Night Watch – Sergei Lukyanenko (1998)
‘Walking the streets of Moscow, indistinguishable from the rest of its population, are the Others. Possessors of supernatural powers and capable of entering the Twilight, a shadowy world that exists in parallel to our own, each Other owes allegiance wither to the Dark or the Light.
‘The Night Watch’, first book in the Night Watch trilogy, follows Anton, a young Other owing allegiance to the Light. As a Night Watch agent he must patrol the streets and metro of the city, protecting ordinary people from the vampires and magicians of the Dark. When he comes across Svetlana, a young woman under a powerful curse, and saves an unfledged Other, Egor, from vampires, he becomes involved in events that threaten the uneasy truce, and the whole city…’
Blurb from the 2006 Arrow paperback edition.
Some critics described this as Russia’s answer to Harry Potter, which is a good description up to a point. As in the Harry Potter universe there are humans who can employ magic and are called Others. Some belong to the Light and some to the Dark. Many years ago a truce was agreed between the forces of Light and Darkness in order to keep a balance and not allow one side to use their powers excessively, otherwise the other side would be allowed to use a similar level of magic, which at a stretch could be compared to the situation between Russia and The West with regard to nuclear weapons during the Cold War.
Thus if a Light magician used magic illegally to cure someone of cancer, a Dark magician may be allowed to kill someone else. To police the agreement, agencies were created, The Day watch, in which the agents of Darkness patrol the daylight hours checking for Light Magicians’ transgressions, and the Night Watch who spend their nights monitoring vampires, werewolves, witches and Dark Magicians.
Anton, who has been assigned to track down a rogue vampire, manages to save a young Other, Egor, from becoming the snack of a vampire couple. Earlier, Anton had expended some of his power trying to dispel a fatal curse he had seen hanging over a girl’s head on the Metro. Curses look like black vortices twirling above people’s heads.
It is not until later that Anton realises the events are connected, and that the virtually immortal masters of the Watches are capable of weaving complex plots like a giant game of magical chess.
The book is divided into three sections which, although they focus on a particular story or case that the watch has to deal with, are all part of Anton’s overall tale and Anton grows in both magical experience and cynicism as to the ethics of some of the Watch’s practices as the book progresses.
Although on the surface a Rowling-esque escapist fantasy (although this may well predate the HP franchise) there is a philosophical debate at the heart of this writing which examines the very nature of Good and Evil, the balance between the two and the question of whether one can even exist without the other.