Anton Gorodetsky, the narrator for the large majority of the book, is a human with extraordinary magical powers. However, these powers don’t make him happy; rather, they're a burden that separates him from the rest of humanity and whose responsibilities weigh down his soul. This isn't helped by the fact that the collections of good and evil are divided into overtly complex and shadowy bureaucracies whose rules and structures provide an ironic blue collar contrast to the story. For instance, after a particularly rough experience, Anton’s team goes on holiday to the country and as a drunken bender, leading to this delicious observation:
“…now he understood what real Russian drunkenness was all about. … It’s all about waking up in the morning with everything around you looking grey. Grey sky, gray sun, grey city, gray people, gray thoughts. And the only way out is to have another drink. Then you feel better. Then the colors come back.” p.398Anton drinks and desponds because this is heavy stuff. When things like the fate of the world and a keeping a millennium-long truce between good and evil hang on what you can accomplish, you might need a drink. And Lykyanenko does not take it easy on Anton – in the world of the Night Watch, the best you can hope is to not fuck up. To wit:
“Sveta, we’re not given the chance to choose absolute truth. Truth’s always two-faced. The only thing we have is the right to reject the lie that we find most repugnant. Do you know what I tell novices about the Twilight the first time? We enter it in order to acquire strength. And as the price for entering it we give up the part of the truth that we don’t want to accept.” p. 24Another rehashing of Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, this is not. It's a dark book with a sensitively ambivalent heart. Anton wallows in for most of the book in Russian cynicism, but this only makes occasional flights into romanticism that much more powerful, partly because of the lack of irony. Lukyanenko’s writes as if the struggle is not only ongoing right now but also the most urgent thing in the world. All of this in an entertaining story that sprinkles its adventure and mysticism with a variety of interesting dilemmas. It kept me solid company for two solid weeks and I miss it's view of the world. I'll have to try one of its many sequels one of these days.
Cross-posted at Reading, Writing and Red Sox