Review of The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyaenko

SFFaudio Review

The Night Watch
By Sergei Lukyaenko; Read by Paul Michael
15 Hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: 2012
Themes: / Fantasy / Urban Fantasy / Magic / Good and Evil / Supernatural /

Sergei Lukyanenko is a science-fiction and fantasy author, writing in Russian, and is arguably the most popular contemporary Russian sci-fi writer. His works often feature intense action-packed plots, interwoven with the moral dilemma of keeping one’s humanity while being strong.

In The Night Watch, set in modern Moscow, the “Others” live among us, an ancient race of humans with supernatural powers who swear allegiance to either the Dark or the Light. A thousand-year treaty has maintained the balance of power, and the two sides coexist in an uneasy truce. But an ancient prophecy decrees that one supreme “Other” will rise up and tip the balance, plunging the world into a catastrophic war between the Dark and the Light. When a young boy with extraordinary powers emerges, fulfilling the first half of the prophecy, will the forces of the Light be able to keep the Dark from corrupting the boy and destroying the world?

The book is three novellas, linked by their setting and the fact that each is told by Anton, a Light Other who is now getting field experience after being a file clerk for several years. As he gets more experience, the reader learns more about the subtleties and intricacies of the world between Light and Dark. Each of the stories is thoroughly engrossing and although they build upon each other, the first two stand alone fairly well. The third conclusion brings the book’s overall story arc to a conclusion.

The first page of the book has two messages, which are puzzling and amusing as an introduction. However when I had finished the book I realized they also served to sum up how the author uses the different stories and characters:

This text has been approved for distribution as conducive to the cause of Light. — The Night Watch

This text has been approved for distribution as conducive to the cause of Dark. — The Day Watch

Final result: simply fantastic. The way the three stories all look at Light and Dark, treaties and compromises, and even what it means to be unyielding on one side or the other … not only provides a gripping adventure, but food for thought about our own lives.

Audio Notes: I was delighted to find the audio CD available for only $10 and promptly began “rereading.” Narrator Paul Michael has a low key style in reading this book. His dialogue reading features what sound like authentic Russian accents which enhance the book greatly since Anton’s thoughts are read in a regular American accent.

However, I soon noticed that whenever a character spoke there is very little emotion portrayed, no matter how stressful the moment. There are plenty of stressful, action-filled moments and to have them all conveyed in such a subdued fashion drained the color and excitement of the story for me. Eventually, the entire book seemed so colorless that I stopped listening and picked up the print copy to read the third novella.

My husband regularly has conference calls with Russians. Upon hearing my comments, he mentioned that he has noticed a monotonous quality whenever the Russians are speaking English. He attributes it to the difficulty in speaking a foreign language and conducting business simultaneously. Although I was interested to hear this, I neither know nor care whether this is a universal Russian trait. Story narration requires some level of acting to convey the text properly to the ear.

Whatever the reason, I cannot recommend the audio if you want to experience the full flavor of the book.

Posted by Julie D.

6 thoughts to “Review of The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyaenko”

  1. 1. Lukyanenko rocks.

    2. The novel is a lot sadder and more serious without all the fannish and pop culture jokes, but it also misses a lot of pointed satire of Russia’s semi-embrace of Western culture in the early 90’s. Since this is one of Lukyanenko’s big concerns in his novels, that’s a big shame.

  2. 3. It’s possible that the narrator was trying not to be as emotional as the movie of the books. It’s also possible that he was reflecting the very dry tone that some characters take during very emotional scenes (because they’re concealing their emotions or making jokes of them).

    Ah, well. Someday it’ll be a musical, probably, and then we’ll have emotion to spare. Also a really good bass part.

  3. 2. “without all the fannish and pop culture jokes” which were cut out by the English translator.

    Also the subplot of Queen and Russian classic rock songs as prophecy and commentary (not as explicitly as in Tom Deitz), which make a soundtrack for the reader. I’m more sympathetic to leaving this out (cheaper, less rights-wrangling) but it was fun. (And I learned about Russian 70’s rock because of it.)

  4. 2. And they also cut out most of the IT/computer references. Again, I sympathize, because early Nineties references became dated very quickly. But if you soften the hero’s computer-guy nerdly status, you don’t really understand why he’s actually not too interested in his supernatural powers as a wizard. He’s got better things to do than cast spells, as he explains in a fair amount of detail in the original.

  5. 2. The hero’s disinterest in studying up on magic and the magical world does come back and bite him pretty hard throughout the series, so his reasonable and unreasonable motives for staying in denial as much as possible are a big thing. Affects his relationship with his vampire buddy also, as you’d imagine.

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