Sean Stewart,
The Night Watch
(Ace, 1997)

In Sean Stewart's Night Watch, North America is drenched in magic, but not of the sort that delivers faeries and rainbows. Stewart's dark, violent magic descends like a plague and plunges the world into a new Dark Age of isolation. How differently the two cities of Edmonton and Vancouver adapt to their new reality is the heart of this tale of culture clashes and the irrepressible power of the unseen world.

On the icy prairies of old Edmonton, Emily Thompson -- granddaughter of Edmonton's savior and ruler, Winter Thompson -- lives securely in the unchanged world of the Southside, where traffic still flows, computers still work and life still swirls in almost the same patterns as before the Dream of 2004. Almost the same. For, as Emily learns, magic remains imprisoned on the Northside as the result of a terrible bargain -- one her grandfather insists she keep for him, willing or not.

In lush Vancouver, only Chinatown survives the Dream. The people live peacefully in their bustling oriental world of formal teas and court politics, secure in the belief that, even though no emperor sits on the Dragon throne, the magical rule of the three great Powers keeps the demons from Downtown safely at bay. When the demons grow restless and press hard against Chinatown's weakly-defended borders, a fledgling alliance with Emily and the militaristic Southside seems the only means of preserving the peace. But when Emily flees to Chinatown to avoid her grandfather's impossible choice, Winter's anger and prejudices threaten to destroy them all.

Fans of Sean Stewart's diverse, mythic fiction will be well-pleased with Night Watch. Stewart seamlessly blends science-fiction, fantasy and metaphor in this intelligent tale. While the large cast of major characters is sometimes difficult to follow, their overall richness and variety of emotional development yields a strong tapestry of meaning. The realism of Stewart's eerie landscapes and nature-inspired metaphors made me shivering with cold and damp as I wandered happily through his different worlds, while the conflict between the repressed shadow world of magic and the daylight world of Southside and Chinatown left me, in the tradition of great speculative fiction, thinking on the nature of reality. Be sure to brew yourself a cup of tea and settle in for a long night with this book.

- Rambles
written by Tracie Vida
published 21 February 2004

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