The Day Watch is the second novel in Sergei Lukyanenko’s Watch series. Like its predecessor, The Day Watch contains three short stories set in Russia and Europe that can be read independently or as part of a larger narrative arc. His work has once again been skillfully translated from the Russian by Andrew Bromfield.
Unlike its predecessor, Anton Gorodetsky is not the narrator of The Day Watch. Instead, all of our heroes are from the “Day Watch,” ostensibly a villainous faction of magic users known as “Dark Others.” However, in Lukyanenko’s world, we can never be sure who the villains are. The Day Watch certainly seems villainous: they take on the form of demons whenever they can, they betray their own, and they are willing to sacrifice infants to win battles. However, every evil act that the Day Watch performs is more or less entered into a ledger that the Night Watch keeps. To balance the books, the Night Watch is allowed to do what they feel are good deeds — not that they wouldn’t sacrifice a child if they felt the end justified the means.
This ambiguity sounds interesting, but adds up to nothing. It seems that there is no difference between the Light and Dark Others… until there is. For example, when Dark Other Alisa Donnikova falls in love with Igor before discovering that he is a Light Other, both swear on their respective powers to fight to the death. A pure flame and a pitch-black sphere magically appear, apparently endorsing their duel. So, clearly there are universal sources of good and evil somewhere. And vampires are always Dark Others, so clearly they are evil. Sadly, when the plot needs a vampire to be a swell guy, a vampire is a swell guy. It’s difficult to ignore the feeling that there is nothing behind the ambiguity besides a suggestive atmosphere.
The lack of detail behind the world-building can be frustrating, but it does allow Lukyanenko a great deal of freedom with his “Others” universe. The second story, “A Stranger Among Others” follows Vitaliy, who appears to be an Other, but has no memory of his past. In fact, there is no way to guess who or what Vitaliy is. He’s something new to the reader, not to mention the characters. The story is gripping, so long as the reader can ignore the nagging feeling that a centuries-old magician like Olga or an archive analyst like Anton should be more aware of their world. However, the plot is better served if the characters are just as in the dark as the reader. So they are.
It’s best to just ignore these feelings and follow the characters’ lead. Don’t think; just follow the politics of the moment. In Lukyanenko’s defense, the politics do often serve as a strong foundation for a gripping story. In “Another Power,” Edgar is sent to Prague to attend a trial. In the larger scheme of things, this is just another spat between powers higher up. However, we’re stuck with Edgar, who is certainly aware that he is merely a pawn in a larger game. Who can say whether he is about to be sacrificed?
For readers who need it, there is a grand scheme of things: it seems that there is a Light “Messiah” coming to Moscow soon, and although it’s clear that the universe will not allow the Light and Dark to fall out of balance with each other, that doesn’t stop them from futilely scrambling to control the future. In Day Watch, Lukyanenko is at his best when he focuses on the scrambling.
Watch — (2006-2016) Publisher: Walking the streets of Moscow, indistinguishable from the rest of its population, are The Others. The Others are magicians, possessors of supernatural powers and capable of entering the Twilight, a shadowy world that exists in parallel to our own, each Other owes allegiance either to the Dark or the Light. The two factions, having long before realised that open struggle can only create chaos and disaster, coexist in an uneasy truce, each side aware of, and keeping a close eye on, the other’s activities around the city. Their aim is not mutual destruction, but rather the maintenance of the precarious balance between good and evil. Anton, a young Other, who owes allegiance to the Light, is a Night Watch agent, newly seconded to patrol the streets and metro of the city, to protect ordinary people from the vampires and magicians of the Dark. On his rounds, Anton comes across a young woman, Svetlana, who he realises is under a powerful curse that threatens the entire city, and a boy, Egor, a young Other, as yet unaware of his own enormous power, whom Anton narrowly saves from vampires. Anton is assigned a partner, Olga, a powerful female Other who is trapped in the form of an owl in punishment for a past error of judgement. Together with their colleagues in the Night Watch, they struggle to remove Svetlana’s curse and to protect Egor from the vampires that pursue him. Set in a vividly realised post-Soviet Russia, where vampires operate under license and Good and Evil exist in a Cold War-like balance of power, “The Night Watch” is a page-turning fantasy thriller, an international bestseller that represents the most original writing in its genre since Anne Rice’s “An Interview With a Vampire”…