William Heinemann, London, 2007, 320pp,
£11.99, tip, ISBN 978-0434014439
A summer romance by the beach whilst recuperating from a hard battle.
An amnesiac with apparently monumental powers wanders the streets of Moscow.
A court in Prague needs to decide the fate of many in a tale of tragedy and love.
Although billed as a trilogy the first two books in Sergei Lukyanenko’s remarkable Night Watch cycle are themselves mini-trilogies of interconnected novels, distinct tales that
intertwine to create a wider picture. Like Zabulon and Gesar, the powerful wizards that front the Day and Night Watches respectively, we are forced to witness a bigger picture than the various characters that populate the novels like pieces on a universal chessboard. Indeed the characters, as rounded and individual as they are, become all too aware of the
fragility of their existence, slowly realising they are just game pieces to be sacrificed, however reluctantly, for the two great religions of Light and Dark. Unlike Zabulon and Gesar, though, we do not have as much insight into the grander scheme of things from time immemorial, so the power struggles are as surprising to the reader as they are to the characters. All this might seem like a tale of big wizards and disposable foot-soldiers but that would do the book a great
disservice — The Day Watch is a rich and rewarding read that, for all its lack of ‘human’ players, plays out the frailty of existence against an epic struggle between Light and Dark. This time the book focuses more on the Day Watch, the forces of the Dark whose job it is to ensure that the treaty between the two sides is not violated by the Light — any indiscretions result in balancing acts of darkness or inquisitorial arbitration. Again, this is not the simple choice of ‘good’ vs ‘evil’ — the Light Others have been responsible for some of the greatest crimes against humanity in their effort to impose order while the Dark Others allow for more creative and free thought. Neither side has anything but distrust for the other and this is where the book’s apparently minor incidents have a habit of escalating into world threatening conflict, all played alongside a blissfully unaware general populace. The opening story of this book sucker punches anyone expecting another build up to impending apocalypse, concentrating instead on the aftermath of a particularly fraught battle where a brave and injured Dark Other is sent to a holiday resort for children in order to regain her strength, away from the hustle and danger of the big city. There, among the dunes and the campfires, to the singing of children and the strumming of a guitar, she finds solace in a simple, heartfelt romance. But the tale provides the catalyst for events far more catastrophic than anyone in the Watches, with the possible exception of Zabulon and Gesar, can possibly imagine.
Day Watch is a book that is, at times, achingly human, moving but set against a wider backdrop of global instability and cataclysmic events. The very ordinary within the extraordinary creates an atmosphere that highlights a delicate balance and even minor players have a part to play in the fate of the world. A remarkable, low-key, high-stakes, emotionally driven book that is essential reading for anybody who loved the first volume. Just ignore the “J.K. Rowling – Rissian style” soundbite on the jacket – it does nobody any favours.