One of the bad things about having a book or movie come highly recommended to you is that your expectations are going to have a significant impact in what you take from it in the end. Night Watch was a book that came highly recommended to me, and it took me a while to finally get around to reading it. During that time, I heard more and more about it from other people, and this kept raising my expectations. I mean, when I finally tracked down a copy, I was excited to read it. This probably should have been a warning for me.
The book is about the battle between the Night Watch (the good magicians, who patrol the night for dark magicians committing magical acts outside of the treaty) and the Day Watch (the night magicians, who patrol the day for good magicians also breaking the terms of the treaty). Apparently, if one Watch commits an act of magic, then the other Watch receives permission to commit an act of magic of an equal scale to counteract the effects of the original act. This makes sense in one way — if the dark magicians do a terrible thing with their magic, the light magicians can then do a wonderful thing with theirs — but it also prevents the light magicians from committing acts of good. It’s an interesting premise, one of checks-and-balances in modern-day Russia. This is all backstory to the main plot, which involves a scheme that the Night Watch has been evolving for years, and requires much sacrifice and subterfuge. It’s all very interesting, to say the least.
Is the book good? Yes. Did it overwhelm me like I expected? Not really. For one thing, the narrative is very matter-of-fact, and lacks some of the subtlety you might expect in a good novel. There isn’t much suggestion, or showing, in the book; instead, we’re told directly what’s happening at any given time. It’s almost like reading a juvenile novel, where the author wants to make sure that his readers don’t miss the main points. I can credit this to the translation more than to the author himself (in fact, a friend of mine tells me that the books improve over the series), but the plot and the theme aren’t enough on their own to really carry the novel for me. It’s something that’s been done before, many times over, and I don’t mind re-reading an archetypal story, but when I do, the rest of the novel needs to be able to impress me, as well. Night Watch just didn’t do it.
There are three other novels in this series — Day Watch, Twilight Watch, and Last Watch — but I’m just not sure if I want to read the rest of them. There are too many other books that I want to read, and I don’t want to waste that time on mediocre stuff, you know?