#CBR6 Review #24 – New Watch

New WatchTarget: Sergei Lukyanenko’s New Watch.  Translated by Andrew Bromfield (The Watches pentalogy #5)

Profile: Modern Fantasy, Suspense, Horror

After Action Report:

Sergei Lukyanenko ostensibly drew his Watches series to a conclusion with Last Watch, but almost six years later he released a fifth book.  New Watch is a very different kind of novel than its predecessors.  It draws inspiration from other contemporary and urban fantasies, most notably the Harry Potter series.  There is a greater emphasis on the mechanics of the world’s magic system, answering some questions from previous novels, but shifting the tone of the series away from the cerebral contemplation of the battle between good and evil, towards a more action-oriented adventure.  Some of Lukyanenko’s trademark musings remain, but New Watch is clearly written for a slightly different, more global audience than the rest of the pentalogy.

Where Last Watch dealt with the cycle of life and death, New Watch is primarily concerned with the nature of the Twilight, the origins of magic and the quirks of prophesy.  The story opens with our tried and true Anton witnessing the awakening of a nascent Light prophet and the accompanying arrival of a mysterious figure called The Tiger.  A spontaneous manifestation of the Twilight, The Tiger hunts new prophets and kills them unless they are able to pronounce their primary prediction aloud to an ordinary human.  Seeking to save a fellow Light mage, Anton takes up the mantle of defending the boy prophet, and inadvertently pits himself against magic itself in a fight for the future of Otherkind and humanity.

Lukyanenko’s explorations of the nature of prophesy and its tendency towards self-fulfillment make up the bulk of the intellectual meat of New Watch.  Throughout Russian folklore, fate plays a strong role as the immutable guide of the lives of those with power, and Lukyanenko’s take on prophesy reflects that cultural trope.  In sharp contrast to the very American concept of manifest destiny and carving your own path through an adversarial world, the prophesies of New Watch resist struggles and even transform efforts to thwart them into events that only ensure their fulfillment.  Anton’s own efforts to unravel the mystery surrounding The Tiger and the Twilight only serve to bring about new layers of prophesies.

I find it difficult to determine if Lukyanenko’s style in New Watch is good change or a bad change.  As a reviewer, I am inclined to believe it has to be one or the other.  But in practice, the novel is still ‘good,’ for whatever value you may assign that descriptor.  The greater focus on action and the details of the Watches’ magic systems undermine some of what I thought Lukyanenko was working towards, but at the same time there is something valuable about the broader view in New Watch.  The addition of watches in the U.K. and East Asia add significant flavor, as well as broadening Anton’s traditional Russian viewpoints and forcing him to examine problems from new perspectives.

The greatest improvement in my mind is Lukyanenko’s treatment of his female characters.  The return of Arina is very welcome and Anton’s own daughter plays a major role in the unfolding events.  He still has a tendency to write ‘Women’ instead of people who happen to be female, but Arina is given a much more reasonable character arc in this book and feels closer to the powerful, unpredictable witch we met in Twilight Watch.

New Watch should not be considered required reading for the rest of The Watches series.  It is a strong book that requires the background built in its prequels to stand, but it doesn’t add anything truly necessary to the sequence as a whole.  Instead, it reads like an awkward coda, not quite a book written just for the sake of having a sequel, but not motivated entirely by the needs of the greater story arc.  I still enjoyed it, but I can understand a purist’s desire to avoid the book.

Posted on September 12, 2014, in Cannonball Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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