Science fiction and fantasy                                            

The New Watch

by Sergei Lukyanenko


In Moscow, a boy is terrified of boarding a plane because he's convinced it will crash. Anton Gorodetsky, Higher Light Magician, is watching him and realises that this is more than just a normal case of pre-flight nerves. The boy is a seer, and he's having a premonition of a major disaster. Anton isn't usually allowed to intervene, so when he steps in to save the child's life it opens up a significant crisis for the Others, those magical people who stand guard over the human race and maintain the balance between good and evil.

This is the fifth volume of the Night Watch series, which means there's a delicate balance to strike between too much explanation and leaving new readers confused. I think this book tends to favour clarity over pace. Although I'd seen the first two films, this was the first novel of the series that I read, yet I didn't feel lost at any point. However, I did notice a couple of info-dumps during the narrative.

For Anton and the rest of the Night Watch, the boy prophet is a problem because he's being chased by something scarier than all of them, known as the Tiger. No-one understands much about this creature, except that it tends to pursue those with the gift of prophecy and kill them before they utter their most important one. The Tiger seems unstoppable, but it will back off in certain circumstances. Unfortunately for Anton, the new prophecy has something to do with him, and once uttered it's bound to come true. But if any Other hears it, the Tiger will come after them as well.

So Anton sets out to investigate further, and to track down those few individuals who have evaded the Tiger, or who claim to have changed prophecies. He travels to foreign countries and meets various characters, including a witch who is both old and young, as well as having been Dark and Light. He doesn't trust her to remain in either camp.

The New Watch isn't a very action-oriented book, which surprised me after the movies. Anton spends a lot of time pondering politics, philosophy, and his place and purpose in the world. Thanks to this the novel sags in the middle, where there's a point when it seems they could all go home and do nothing, and everything would be okay.

I'm not a big fan of prophecy plots, because the foretelling is either so vague that it could mean anything, or it leads to an outcome that can only be true or false, and that's rarely exciting. This novel gets round that restriction by making the conflict about whether people or Others are allowed to hear the prophecy at all, so it has an extra dimension. We also know that Anton is struggling to contain his curiosity. Another satisfying aspect is the moral dilemma he faces about his privileged position. The story opens with a somewhat bent human policeman, Dmitry, who spots the Tiger but is powerless to do anything about it. His situation parallels that of the Others, who are almost a species apart from humanity, and whose power to do any lasting good is also limited. This is a novel that takes in a lot of Russian history and ways of doing things to make its points, but the end result is far more thoughtful and relatable than most urban fantasy novels.

15th October 2013

Book Details

Year: 2013

Categories: Books

    Male Protagonist  

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