Friday, January 28, 2011

Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko

Night Watch, Day Watch, Twilight Watch, and Last Watch are all books part of a tetralogy by Russian writer Sergei Lukyanenko.  I've just finished the first two books as audiobooks and have to remark that it is some of the most intriguing and thoughtful fantasy I've ever read.  The books deal with people who have supernatural abilities and are able to perceive the supernatural world.  These people are called "Others" and don't actually consider themselves human. Once they plunge into the supernatural "twilight", which is like an unseen alternate world that regular humans can't see but surround them, they lose their status as a human and attain the supernatural abilities of an Other. When this happens, they have to pick their controlling force (think light side and the dark side in Star Wars) which is either towards the light (the good) or the dark (implied as evil but better described as simply lacking morality in the conventional sense and living for oneself).  While you might want to classify these books as simple creative fantasy, think again.

What Lukyanenko creates in these books is more than a complex intriguing storyline in a well thought out complex world.  He creates characters and archetypes that permit discussions on morality, theology, and philosophy much in the way that Fyodor Dostoevsky did in books such as Crime and Punishment and Brothers Karamazov.  The world presented here is the literally a world ruled by the laws of yin and yang. Light and dark Others are in constant opposition to each other striving to tip the scales from a balance that is meticulously maintained through laws of a truce between the two sides. The onces who enforce the balance are the Night Watch (who monitors the dark Others and ensures they live according to the treaty) and the Day Watch (who monitors the light Others and ensures they live according to the treaty). The two sides are constantly trying to find ways to outwit the others within the bounds of the treaty to shift the balance towards their own side in the world. The books focus on members of these watches and as you can imagine by the book titles, the first book focuses primarily on the Night Watch and the second book focuses primarily on the Day Watch.  Not only are the plots and conflicts intriguing, the dialogs are rich in philosophical contemplations on the forces of good and evil, of free will and destiny, and are littered with references on topics from music to religion.

If you like fantasy, and you like to read things that will make you think, then these books are for you.  Be warned though: this is not the kind of fantasy that is jam packed full of action and events.  This is the kind of fantasy that moves at a methodical pace interlaced with a significant amount of thought provoking and heavy dialog.  There's plenty of action as well, but if you don't enjoy lots of discussion and dialog, then these books aren't for you.

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