Day Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko

Day Watch A review by Nalini Haynes

★★★★★ five out of five stars

The other day the minion asked me how this series – Night Watch of which Night Watch is book one and Day Watch is book two – was going.

I replied, “The series is five stars.”

The minion grunted in surprise. “That’s really unusual for you to say a series is five stars. Usually you say a series goes downhill –“

I butted in, “And sometimes they go up.”

The minion ignored my comment, “- or you say the series goes up and down. It’s really rare for you to say a series is five stars.”

Read the rest of the review if you wish but you could just read the series instead.

[Note: at the time of writing this review, I’ve read them all. All five novels, including the one coming out in April/May 2014. Trust me, you want.]

Day Watch follows the Night Watch format: three novelettes each with a prologue, following an episodic format in an overall story arc. In the first novel the reader discovered the Others are former humans with magical abilities living alongside oblivious mundane humans. This may seem like a bit of a cliche now but Night Watch was first published in 1998.

The Night Watch are servants of the Light who work at night to police the servants of Darkness. The Day Watch are servants of the Darkness who work during the day to police the servants of the Light. Because you can’t have some pesky do-gooder running around healing everyone or fixing things; there are consequences.

Unlike in Night Watch, Anton isn’t the narrator. In the first story, Alisa, a witch working in the Day Watch, narrates. A mysterious stranger narrates the second story; he awakens, gradually realising who he is as the story unfolds. At times Lukyanenko uses a third person point of view to reveal the struggle against impending doom. The third story is in the third person, observing from a few angles.

Night Watch introduced Anton struggling with his new role, struggling with ethics and morality as an Other, struggling with restrictions placed upon him by the Night Watch. Day Watch delves deeper into the tension between the Night Watch and the Day Watch, while also exploring politics internal to the Day Watch.

Lukyanenko is a master of the story arc, introducing characters in the first novel who walk on and off stage thereafter. Someone appears in novel X, dangling like bait for action; maybe he or she will suddenly move into a key position or maybe he or she will then disappear, only to reappear in a subsequent novel. The more times a character appears ‘coincidentally’ in a story, the more I’m fascinated: what exactly is Lukyanenko planning for these characters? I’m certain Lukyanenko has a plan; the Night Watch series holds together far too well otherwise.

Lukyanenko’s story-telling reveals intimate details about Russian culture and society that no mere visitor to Russia could aspire to portray. Everything from Russian formulae for names based upon degrees of intimacy and authority to how architecture both influences and is the result of social and political change.

The combination of an urban fantasy equivalent of a ‘splodey story, deep cultural revelations and philosophical struggles creates a fascinating story worthy of discussion in book groups. I’ve read all five books in this series and they just keep getting better. I highly recommend Day Watch and the entire Night Watch series to everyone who likes ‘splodey-style urban fantasy and/or depth to their stories; this series works on both levels.