children.

The book is set in present day Moscow (I read an English translation – when I was in college I probably would have given the original Russian a try, but at my current speed of comprehension, I would have run out of space on the actuarial table before I finished). Moscow is the grimy, run-down, post-Soviet metropolis as it is today, but in this Moscow, magic exists. Among the human inhabitants there also reside magicians, vampires, shape-shifters and the like. The supernatural beings have divided into two camps: The Light and The Dark. After gaining powers, one must choose which of the two groups to which he or she will belong. It is not as simple as Good and Evil, although that is the underlying conflict. Although The Light is devoted to being selfless and acting for the greater good, and The Dark acts in its own self interest, The Light can do bad things, and The Dark can do good. This moral ambiguity adds a great deal of depth to the books. For centuries the two sides fought a war, but a thousand years prior, a treaty was signed, ending open conflict. Since the two sides don’t trust each other, each side keeps an eye on the other for treaty violations. The Light calls their group the Night Watch, and The Dark calls theirs the Day Watch.

The main character of Night Watch is Anton Gorodetsky, a low-level mage who is something of a bureaucrat thrust into doing field work. (If you have read much Russian literature, you know The Bureaucrat is the basic stock character of fiction). He ends up fighting both sides in a struggle for a young boy who may be the key to resolving the ancient struggle. Along the way, he begins to discover some truths about himself, and about the organization t which he belongs. His internal conflict over whether he's following the right path adds a lot to the book

The book is full of metaphor, which is typical of the better Russian authors. I guess if you live for over seventy years under a repressive, censoring regime you become expert at that. Check back here in 2070.

Night Watch is the first of four books in a series. The others are: Дневной дозор (Day Watch), Сумеречный дозор (Twilight Watch), and Последний дозор (Final Watch). All but the last are available in English translations. For those so inclined, an outstanding film version of Night Watch (based on the first section of the book) is available on DVD, dubbed or subtitled, as is the slightly lesser Day Watch.

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