Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I think I'm a bit amazed.
There's an awful lot I love about this novel and I had to put aside a lot of my well-misinformed prejudices about what I think I like most about modern Urban Fantasy.
Let's be clear here... this novel came out before most of the modern batches. 1998.
When it comes to similar themes of dark magic vs. light and the exploration of an amazingly deep moral ambiguity between them, I actually prefer Benedict Jacka's UF novels when it comes to straight action, magic, and characters, but Night Watch takes things slightly farther with the honest questions.
In both, anyone can be good or evil despite the categories, and there's a LOT of ground covered in both series, but Night Watch actually comes close to laying down a foundation of philosophical thought. I can be summed up as balance if I wanted to be crude. Let's not be surprised this is a modern Russian novel writing about modern Russia as a full-out UF with vampires, magicians, alternate dimensional side-realms, and a fight between the light and dark. Add the police-like drama and ramp up the focus of a morality of action versus the singularity of truth and the ambiguity of all the details will bring a hoard of devils home to us.
Sometimes slow, very often broken up into what could be a series of novellas, this first book is nevertheless pretty brilliant.
Where do dark magicians get their power? Suffering. Where do light magicians get theirs? Joy. Both diminish the source. It's quite delightful.
But if I'm being very honest, this is more of a 4.5 than a full 5 stars, but that's only due to my sheer enjoyment (or lack) that pulled down this otherwise sprawling philosophical twist to a traditional gritty UF. Maybe my issue is in the translation. Maybe it's my greater enjoyment coming from similar series to have treated the topic. I do not know.
Even so, I did enjoy this very much. Especially the end.
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