Reviews: Nightwatch

Book 1

The first Night Watch book is very, very good.

The gritty backdrop of modern Moscow lends the book a refreshingly different feel to the predominantly British and American Urban Fantasy I've read previously. Lukyanenko does a masterful job of integrating his non-humans into the world, showing that they have their own hoped and dreams, and really considering how vampires, werewolves, and magicians would interact with mundanes.

Like many fantasy authors, he uses Our Vampires Are Different. However, while others are content to discard their traditional weaknesses, Lukyanenko goes a step further and actually gives them a couple of new and creative weaknesses. So, while they aren't affected by garlic, alcohol burns them. This all serves to show why they haven't simply risen up and enslaved humanity, avoiding a Plot Hole that modern vampire fiction tends to fall victim to.

He also comes up with very good reasons for the Masquerade and Balance Between Good And Evil which feels sensible and believable, and ends up driving a good chunk of the plot. This is all done masterfully and with aplomb.

The plot essentially concerns a junior magician trapped in a series of maneuvers between two chessmasters, one good, one evil. The author skilfully interweaves their plots, examining how they affect each other and how the pawns feel about matters. He also neatly avoids the schemes descending into Xanatos Roulette territory by showing on several occasions what can happen when a move goes wrong; in fact, the plot is kicked off by one such plan on behalf of the Dark ones growing out of control and threatening all of Moscow.

So, in closing: good characters, good action, good story. A recommended read.

If you like this, you might also like:
  • Angel, a TV show from the great Joss Whedon, which also involves non-humans trying to make their way in a human world.
  • Harry Potter - OK, I haven't read this, but the cover of the English edition calls Lukyanenko 'the Russian JK Rowling'. That has to count for something, right?

Night watch film review.

This is rather odd film, Night watch starts off strong with dark and stark visuals and an ancient prophecy translating into modern urban fantasy. However around the halfway point the plot sort of falls apart and dithers in strange paces: many important events and characters arrive unannounced and insufficiently explained or revealed, and what seems to be the ending sort of anticlimaxes and a subplot becomes the true ending. The last 3 minutes or so is very good and somewhat redeems the movie however.

Worth seeing to an extent just for being very different than a modern western fantasy or horror/vampire movie, it has a unique gritty and mundane approach to its fantastic elements, a lot of this has to do with being russian produced and as such features the natural Gothic decay look of post-Soviet Russia. The cinematography is also beautiful and the effects good, but the cuts are often frenetically paced. Ultimately however the plot stumbles in ways that detract significantly from the watchability of the movie.
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