This is another book I got to know through the film adaptation. Sergei Lukyanenko is a Russian fantasy and science-fiction author who has a sly eye for contemporary pop culture and giving a slight twist on the ordinary and mundane. The interesting thing is that he wrote the script for the film adaptation himself which is very different to the actual book. Both are absolutely mesmerizing. He seems to wrap his stories in something like modern Gothicism that touches the nerve of the time, so the themes Lukyanenko writes about are contemporary, but also timeless.
The Night Watch series is centred around the concept of the “Others”. There are Magicians and Witches, Vampires and Shapeshifters among us. They have the ability to use magic and enter the Twilight, something like a parallel world in the shadows, which is also where their powers come from. The most important thing: The Others divide into Light Others and Dark Others who are bound together by a pact to keep the balance between these two forces. They keep watch over each other to ensure the contract is honoured, but it becomes clear very soon that Dark doesn’t mean evil and Light isn’t automatically good.
In this chaotic balance we meet Anton Gorodetsky, a Light Other and employee of the Night Watch. The Night Watch is the institution of the Light Others that keeps the Dark Others in check. Anton hasn’t been with the Night Watch long, so we get to know the world of the Others through him. And it’s not easy for him seeing through intrigues, traps and the existing prejudices, like Light and Dark Others should not mingle. Even though he and his neighbours were good friends – until he discovered they are Vampires, of course… And so he struggles through a world full of magic, where being human is not always an option anymore.
This all may sound very dark and sombre, but what makes the novels great is that all these complex themes and relationships are explored in a very conversational tone. Anton is very close to the reader and takes us by the hand, in a sense, so you don’t get lost in the bigger picture. Lukyanenko also has a brilliant way of making his books fun without writing comedy. They are entertaining throughout and for me the genre mix works so well – it sits in between urban fantasy, horror and mystery novel with subtle humour and commentaries about modern life casually thrown in.
Lukyanenko loves writing absurd or even cliché scenes and then pointing out the fact that they are exactly that. His characters are way too clever – they know when their writer is using them and they like to talk meta. This makes the novels very, very cheeky at times and I love that about them. It also makes them very contemporary. They go completely with their time. The series has been running since 1998 and Sergei Lukyanenko always implements new technologies or comments on the latest stars or mentions contemporary politics. It makes the books feel so much more real, despite the “magic”. One of his strengths is also capturing the essence of a city. Anton gets to see quite a few different cities apart from Moscow and having been to Edinburgh and Prague for example I can only say that he manages to transport the mood of those cities, which makes you feel like you are there.
The Night Watch Series has great characters that feel so very real. They are irrational and often larger than life, but exactly that makes them so human (or not). Lukyanenko’s motto seems to be “As Truth is stranger than Fiction, my fiction must be strange to seem true”. Or something along the lines. And it’s working. What’s also working very well throughout the series are the plot twists. You mostly don’t see them coming at all or at least you won’t know which direction they’ll go in. Anton is often given a choice between two ways and he always chooses the third. He gets me every time…
The Night Watch Series consists of six books by now, that have grown and gone with the time. The unpredictable characters and unique genre mix make these books so captivating and entertaining. Sergei Lukyanenko’s other books are fantastic reads as well, but Night Watch is very special to me, probably because it is fantasy, but somehow closer to reality than some “non-fiction” books (if that is possible in any way). You will soon grow very fond of the sometimes grumpy protagonist Anton, who always manages to surprise you with his actions. He’s trying to do what’s right, but that means the path isn’t always straight forward or clear cut.