Another Russian related post- this should be my last one (I think!). And many thanks to Rob over at The Old Book Junkie for this recommendation.
Night Watch is the first book in a series by Sergei Lukyanenko. I think it was initially meant to be a trilogy, followed by the novels Day Watch and Twilight Watch, but further research indicates that it has expanded to include two more novels, Final Watch and New Watch. And since these novels are originally in Russian, it looks like only the first four have been translated into English so far. Which is shame because I enjoyed the first book very much.
Night Watch is set in modern Russia and follows the adventures of Anton Gorodetsky over the course of about a year. Anton is one of the Others, people with magical abilities. Anton is a Light Other and a low level mage, but Others can be shapeshifters, vampires, were-animals, etc. There are three separate stories inside the book which makes it a fast read but the stories are all connected. I won’t go through the hassle of trying to explain the plot of the book but it’s definitely worth reading if you can find it.
I think my favorite part of the book is that despite this being about a fight of Light versus Dark, it’s not really a story about Good versus Evil. In Lukyanenko’s world, there is a twilight, or gloom, world that Others can enter in. It’s not a parallel world, more a co-existing one, that allows Others to discern others of their kind and to move faster, among other things. There are several layers of the twilight that Others can enter into depending on their skill level (Anton is initially a low level mage that shows greater powers than expected after going deeper into the twilight than he has been taught.) While I usually roll my eyes at modern authors’ tendency to never write Evil characters, simply misunderstood ones, Dark Others really aren’t evil. They are simply Others more concerned about doing what will help themselves rather than doing what will help other people or humanity as a whole. It is made very clear that Dark Others can do good, while Light Others can do evil. Not intentionally perhaps, but it happens. Anton realizes this and has become very cynical about being one of the Light Others but he still has hope that he can help humanity.
Ultimately, Night Watch is a look at the thorny nature of good and evil in a world without a faith in something higher. Very interesting and very entertaining.
Bonus! A film version came out a few years ago loosely based on the first part of the book. Also called Night Watch, it’s a rock star adaptation directed by Timur Bekmambetov, whose most recent work is Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Don’t let that turn you away!