Sergei Lukyanenko’s Watch series


I used to read a lot of science fiction – often more than one book at a time, and finishing several books a week. But over the past few years, as my internet use has gone up, the amount of book reading I’ve done has gone down dramatically. To the point where it takes me so long to finish a book I forget what it’s about and start over, and eventually give up.

Lately I’ve been trying to reverse this trend, and I’ve found the perfect books to snap me out of it: The Night Watch series by Sergei Lukyanenko (well, the English translations of them). Dave heard about the Night Watch (Nochnoy Dozor) film before it was released internationally, and we managed to get hold of the DVD on eBay. This was an interesting exercise in itself; even though the DVD was legit, so much dodgy stuff comes out of Russia that the only way of getting the payment through was a Travelex transfer, which cost an absolute fortune. The Travelex agent tried to talk us out of sending money to Russia too!

We loved the film, which is kind of a dark Russian fairytale set in modern times with Matrix-like elements. Essentially it’s about the Others – people with extraordinary/magical skills, who are either Dark Ones (sorcerers, witches, vampires and werewolves) or Light Ones (magicians, enchantresses, healers etc). There is a treaty between the two sides, which are very evenly matched, so that for every dark or evil act that is allowed (such as a vampire being issued a “license” to hunt a human), a light or good act is allowed (such as turning a criminal away from a potential crime). Policing the treaty are two “Watches” – The Night Watch, which is made up of Light Others who keep an eye on the Dark Others, and the Day Watch, made up of Dark Others who keep an eye on the Light Others.

It was hard to follow – we watched it in Russian with subtitles – but it was definitely worth persevering with. Apparently the US release was recut so it would make more sense, which I don’t like the idea of at all. When the sequel Day Watch (Dnevnoy Dozor) came out we grabbed it too – thankfully it was released internationally so it was much easier to get.

After the success of the films, the series of books they were based on were translated into English. I was initially a bit wary of trying to read a translation, but I shouldn’t have been concerned – there was no problem understanding them and they read very naturally. The first book, Night Watch, took a week or so to read; the second, Day Watch, took a few days; and Twilight Watch (Dusk Watch) took less than a day: so I definitely think I’m getting my reading mojo back! I don’t have the final instalment, End Watch (Final Watch) – yet. I plan to get it this week, but getting to the end of the series is going to suck.

The first thing that stuck me about the books is that the first and second films are actually based mostly on the first and second parts of the first book only, but the opening scene of the Night Watch film is a variation on the opening scene of the Day Watch book. Many changes like this have been made to the story but that’s inevitable –the story as written is far too complex for film anyway, I think.

Reading the books definitely made the films much easier to understand. One thing that cleared a lot of confusion is that in the subtitled version we had, they keep referring to various individuals as “The Other” when in fact they mean “an Other” – which may seem like a subtle difference but it clarifies the story a great deal when you don’t think they’re spotting some kind of special individual every five minutes.

I’m a science fiction fan but not usually a fantasy fan, but I guess this series does fall quite squarely into the fantasy bucket. Highly recommended (both the films and the books).

~ by goat_admin on January 5, 2009.

8 Responses to “Sergei Lukyanenko’s Watch series”

  1. I’ve seen both of the movies and thought they were pretty good. I’ve got the first three books on my ‘to-read’ list but they are a bit far down.

    I didn’t know there was a fourth book coming out. I’ll have to keep an eye out for it. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

  2. Heh, cool. I guarantee that if you do read them, you’ll watch the movies again and have about 20 “ahhhh!” moments as it all suddenly makes about a million times more sense 🙂

  3. I haven’t seen the movies as of yet so I might consider jumping straight to the books.
    Actually as I’ve written this I’ve actually ducked over to the library website and put a hold on the first two!

  4. I have not yet made the leap from the internet back to books although I enjoy a weekend away now and again where I do indulge in reading. I think I am about due for one of those weekends again soon. I used to be an avid reader and, like you, get through one in a day.

    My partner is very keen on sci fi and fantasy so I will recommend these books and movies to him. These days he tends to read all his books via computer though.

  5. @Lee – can’t wait to hear what you think!
    @Sue – it’s terrible isn’t it, what the internet has done to our brains! My dad has an ebook reader that he adores – it’s the size of a standard novel (well, thinner) and is very easy on the eyes… but I don’t know, there’s something about paper that just seems more real.

  6. Hello. I found your review, while I was doing a google search to find out what people have been saying about Lukyanenko’s writing. I’ve seen the films myself — got ’em via Amazon video-on-demand, as it happened, cannot exactly recall how I found out about ’em in the first places. I recently started reading Night Watch, and I am truly in admiration of Lukyanenko’s ability with story-telling.

    I don’t mean to over-impress with my response to his work, but truly, I have never seen a more intriguing rendition of the literary idiom of “the struggle of light and dark”. Lukyanenko’s sensibilities are the most impressive, I think.

    I’m developing an impression that the movies represent a story essentially new from the books, albeit framed within the same Night Watch / Day Watch fictional-cultural world. Granted, I’ve yet to see the book’s story played out in full, but there is so much in the book that is distinct from how the plot was executed, in the film, I think they must be two essentially different stories. I’m impressed with both — and with the film-making of those Russian film-makers.

    I’ve not finished the book, as yet, but I am thoroughly intrigued by the story. Here’s to superb story telling, cheers.

  7. first movie unfortunately,in my opinion, was trash as it did a hell of an ugly job mixing and mashing compared to the book but then again, once I read something expectation for a movie is solely based on imagery.

  8. Wasn’t impressed with movie #1–haven’t seen #2. The books, however, are fantastic! Off the chain! Anyone who hasn’t read these should RUN to the local bookstore and pick up NIGHTWATCH. The action is non-stop, the characters are engaging, and the plot does not run to formula

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