#CBR6 Review #8 – Day Watch
Profile: Modern Fantasy, Suspense, Horror
After Action Report:
Day Watch is a strong successor to the gritty, twilight world that Sergei Lukyanenko introduced us to in Night Watch. After exploring the moral dilemmas facing a ‘good’ person trying to maintain a status quo that is anything but good, Lukyanenko shifts his focus to take a look at the bad guys. That being said, Day Watch isn’t as strong overall as its prequel, partly because the Dark Others aren’t faced with the same quandaries as the Light. Lukyanenko’s strengths lie in those internal debates and without them the stories have less weight.
Like Night Watch, Day Watch is composed of three separate but interconnected stories. The first deals with a recurring character from the first book, Alisa Donnikova, a mid-level witch with the Day Watch. Alisa is sent to a summer camp to recover her powers after a strenuous conflict with the Night Watch. There, without her powers, she starts to fall in love with a human, putting strain on her identity as a callous Dark Other. The second story shifts to an unknown Dark Magician named Vitaly Rogoza. He has no memory of his past, but is rapidly awakening to tremendous dark power and a purpose he doesn’t understand. The final story takes us back to Anton, the Night Watchman from the first book, and his counterpart in the Day Watch, a wizard named Edgar, as they travel to Prague to face a tribunal of the Inquisition.
It is a little harder to get into the flow of Day Watch’s stories because they aren’t as tightly tied together as those in Night Watch. Without a unifying narrator or perspective, the build of the novel isn’t as smooth. Still, the individual stories are all pretty good. Vitaly’s story is by far the most compelling of the three. His struggles with what he is becoming, balanced by the narrative driving him forward, makes for a very satisfying read. Alisa’s story, on the other hand, comes off like a supernatural Romeo & Juliet. Her actions feel sinister, even when she is acting like a schoolgirl with a crush.
There’s actually a strong misogynist undertone to Alisa’s portrayal, and to the series in general. While there are powerful women in both the Night and Day watch, they tend to take up roles as pawns, rather than leaders or even agitators. A lot of the typical anti-feminist tropes crop up too. Tiger Cub, a powerful Light shapeshifter from the first book, is killed because she loses control of her emotions. Alisa is written as a slave to first, her lust for power, and later to her love for Igor. Svetlana, an Enchantress beyond classification and one of the most powerful characters in the series so far, is depicted as flighty, unreliable and out of control at various points in Day Watch. In contrast, the men come off as cool and collected, even when their internal monologues are raging. I don’t know how I feel about these instances of quiet misogyny. I didn’t notice them in my read through, and it was only in preparing this review did the pattern really emerge for me. But I can’t help but feel like it was worse that it was subtle enough to miss on the first pass. I’d be interested to see what other have to say on the subject.
Lukyanenko also starts fleshing out the world a bit more in the second and third stories of Day Watch. The concepts start coming fast and hard, detailing the various classifications and abilities of Light and Dark others. The Inquisition, introduced in Night Watch is given a much bigger role in the events of Day Watch and is established better as the arbitrating body between the two Watches. These steps forward in world building parallel Lukyanenko’s progress towards an endgame, though at the end of Day Watch the exact shape of that endgame is still nebulous at best. And that’s a good thing. The elements of suspense and gritty, noir storytelling are still intact and are strong points in the book’s favor. Lukyanenko is very good at showing us how his characters work the mysteries they are confronted with, so I expect the slow unraveling of the series greater secrets will be very satisfying.
One thing I’d like to note is that Day Watch very neatly avoids being anything like a typical transitional novel. The vignette format of the Watches books seems to be doing the heavy lifting of keeping our focus from book to book, while simultaneously allowing Lukyanenko to play around with secondary characters to keep things fresh. In some ways, this format is vastly superior to the typical urban fantasy model that mashes a couple of plots together to make a single book. The stories are simpler to digest, but still allow for satisfying storytelling through the interconnected nature of the books.
Despite some concerns about the portrayal of women in the series, I’m still firmly recommending Day Watch and the Watches books in general. If you find those themes to be distasteful, or just don’t want to support an author who writes that way, I understand. Just forgive me my desire to finish the series.