26 January 2011

10 reasons why the Watch books are not like JK Rowling

The Watch series by Sergei Lukyanenko (The Night Watch, The Day Watch, The Twilight Watch & The Last Watch) is an excellent fantasy series and one which I recommend to anyone who like complex, exciting stories and new/different settings. The 2 films based on the the first two books are also good, with plenty of action, although they differ from the novels.

Here is the cover of the second book. It is an excellent example of the bollocks that gets written on book covers. The quote in the bottom left-hand corner seems to suggest that this book (and the 2 sequels, which have the same cover quote) is like the work of JK Rowling, except that it is Russian. It is a grossly misleading and unhelpful quote. These books are very different to Rowling's and while it's possible to enjoy the work of both authors I wouldn't recommend them to the same people. For example I wouldn't recommend Rowling to someone who enjoys dark fantasy, horror or thrillers, just as I wouldn't recommend Lukyanenko to a nine year old. Plus it's somewhat infuriating, as a fantasy fan, to see that apparently the entire genre can be summed up as 'like JK Rowling'.

10 commonly-known facts about the Harry Potter books and comparative facts about the Watch series:

The protagonist is a teenage wizard.
The main protagonist is an adult magician. The 2nd book features different protagonists, they are also adults, one is female.
The books are mostly set in a magical school, the entirety takes place in Britain.
Set in Moscow mostly, also Prague, Uzbekistan and Edinburgh. The closest thing to a school is a youth camp which is the setting for less than 9% of the series.
Most of the characters are children, the main adults are parents/guardians or teachers.
Almost all the characters are adults, some centuries old. There are 2 main teenage/young adult characters, and a toddler.
Magic exists but is practised in secret.

Ok yes that’s broadly the same, but it’s also true of dozens of things.*
Performing magic requires wand-waving, pseudo-Latin spells, potions, charms and magical artefacts.

Others perform magic as an act of will, usually without accoutrements. Although training improves their abilities, Others’ are limited by their magical ‘race’. Magic can involve formal processes and rituals. There are some magical artefacts.
Witches and Wizards fly around on broomsticks and owls deliver their post.

I’m almost certain there aren't any flying broomsticks in the books. One character does spend time in owl form, but I don’t think she delivers anything.
There are magical creatures including: centaurs, dragons, hippogriffs, giants, three-headed dogs and werewolves.

Some magical creatures (vampires, werewolves, shape-shifters, incubi/succubi) are actually different races of Others. There are a few creatures created by magicians, but there don’t seem to be any independent, non-humanoid magical creatures.
The main antagonist is a Great Evil who must be stopped at all costs.

There are Light Others (who tend to be selfless) and Dark Others (who tend to be self-serving), opposing sides that cannot win without wiping themselves out. Peace and balance are the most important things and they are maintained by the Watches and the Inquisition. Each side has their own opinions and philosophies which are explored in the books. On the surface the concept seems black and white, but there is a hell of a lot of grey (see next point).
A character who doesn’t like the hero and pretends to work for the bad-guys, whilst actually working for the good-guys is as morally grey and complex as it gets.
The Night Watch (Light Others who police Dark ones) track down Dark forces, they also issue them with licences. A licensed vampire can freely drink human blood. The Day Watch (Dark Others who police Light ones) have the same rights and responsibilities, and can legally stop an unlicensed Light magician from using magic to positively influence humans.
Add to this that the Watch Directors use humans, Others and even their own Watch members as pawns in their plans –which frequently to involve deceit, misdirection and manipulation – and you have stories with complex moral greys.
After hardships and loss Good triumphs over Evil.

After some very serious challenges to the order of things, to magic and life itself,  the status quo and balance are preserved, meaning that humans and Others can continue existing. Although the Night Watch (in Russia at least) is left stronger than the Day Watch.

There you go 10 reasons and I didn't even include the obvious bit about one being an adult book and one being written for children.

* Admittedly it's more like 9 reasons why the Watch books aren't like JK Rowling. But pretty much every low, contemporary or historical primary-world fantasy has magic existing secretly among us.
You might as well say that Terry Brooks' Word & Void trilogy is 'JK Rowling, American style', or that Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl series is 'JK Rowling, Irish style', or perhaps that Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere is 'JK Rowling, British Jewish London style'. In fact I'm fairly sure that both Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising Sequence and Jill Murphy's Worst Witch series are 'JK Rowling, preceding-her-by-2-decades style'.
And you know what, I think all the above books have more in common with JK Rowling than the Watch series does.

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