The Night Watch

Author: Sergei Lukyanenko
William Heinemann Books
RRP: 10.99
ISBN 0 434 01412 5
Available 06 July 2006

Beneath and behind the everyday world of humankind another world exists. It is the world of the Others, witches, warlocks, werewolves and vampires and this world is at war with itself. Following centuries of conflict between the forces of Light and Dark an impasse has been reached, with the inevitable destruction of both the Others and humans, both sides commit to a treaty. To monitor the treaty two watches are created, the day watch monitors the forces of good and the night watch helps to keep the dark forces at bay. But things are never as easy as they seem, as Anton a newly recruited field operative soon discovers...

The Night Watch is a newly published translation of Nochnoi Dozor by Sergei Lukyanenko, a Russian psychiatrist and prodigious writer of science and fantasy fiction. The books translation obviously was prompted by the immense success of the film Night Watch. The book itself is not a movie novelisation, rather it is the original stories from which the film was derived.

I say stories, as the book contains three Night Watch tales; Destiny, Among His Own Kind and All For My Own Kind. Destiny closely follows the story of the film, where Anton, as an agent for the Night Watch, is sent to track down some unlicensed vampires preying on the innocent. Within the world of Night Watch vampires, and their like, must apply for licences to hunt. It is not the job of the Night Watch to kill or capture any of the forces of the dark, but rather to make sure that the Dark keep within the conditions of the treaty. Anton quickly discovers that this is not always as easy as it sounds as a higher game is being played by the leaders of both watches, each using their operatives as pawns in an elaborate game, trying to gain some measure of power each over the other. The story is more complex and indeed more intriguing than that of the film. I'm not saying that I didn't like the film, it did a great job at translating this rich world into cinema, I'm just saying that the book is better.

In all the stories Anton's allegiance to the Night Watch is, at best, ambiguous as he wrestles with what is done in the name of good and his own conscience. In this world not all vampires or wizards are evil; when they first discover that they are different they make a personal choice either to follow the path of Light or Dark. What the film failed to portray was that there was little difference between the methods used by either side in the pursuit of their goals. This is something which drives all three stories on and becomes an increasing problem for Anton.

The second story has Anton as the prime suspect in the unlawful killing of Dark Others. In fact, the killer is a rogue light wizard who is unaware of the watches existence. Anton has only a few hours to discover the truth behind the event before the Day Watch starts in the morning. The last story really brings the previous two tales to their conclusion. All three stories are interlinked, with much of what plays out in All For My Own Kind having its roots in the very first paragraphs of Destiny.

So, was the book any good? Well it kept me up till four in the morning for three nights running. I've been blest with a pretty good run of books to review recently and this one is another keeper, I'm only annoyed that I have to wait until 2007 to read the other two in the trilogy. It is extremely well written and here we have to give fair due to Andrew Bromfield who has done a magnificent job with the translation.

In fact it got me thinking about translated books and the role of the translator. In the world of Night Watch all the Others are able to sink to a lower dimension, where they can see the human world without being seen. In the film translation this is referred to as the Gloom, but in the book Bromfield uses the more evocative Twilight. I always thought the film reference to be a bit naff, but loved the translator's take on it. So, how much of the success of this book is down to Bromfield? I don't want to take away anything from the original author, but it show just how important it is to have a bloody good translator.

The next film, Day Watch, should be out soon if it's not already, so if I have to wait for another shot of great writing I guess I'll have to catch up with the film.

Buy it, love it and then go out and complain that more of his stuff hasn't been translated.

Charles Packer

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