Friday, October 18, 2013

Time for the Night Watch

Russian fantasy scifi writer Sergei Lukyanenko has turned his Night Watch trilogy into a pentalogy, with publication of a fifth volume, New Watch, following a fourth, Last Watch,  that appeared a few years ago. New Watch is not yet in a U.S. edition, but I placed an order for the Heinemann edition from the U.K., because this is an author I like to follow. The previous books in the Night Watch series seized me with an urgent need to go from one volume to the next without drawing breath.
Lukyanenko’s theme in the Night Watch series is one of the eternal ones that is never out of date: the battle of Dark and Light. The Night Watch is composed of Light Others who keep the Dark side in check. Office hours are 20:00-8:00. The Day Watch consists of Dark Others who monitor and run interference on the Light. Office hours are 8:00 to 20:00. In Moscow (where much of the action takes place) the style of both is like that of hard-drinking, somewhat seedy secret agencies of the Russian government. The only non-drinkers are the vampires of the Day Watch, who can’t metabolize alcohol.
    The Others live much longer than humans and have the power of seeing and traveling through a world-behind-the-world known as the Twilight. The Others are described and graded as magicians. Only magicians of the higher levels can see or travel below the first and second levels of Twilight. We eventually learn that there are seven levels of twilight, but not even Gesar and Zabulon – Higher magicians and chiefs of the Night Watch and Day Watch, respectively - can go there.
The protagonist is Anton Gorodetsky a Light watchman with a sympathy for vampires and a girlfriend/wife (Sveta) who is a notably more powerful magician than he is, even after he becomes a Higher magician in book three (Twilight Watch).
Light and Dark Others are monitored by the Inquisition, also known at the Twilight Watch. The inquisitors are drawn from both Watches and their job is to police the rules of the treaty that is supposed to prevent the balance between Light and Dark from being overthrown.
In book three Dark and Light must combine to fight forces inimical to both. The plot centers on a book long held to be mythical – the Fuaran – that contains the secret of how to turn humans into Others. If all humans are turned into Others, the Others will cease to exist. We are given to understand that the most powerful magicians are actually those with the lowest personal energy, sucking in vitality from the humans all around them. In book four, we learn that the magician with absolute power is the “zero-point” magician, an interesting idea.
I like the way the Others enter into twilight by “pulling up their shadows”. This becomes banal in the movie version of Night Watch when they put on dark glasses, like Neo in The Matrix. I wish the film crew had spent a moment considering how to film the act of stepping into your own shadow. Sometimes, in unpropitious conditions, the only shadow available to Anton is the shadow of an eyelid. A wily adversary in book four (Last Watch) places himself in front of the window, preventing Anton from casting a shadow he could use to see into the twilight.
On the first level of twilight, the world goes gray apart from the “blue moss” which feeds and thrives on human emotions, especially fear and lust. Some structures appear as they do in the ordinary world, but leached of color and substance, so an Other can step through them. At the second level, the world is grayer and emptier, and travelers shed their normal appearance. The deeper you go, the more you risk losing your vital essence and the harder it is to come back. But higher magicians can practice rapid teleportation by diving through deeper levels of the twilight. On the fifth level, you learn the terrible truth about the Others – that they gain their power by stealing it from humans, as air rushes to fill a vacuum.

Lovers of old-fashioned books will enjoy the moment in Last Watch when Gesar, the chief of the Night Watch, gives a reason why books will never disappear: “We only use books for studying magic. When a text is typed into a computer, it doesn’t retain any of the magic.”

1 comment:

Justin Patrick Moore said...

My favorite books have never been written on this plane, but I put them into my heart while researching in the Inner Library.