Anton Gorodetsky is a magician-detective from Moscow’s Night Watch, an organization of light wizards and sorceresses that police the dark magicians. In spite of all the Night Watch’s claims about self-sacrifice and goodness, Sergei Lukyanenko’s urban fantasy takes place in a world that exists beyond the borders of good and evil. The light magicians are just as prone to illicit activities and there is a Day Watch that monitors the activities of wizards like Anton before they can go overboard in their attempts to save the world.
The Night Watch collects three short stories that together form the novel’s narrative arc. In each, Anton, an underdog detective, is tasked with stopping the forces of darkness with little more than his wits and his ingenuity. Fans of urban fantasy will struggle to resist Anton’s world of vampires, werewolves, and opaque magic systems, but the real strength of the series is the intrigues between the light and the dark.
However, look a little closer, and it’s difficult to make out the logic that underlies Lukyanenko’s world. Although Anton finds himself perpetually wondering what the difference is between the light and the dark, suggesting that this is a postmodern world in which there are no absolutes in which we can place our trust, Anton’s magic is drawn from an absolute magic source that manifests itself as a pure white flame. Frustratingly, Anton comes up with any number of explanations of what it means to be a light wizard, but he never overcomes his self-doubts, making for a somewhat adolescent confusion.
However, if the world that Lukyanenko has created suffers from its fuzzy details, it also benefits from the ambiguity. The cold war between the light and the dark in Moscow is a compelling premise and Lukyanenko has a talent for creating suspense through standoffs between the rival watches. And even if the world never feels complete, The Night Watch feels complete enough to keep the reader turning pages as Anton strives to save sorceresses, outwit dark wizards, and survive his boss’ intrigues and schemes.