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The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko: a book lost in translation

Book cover of The Night Watch.

To say that I was feeling adrift after Deborah Harkness’s All Souls Trilogy would be an understatement. I missed a good fantasy novel. I wanted fantasy, adventure, worlds in worlds, and above all a good narrative. I dug around online and in book stores trying to find the perfect fit. Nothing really was jumping out at me, and then I came across Sergei Lukyanenko’s book The Night Watch. The front of the book boasts that the novel is “J.K. Rowling, Russian style”. So I thought, why not. The book starts strong. There is intrigue, mysterious characters, and a classic battle between good and evil (not to mention the age old question: What is good and evil anyway?). I felt connected to the main character Anton and his story was very believable, albeit a little stereotypical. Anton is the basic idea of a character who is good, but feels torn about his own actions and feelings. What is right and wrong?

The hardest part about this book though, is that you feel like you’re reading it through Google translate. There are so many sentences, expressions, and sayings that sound clunky and not quite right. There are also some spelling mistakes in the book (mainly homo-phonic ones), but it made things feel a bit off.

The next frustrating aspect about the book is the plot line. The book is split into three stories. Everything is fine until you get to story two, where you realise that the plot line is completely different and big chunks of the plot from the first book are just forgotten. The book in a way, is almost like a series of novellas that are linked with the same character, but are essentially separate. The stories, as Lukyanenko calls them (at least in translation), end of cliff hangers… And then you’re just left hanging… and hanging… and hanging…

I really really wanted to like this book. I was, in fact, desperate to like this book, because I wanted another fiction series I could sink my teeth into. However, the book fell short. The series has expanded to five books now, and I’m not sure that I’ll be reading any others from the series. I have my sneaking suspicions that something might have gotten lost in translation from Russian to English and that the books are a lot better in their original language. Although, it’s a really hard call to make since my Russian consists of well known Vodka brands, and that’s about it.

Readers! If there is a fantasy book or series that has you hooked, please let me know! From one desperate fantasy reader to another… I must get my fill of fangs, adventure, and the quest for good and evil!

Have you ever felt like a book really didn’t work in translation? I want to hear about it. Remember to always share the reading love.