The Night Watch series

I have read the book series about the Watches, by Sergei Lukianenko (Lukyanenko). He has been writing and publishing since the 1980s. The Watches I think is his most famous work so far, not least because there were films made of the first two books. Lukianenko sees himself as a humanist, following in the literary footsteps of The Strugatsky brothers. I wrote about their Roadside Picnic before. At the time of this writing, I realise Boris Strugatsky died two days after my blog post, on Nov 19.

The first book, The Night Watch, was published in 1998. The films came a few years later, and were a huge success in Russia. I have not seen them. I have so far read all four books translated into English. I also read the first one in Swedish. A fifth one, The New Watch, was published in 2012, so I am anxiously waiting for the translation.

The Watches series is not sci-fi but rather urban fantasy. As such, I dare compare them to the Harry Potter series, even if Potter is not usually put in that genre. Potter is a bit in a category of its own, mixing (urban and other) fantasy with mystery novel. Like a British fiction jambalaya with ingredients from Pratchett, Crompton, Blyton and others. I read the English Watches paperback editions, and their covers have quotes from reviews such as: "J.K. Rowling, Russian style". But it is not Rowling style. It is very different, and it would be an injustice to both writers to picture them as similar. Both are well worth reading. I will anyway make a small comparison here. I never read any other urban fantasy, so it'll be an exercise of the inscius 😉

The Potter and the Watch series do have similarities: The stories are set in the same time period. Both describe a parallel magic existence intertwined with the common, real world. Both recall earlier times and history as way of explaining or at least shining light on the present. There are organisations of magis that try to protect the ordinary muggle/human world from magic damage. Magis can be born from ordinary humans, and magis also marry ordinary humans. The magi world is hidden from the ordinary humans.

However, the differences are much bigger. Harry Potter's world consists mainly of wizards with a menagerie of others: elfs, trolls, werewolves etc. The Watches' world is mainly magis, vampires and werewolves, in contrast to "humans". The Potter series are about school youth, and is readable by practically all ages, though I think setting 7 year old on the films is quite weird. They are quite scary and violent in parts. Lukianenkos books are about and for adults. The Potter world is generally much more hidden from mugglers. In comparison, the magis a.o. in the Watches books live in this world. While Rowling's books are not black-and-white, the fight is clearly against the dark, the evil genius and mini-Satan of Voldemort. Lukianenkos story is very much problematizing the questions of light and dark and evil. Rowling's books are complex in how the story threads are put together, and the magic world is full of inventive and often fun stuff. The Watch series is less complex story-wise, but much more morally challenging, being a story for grown-ups. What is right and wrong is not clear-cut at all. The magis, as any human, must make moral choices, though the consequences are different, and potentially bigger.

I think it is a fantastic story. Strongly recommended for anyone who enjoy even a little bit of fantasy. Not for children, though.

3 Comments

  1. Pingback: New Watch | The weblog of Inscius /ˈiːn.ski.us/

  2. Just bought the first in the series to read on my summer holiday. If I don’t enjoy it you’re in trouble!

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