Sunday, January 4, 2009

Nightwatch by Sergei Luyanenko, translated by Andrew Bromfield (2006)

The Others, magical beings who exist side by side with the normals in the real world, are locked in a struggle to preserve the balance between light and dark. We enter the world of the Moscow branch of the Light side Others, the Nightwatch, with Anton, a lower powered magician and sys-admin who has been forced into field work in the battle against his will. Assigned to find a renegade vampire who has been "poaching" humans without a liscence, he finds instead a beautiful young woman under a very powerful curse, and our ride through the Moscow cityscape begins.

Lukyanenko's book promises great urban fantasy from the very get go, and aside from a few over long sections of internal dialoge in which the lead character Anton contemplates the nature of good and evil and freedom and humanity, it delivers on this promise. The book is arranged in three sections, each comprising a complete story while moving forward the action with some defacto fastforwarding. But actual action is a bit lacking. The stories are all mysteries of a sort, with the higher ups of the watches, night and day, weaving convoluted plots against each other in an attempt to gain a decisive upper hand in Moscow and the world. The Nightwatch of the title is the force of light, watching the night against the dark forces. The Daywatch is as you would suspect, the forces of dark. The battle they wage is very reminescent of the Cold War standoff between the US and USSR, with much plotting and little overt action taken.

In many ways, this book feels different from your average urban fantasy fair. There is little sex, and all of that is off-screen. There is a "twilight" world, parallel and overlaying the real world, in which the Others can operate for periods of time. It is a grey world, muted and dim, which is reflected in the tone of the book. I'm not sure, but I suspect it is a reflection of the realities of life in post-Soviet Russia.

I enjoyed Luyanenko's take on vampires most of all. Normally I'm not a fan of the blood sucker tropes, but here you find a group of people living on blood from bloodbanks, making a living working a job, and occasionally receiving a permit to hunt and take a specific human as food. All of this plays into the conflict of the Light Ones. How can these creatures who prey on humans be allowed to exist? How can one justify the choices one is forced into to perpetuate a truce. How can one live with the knowledge of evil, whilst restraining from all out battle with the same. This sort of moral dilemma builds the bulk of the three stories found here.

On final analysis, I truely enjoyed this book. It was a bit refreshing to find a viewpoint so far from my everyday North American life. The characters are well built and engaging. There is enough action to move the book along, although the pace does fall flat in a few places. It is a book I would recommend to anyone who enjoys the urban fantasy type of story, but if you're into thrillers you may want to take a pass.

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