#CBR6 Review #10 – Twilight Watch
Profile: Modern Fantasy, Suspense, Horror
After Action Report:
Sergei Lukyanenko’s Watches books have utterly captivated me. The moody atmosphere and strong characterization drive an uncompromising examination of good and evil. Oh, and the story isn’t bad either. Where Day Watch acted as the natural extension of Night Watch, exploring some of the same material from the perspective of Darkness, Twilight Watch almost starts from scratch with a new, overriding storyline that runs through all three sections of the book. While the vignettes that compose all of the Watches books have never felt truly disconnected, there is a more immediate sense of continuity at work in Twilight Watch that lends urgency to the unfolding events.
Twilight Watch rejoins Night Watchman Anton years after the events in Prague at the end of Day Watch. He’s settled down with Svetlana and had a daughter, Nadya, who is already starting to show her strong potential as an Other. Anton is recalled early from one of his rare vacations at the behest of Gesar to investigate a troubling letter. The anonymous author claims that someone has offered a human the opportunity to become an Other, and not just a low level vampire or werewolf, but a full-fledged magician. Both the Night and Day Watches believe this to be impossible, but are concerned that someone has revealed the existence of the supernatural to a human. Anton goes undercover to identify the human in question and attempt to catch the unknown Other in the act, but as always, things are more complicated than they appear. What starts to unfold is a shadowy power play that reaches back all the way to the Russian Revolution. The stakes are high for both Watches and the Inquisition, as they clash over the awakening of a powerful witch, the terrible secret of magical power and the ultimate fate of the Others.
Because of its more linear story, Twilight Watch is a much more focused novel. The central premise of all three stories, the transformation of humans into Others, sets the tone for the book, acting as a kind of mystical equivalent to an atomic bomb, with many of the same moral and ethical connotations. This shift to a single story thread works surprisingly well and gives the book needed momentum. It also provides a better context for Lukyanenko’s moral arguments. Anton’s ongoing internal debate about the methods employed by the Night Watch takes on a new relevance as he learns more about the hidden past of both Watches and the rules his bosses are willing to bend, or even break, to grasp even the barest glimmer of victory.
Unfortunately, some of the misogyny that I started noticing in Day Watch is still present. A general portrait of women as overly emotional bombs just waiting to go off really undermines the otherwise positive images of women as powerful figures in both watches. Gesar in particular has a few obnoxious lines regarding pregnant women and mothers, and the role of a man in the family, which are so completely tone-deaf I think there might be something getting lost in the translation. At the same time, Lukyanenko’s depiction of a battle between two high-level women is easily the most impressive combat sequence of the series and correctly relegates Anton to the role of sneaky side-kick, commensurate with his power level. So I’m not sure if it’s the character Gesar who’s misogynist, or if it’s the author’s voice coming through, but the problem isn’t fixed either way.
In spite on this one persistent black mark, the Watches pentalogy continues to be both well written and entertaining. If anything, Twilight Watch has improved on the formula, feeling tighter and better paced than its predecessors. With the introductions of the two Watches out of the way, it seems like Lukyanenko finally got down to business, and the results are very impressive.
On an unrelated note, I really have to hand it to the people at HarperColins, and Gregg Kulick in particular, for the brilliant cover redesigns of my paperback editions of these books. They really fit the tone and atmosphere of the novels. Much more so than the previous U.S. editions, which looked like every other knock-rate dark fantasy book on the shelves. It’s rare that I make a purchase decision based on the cover alone, but these fresh takes on the series really did tip the scales in my mind. Well done.