Sean Stewart: The Night Watch

I’ve never read anything quite like The Night Watch. It shares a background with Stewart’s earlier novel Resurrection Man, but it’s not a direct sequel; it takes place roughly a century later.

Stewart’s novel is set after the cataclysmic return of magic to the world — the Dream — ended civilization as we know it. City centers became inimical and largely uninhabitable. Technology mutated into new forms or simply ceased to function. Humanity survived, but in isolated pockets.

Near the end of the 21st century, Edmonton’s South Side and Vancouver’s Chinatown are entering an uneasy alliance. Vancouver has problems with monsters on its borders; Edmonton is trying to build a market for its cyberpunkish mercenary services. But although there is a dash of military-sf style action, Stewart’s story is primarily about character and family. The tangled relationship between the Southside’s leader, Winter, and his granddaughter Emily (at the novel’s outset, Emily has just been jailed by her grandfather) is both reflected and contrasted by the complex dynamic of Chinatown’s enigmatic “Minister of Borders” Water Spider, and his father. An estranged marriage between a Southsider and a Vancouverite is less symbolic than emblematic of the cultural clashes between the two communities.

Within a few chapters, I thought I had a handle on how most of the major plot elements would develop and resolve themselves. I was correct on some points, but dead wrong on several others. The Night Watch is perhaps less emotionally satisfying than if it had gone as I expected — it’s not a novel for anyone who insists on unalloyed happy endings* — but much more intellectually satisfying.

Also, it has some of the best writing about painting that I’ve encountered in recent memory.

I thought Resurrection Man could have used a touch more expository background; I think The Night Watch overcompensated just a touch. The Night Watch also has a fairly large cast of characters and while the principals were also clear, I was occasionally confused by some of the minor players (Stewart for instance refers to Chinatowns ministers variously by their full names, nicknames, titles, and by their symbols of office — which lent things a nicely realistic feel, but made me wish once or twice for a crib sheet).

Overall, though, I very much enjoyed The Night Watch.

needs more demons? no.

* If you require novels with unalloyed happy endings, this is almost certainly the wrong site to read

Published by therealsummervillain

likes: equality, making things easier to use, biking, jangle, distortion, monogamy dislikes: bigotry, policies that jeopardize people, lack of transparency

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