The forces of Light and Dark have sworn a treaty, so they live at peace. Anton is a member of the Night Watch, the group of Others who’ve joined the Light’s side and patrol the streets of Moscow at night to make sure that the Dark magicians are keeping their side of the bargain. During the daytime, the Day Watch does the same task for the Dark side. Meddling with the affairs of humans, for either good or ill, allows the other side to even the score so that Dark and Light are always kept in balance.
On one of his first street assignments, Anton tries to release a beautiful young woman named Svetlana from a dark curse hanging over her head. Later, he finds a couple of vampires who are trying to poach a young boy named Egor. Egor appears to have undiscovered powers of his own — he must be an unknown Other who still has to make a decision about whether to follow the Light or the Dark. The fates of both Svetlana and Egor seem important to the Day Watch. As Anton and the Night Watch try to protect them from the Dark, Anton worries about their destinies, and his own.
The translation of The Night Watch from Russian is incredibly smooth, resulting in a pleasant reading experience. Modern Moscow makes a terrific setting for an urban fantasy novel and Anton is a likable hero. I read Audible Frontiers’ version narrated by Paul Michael, who is perfect for the role of a tough but sensitive Muscovite (and who is now my second favorite audiobook reader).
While the writing, the setting, the characters, and most of the plot are quite enjoyable, there are a couple of related problems that kept The Night Watch from being the completely engrossing story that it had the potential to be. We get much of the story in first-person from Anton’s point of view and, while this made me really understand and like his character, it also means that we spend a huge amount of time listening to Anton trying to figure out what’s going on. He’ll brood for a while, then have an epiphany and give us an explanation (not always logical or believable) that he’s sure is right, but then suddenly he’ll be wrong and some other strange (and just as illogical or unbelievable) explanation will be given, which may or may not be correct. I chuckled toward the end of the book when Anton says this to himself:
I didn’t know. As always, I didn’t have enough information for analysis. I could have come up with thirty-three different explanations, all contradicting each other.
And I think he does come up with thirty-three different explanations, all contradicting each other. It gets really confusing and it interrupts the action but, worse, when we find out what’s really going on, it’s not nearly as exciting as it could have been. Most of the plot climaxes just fizzle when we find out the truth.
Related to this is the fact that I never quite believed in Sergei Lukyanenko’s world. The whole idea of a truce between Light and Dark and all the strange rules and ramifications that result seem extremely unlikely. In his interior monologues, Anton goes on at length about light and dark, destiny and fate — I’m not sure that it all made sense. I also didn’t understand some of the choices Anton made, especially at the end. Perhaps this will be cleared up in the sequels, but it’s annoying to not get the pay-off in this book.
But still, I enjoyed spending time in Moscow with Anton and his friends and enemies, even if I was confused about the plot. I just may pick up the next book, Day Watch. I mean, I’ll download it from Audible. I am certain that Mr. Michael’s narration made me enjoy The Night Watch more than I would have if I had read it in print.