Monday, July 10, 2006

The Night Watch - review

The Night Watch

Author: Sergei Lukyanenko

Translation by: Andrew Bromfield

First Published: 1998

Contains Spoilers

This is the novel which the film Night Watch (2004) was based upon, newly translated from the original Russian. First published in 1998, it received a second publication in 2004 to tie in with the film and now makes its way to the West.

The book is a revelation, having seen the film first. It is split into three stories and the first, “Destiny”, is the part of the novel that has been so far translated into film. The main aspects of the film are there, the Night Watch who represent the Light and monitor the Dark, the Day Watch who represent the Dark and monitor the Light. However the entire background has changed. There is a truce but it has been in place for a much shorter period of time, so the opening of the film with the armies meeting on a bridge in the Middle Ages and fighting to a standstill did not occur.

Anton is the focal character but the entire background of him, not knowing that he is an Other, going to the witch to get his wife back and nearly ordering the occult assassination of his unborn child is not part of this story. He is an analyst for the Night Watch, a backroom boy forced into the field for experience.

We have the main two stories from the movie, the story of Svetlana’s curse, though there is none of the mystical talk of the Virgin, and the story of Yegor (though his name in this is Egor), the young boy hunted by vampires. The heads of Dark and Light are in the book, but in this they are more like area directors of the two Watches.

One thing I did like in the movie was the way the Day Watch tracked future events via the medium of computer games. That is not in the novel but it is clear, having read the novel, that the scenes were a visual metaphor for the games the Dark and Light play with each other.

The otherworld that the Others can enter is translated as the Twilight rather than the Gloom, as the film calls it, and this could be just a difference in translation but I like the novel’s name. Twilight, the place accessible by both Light and Dark, is after all the time between light and dark.

One of the big differences occurred when Anton caught and killed the vampire, unlike the film’s slug-fest, the book sees Anton simply ripping the registration tag that the vampire wears and that kills him immediately. It is an intriguing scene in the book though I can understand why they changed it for a visually more dynamic scene in the film.

The second story is entitled “Amongst his Own Kind”. In this a serial killer is hunting down Dark Others and Anton is found in the centre of things. We see more of the operation of both Watches, and the way in which the Night Watch train their operatives. It is also abundantly clear, if it wasn’t in the first story, as to the games both Watches play with each other and their own operatives.

We also come across the Inquisitors, Others placed above Light and Dark who police the Watches, the watchmen who watch the watchers.

The final story is entitled “All For My Own Kind”. In this the plots weaved through the first two stories come to a head. As a standalone this might have been weak but as part of the whole you have become so invested in the plots that it is a fantastic finale.

The book itself is a mix of third person and, when Anton is involved, first person prose and the author summons a feeling of Russia that I suspect is entirely accurate. The main vampire aspects fall into the first story, though they are mentioned in story two and three, so in a vampiric sense we are concerned really with the first third of the book, however, this is an excellent read, more complex than the film that was based upon it and I heartily recommend it. 8 out of 10.

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