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The Day Watch is the second book in the highly acclaimed Night Watch trilogy by Russian author Sergei Lukyanenko. The success of this trilogy has resulted in a fourth book in the series being released, called The Last Watch, and as such the series is now effectively a tetralogy. All of the books were originally written in Russian, and obviously I am reviewing the English translated version of The Day Watch.
Interestingly enough, whilst two movies have been released in this series (Night Watch and Day Watch), both focused on the first book. So if you have seen both the films, you still don't know anything about the plot of The Day Watch novel. Confusing, but useful information for those wanting to delve into the books having seen the films, which in themselves are well worth seeing.
For those who are not familiar with the series at all, the books are set in modern day Moscow, and follows The Others, beings who look identical to humans, but who possess supernatural powers. There are two types of Others, 'Light' and 'Dark', and both sides have formed an uneasy treaty between themselves in order to prevent large scale war. The Night Watch is made up of Light Ones who patrol the streets and ensure that Dark Ones don't get up to mischief, and the Day Watch is the Dark Ones equivalent. The supernatural powers possessed by Others vary widely in their scope and power, though all Others are capable of entering the 'Twilight', a shadowy world that runs parallel to the real world, and gives those in it a different perspective on their surroundings, including being able to see a person's mood by the coloured aura that surrounds them.
The story in The Day Watch picks up where The Night Watch left off in terms of timescale, but the start is somewhat fresh and does not follow on seamlessly from the end of the previous book (indeed it couldn't really do so, as the first book didn't end on a cliffhanger or similar). As with the previous book The Day Watch is split up into three stories, each with its own prologue and chapters, rather than being one large seamless story. Each of these stories are connected and come together to form a main plotline, but at the same time each is a complete story in its own right.
There are, however, subtle but significant differences in how the plot is handled in this book. In The Night Watch the story was primarily told through the first person perspective of Anton, a Light Other, and the plot unravelled for the reader through Anton's own views and experiences. The Day Watch changes the formula slightly. The first of the three stories is told from the perspective of Alisa, a Dark Other who was the former lover of Zabulon, the head of the Day Watch and essentially the main 'villain' in the book. The second is told from the perspective of Vitaliy Ragoza, an Other who wakes up whilst in a park one night with no memory of who he is or what he is doing. He travels to Moscow by train on instinct as he attempts to uncover who or what he is. The third story is the most unusual in the entire series, as it is the only one that is told from a classic third person perspective.
The plot in The Day Watch is a natural progression from that of The Night Watch. Lukyanenko is acutely aware that the reader, having already read The Night Watch, is largely familiar with the world that the book is set in. There are a few reminders along the way, and the book would still be enjoyable for someone who hadn't read The Night Watch, but for the most part I would highly recommend reading the first book to fully appreciate this one. The story once again revolves around the attempts of both Watches to gain superiority over the other, and as would be expected from the first novel, the plot here is detailed, compelling, and very, very clever. Very little is as it seems, with the characters pulling the strings in this book constantly staying one or two steps in front of the reader, leading to twists that are both surprising and satisfying.
Of course, no second book in a trilogy could be taken seriously without new characters and concepts, and it is therefore not surprising that the reader will be introduced to a variety of new characters. Alisa was briefly mentioned in the first book, but very little was revealed about her. The first story gives an extremely detailed look at her emotions and background, and at the same time increases the reader's understanding of The Day Watch ethics and perspective as a whole. Vitaliy Ragoza is an entirely new character who wakes with no memories, but who soon turns out to be a powerful Other. His motivations and abilities are as much a mystery to him as the reader, and as such his character development is intriguing all the way up to the conclusion of his story.
In addition a variety of smaller role characters from the Day Watch are introduced in a similar way to the characters introduced as part of the Night Watch in the original novel. Each of these characters seems to be developed less in this book than their equivalents in the Night Watch, but each plays their role in the plot sufficiently and the book doesn't suffer for their comparative lack of development.
The main new addition to this book however, and one that follows through significantly to the third book, is the Inquisition. This is an institution that exists in tandem with the two Watches and effectively watches over both sides to ensure that the Treaty as a whole is adhered to. Its purpose is clear, yet despite this it is built up with an aura of mystery and power. It is an excellent addition to the two sides already established in this fantasy world, and adds an extra layer of tension when the plans of the respective Watches also have to avoid incurring the wrath of the Inquisition.
