Night Watch, by Sergei Lukyanenko

Sergei Lukyanenko's Night Watch series, recently concluded with the publication of the sixth and final volume, Sixth Watch, is a unique take on the whole "urban fantasy" genre, not least because it takes place in Moscow rather than in London or Chicago.

Urban fantasy has rather been done to death, so much so that it rather surprises me when I find a series that feels fresh and different. Lukyanenko manages it; which I suppose shouldn't surprise me given that the first book in the series, Night Watch, was first published in Russian in 1998, well before the birth of the Dresden Files in 2000.

In Lukyanenko's world, there are two kinds of people: normal people like you and me, and Others. Others are human beings who have supernatural powers ranging from the trivial to the god-like (note the small "g"), and they come in two basic flavors: the Light and the Dark. Light Others are generally more altruistic and Dark Others more selfish, but it turns out that you can't just say the Light are the good guys and the Dark are the bad guys. It's mostly true, but far too simple.

As our story begins, our hero, Anton Gorodetsky, is a young agent with the Moscow Night Watch: the organization of Light Others responsible for policing the activities of the Dark Others. It's the "Night" Watch because historically that's when the Dark Others are most active. And of course, there's also a Day Watch, staffed by Dark Others, who are responsible for policing the activities of the Light Others, and naturally there's a fair amount of friction between them.

The thing is, there's a treaty of sorts in effect between the two sides that requires a balance in the use of supernatural powers. If a Light Other uses magic to make a normal human feel more confident for a job interview, that's an Intervention; and the Dark are now entitled to an Intervention of the same level. For this reason, most Others are severely rationed as to how much magic they can do. And their alternative, should they wish not to be rationed, is to join the appropriate Watch, and use their powers to maintain the balance.

Or so Anton has been told in training.

But, you know, it's all more complicated than that. There are wheels within wheels and layers within layers; and Lukyanenko has managed the difficult trick of pulling the rug out from under the reader in each of the six books, providing new information that changes everything…without it becoming surreal or goofy or really, even, changing what the reader (and Anton) already knew. There's more, and bigger, and shockingly it all makes sense.

From a Catholic point of view, there are some interesting discussions of ethics and morality throughout the series; and the Russian background adds immensely to the moody atmosphere. Highly recommended.

(Hat tip: Julie Davis.)

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