Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Book Review: The Night Watch

A few years ago, Sergei Lukyanenko's novel The Night Watch was made into a movie. As I watched the movie, I found myself thinking "This would be a lot better if they took any time to explain anything. Maybe the book is better."

A few months ago, I found said book at the used bookstore and decided to find out if it was any better. The answer was a definite "yes," though it's still not without its flaws. I found it to be a really interesting read. Moscow is a new and different setting for me, the writing was evocative, and the cast of Light and Dark agents are interesting.

If there's one big problem with The Night Watch, it's that it is marketed as a horror novel, and it fails to live up to this expectation. It takes more than vampires to make horror. Horror needs to be scary, eerie, or intense. There's a lot of darkness in the world of the Watches, but the pacing of the book keeps it from being scary. Everything feels a little too casual. The main character is already pretty well-steeped in the supernatural world. Sure, he's moving from a desk job to being a field agent, but he has enough knowledge that he faces the challenges ahead of him without too much fear of the unknown.

While I read this book, I was turning the pages out of curiosity over the story, rather than any sense of urgency. This lack of intensity causes me to feel that it's much more effective as a dark, brooding, but introspective fantasy, rather than a true horror.

There are some major differences between the book and the movie -- the movie starts out with the main character going to a Dark sorceress for a magical abortion on his cheating wife. This never happens in the book. The first third of the book does otherwise mostly follow the movie's plot, but without some of the subplots, and with some differences in character and plot resolution. The rest of the novel consists of two other stories (both like short, interconnected novels of their own) which continue the main plot thread while introducing secondary plots that move it along. The third story even allows us to see how the Light agents act on their rare days off, which was fun.

The Night Watch is the first of a four-book series, and I intend to work my way through the rest, assuming they don't take a steep nosedive in quality.

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