I must admit that I am always somewhat apprehensive when reading the second book in a trilogy, as historically it is the second book in a trilogy that is the weakest. And indeed this isn't without good reason. The author no doubt has the final plot in mind, and has to strike a balance between feeding the reader enough information to make a second book worthwhile, while at the same time ensuring that enough of the plot remains for a grandstand finish the final book. It has to be said that too many authors don't get this balance right, and produce second novels that are sufficient without ever being extraordinary.
The reason why I mention that trend is simply because Lukyanenko has somehow managed to buck it in quite spectacular fashion. The first story of the three in this book is a change of pace which, to be honest, left me wondering about its significance, and also left me worrying that the stereoptype of the second book in the trilogy being the weakest was going to come true. However, I am happy to report that such original fears were entirely unfounded in the end. I wrote in my review of the Night Watch about how Lukyanenko clearly knows how to write a good story. By the end of The Day Watch it was clear to me just how skilled Lukyanenko as both a writer and a story teller. The plot itself in this book not just has the components for an outstanding story, but it is also written and woven in such a way that has maximum impact on the reader. It shows genuinely extraordinary writing ability that is rare in any genre, let alone imagination filled fantasy novels.
I wrote in my review of the first novel about how rather than being black and white, the story unfolds in many shades of grey, and how a philosophical approach is taken to a lot of the issues. In The Day Watch the balance shifts slightly. Those philosophical questions are certainly still there, as one would expect from a novel that primarily tells the story from the point of view of the 'villains' rather than that of the 'heroes'. And once again they do not overwhelm the reader at any point, but simply add to the intrigue of the plot as a whole.
However, the overall story in this book is now much more of a clear cut strategic battle between two sides vying for superiority than it is a deeper questions of morality. As the story is no longer told from one of the primary characters on the Light side, the reader sees everything from a more neutral perspective and is able to view the plot unfolding in a much more traditional manner. This is especially true in the second and third stories, which are told from the perspective of someone who, by default, knows nothing, and from a third person perspective respectively.
As a result, I found the Day Watch to be a more accessible read in many ways compared to the Night Watch. The style of the book is more traditional, and whilst in a way I found this to be something of a shame, the book did become more a page turner as a result. The plot also doesn't suffer as a result of this change of style. On the contrary, it appears that Lukyanenko has allowed the reader to experience this novel from a largely neutral perspective precisely because the plot is so intricate and complex. I would have thought that reading this book from the perspective of one character would not have been as compelling as looking at both sides more evenly, which once again shows Lukyanenko's skill as a writer, this time judging the best perspective for the writer to see the action from.
The story itself is a lot more powerful and intense this time around. To give an example of what I mean by this, the original story often left me guessing and had me itching to know what was going to happen next. By contrast, in this book I found myself unable at times to stop reading, drawn into turning the page not only by the exceptional writing style, but also by the way that the plot relentlessly gathers pace at times, with the stake obviously higher than they have been at any point previously.
I criticised the first book for its relatively weak ending, but can level no such accusations at The Day Watch. The final encounter in the book feels every bit as epic as the fantastic plot deserves, and whilst ultimately it may feel a little more subdued than the traditional ending to fantasy novels, it ties everything together perfectly and concludes the novel in a way that is incredibly satisfying.
In fact, I am struggling to criticise The Day Watch at all. If I was being really picky I could point out that the first story of the book is relatively slow compared to any other part of the first or second books, but ultimately this is justified in the end by the twists in the final story. I may not have enjoyed this first story as much as others at the time, but by the end I was left in no doubt to its significance to the book as a whole, which somewhat makes the criticism moot.
Overall the Day Watch is an outstanding novel that builds expertly upon the well constructed world and characters that the reader was introduced to in the first book. The sense of progression, both in the plot and the writing style, is obvious, and is a testament to the skills of Lukyanenko as an author. When I put this book down I couldn't wait to move on to the third book in the series, The Twilight Watch (which luckily I could do so immediately, as I had bought it in advance).
If you have already read The Night Watch, then you probably didn't need this review to prompt you to go out and buy The Day Watch. If you have read neither, I would strongly recommend that you read The Night Watch first, even if you have seen the movies. But if you are on the fence about whether or not this trilogy cuts it in the fantasy world, you have no need to be in any further doubt. The Night Watch trilogy is a fine example of the genre that fully deserves to be spoken about the same tone as other classics. The fact that it wasn't translated into English sooner is something of a travesty, but now that it is here it is something that all fantasy fans should be reaching for without hesitation, and even something that those who don't normally read fantasy should consider. The Day Watch is an outstanding second novel in what truly is a stand out series.