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:: Night Watch

A couple of days ago I finished Night Watch. Two thumbs very high up for this highly original vampires-and-other-magical-beings story from Russian author Sergei Lukyanenko. (Thanks to anna_bird for providing the book, in exchange for which I sent her a small package of anarchy and probably got her on Dick Cheney's watch list, because you just KNOW he opens people's mail. But I digress.)

Night Watch is one of the best things I've read in a long time. Its approach to both the battle between good and evil and the relationship between magical beings and regular humans is unusual, to say the least; there's a kind of armed truce between good and evil, vampires get a set number of licenses for human victims (literally a hunting license) and neither side seems to have much respect for regular people, though the Night Watch (those who watch the night -- that is, the good guys) are very clear on the fact that their prime directive is to protect said regular folks. There's an established system of trading favors -- "If you let me go I'll give you the right to a third-level intervention of your choice" sort of thing.

One of the most original aspects of the book is the Twilight, a sort of submarine reality that one can "drop into" thereby becoming invisible in the regular world. This dropping into Twilight is not without risks -- if you're not strong enough, the Twilight will sap your energy and will and you end up roaming it as a sad little ectoplasm. Your state of mind the first time you enter the Twilight has a lot to do with whether you end up working for the Day Watch (the bad guys) or the Night Watch (the good guys); if you've just had a fight with your father, say, and are feeling all angry and cruel and vengeful, it kind of imprints on you when you drop into the Twilight and pushes you towards the Day Watch.

However, Dark magicians can heal people and Light magicians can kill, so the good/evil dichotomy isn't a pure one; free will and choice are central to both sides. The difference is in the purpose and intent. At one point one of the new Night Watch members, Svetlana, is quizzing Anton on how she'll know what to do, what best serves the Light, whether an apparently good action will have bad repercussions.

"Imagine you're walking along the street and you see a grownup beating a child, right there in front of you. What would you do?"

"If I had any margin left for intervention," I said, "I'd perform a remoralization. Naturally."

"And you'd be absolutely certain that was the right thing to do?...What if the child deserved to be punished?...What if the punishment would have saved it...and now it will grow up to be a murderer and a thief?...You'd be certain you were right? Where's the boundary line?"

"The point is that the Dark Ones never ask questions like these...[and] ordinary humans have it a million times easier...they can be good and bad, it all depends on the moment, on their surroundings, on the book they read yesterday, on the steak they had for dinner. That's why they're so easy to control; even the most malicious villain can easily be turned to the Light, and the kindest and most noble of men can be nudged towards the darkness. But we have made a choice."

"I've made it too, Anton...then why don't I understand where the boundary is and what's the difference between me and some witch who attends black masses? Why am I still asking these questions?"

"You'll never stop asking them...It will never stop, never. If you wanted to be free of painful questions, you chose the wrong side...You'll never stop asking yourself if every step you make is the right one."

I love these kind of ethical dilemmas. You can't learn a thing by observing someone who has no choice, or who doesn't care about any alternatives other than "whatever benefits ME." But you can learn a huge amount from watching how someone who cares very much about something beyond himself chooses among equally bad (or equally attractive) alternatives.

And the end of the book was excellent -- did not fizzle out. Though I wonder where he could possible go with the three sequels. After all, you can only have so many major apocalypses (apocalypsi?) before stunting your readers' fear for the characters...


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Sep. 6th, 2009 12:12 am (UTC)
Loved it!! Am trying to track down the next one now. Will send yours back to you this week -- thanks again.

Edited at 2009-09-06 12:12 am (UTC)
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 5th, 2009 11:17 pm (UTC)
Wasn't it great? I haven't moved to on Day Watch yet, as I want to savor the series. I'm so prone to busting through books so fast when they're well written, so I'm trying to avoid that.

The film is a respectable adaptation. Obviously, a good chunk of the book is omitted, but the casting for Anton was quite good. Interestingly, in the film the twilight is translated as the "gloom" instead.
Sep. 6th, 2009 12:11 am (UTC)
I'm so prone to busting through books so fast when they're well written LOL!! That's me all over as well. On the plus side, you can go back in a few months and re-read them without being bored, because there's so much you missed :)
Sep. 6th, 2009 01:12 am (UTC)
You MUST see the films. SOOOO good. And Day Watch is even better. I love this series so very much. Glad you're enjoying it!
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