"We don't even know how to wish evil on anyone. Except that our Good is not any different from Evil."How do you write the *real* Russian urban fantasy? Spice up your standard recipe with extreme moral ambiguity, questioning of morals and purpose, blend the distinctions between the forces of dark and light creating moral greyness, add questionable authority figures, question the benefit of one versus the benefit of the society, and you got the right mix!¹¹ Other optional ingredients include: a touch of prejudice, some misogyny, a bit of latent homophobia. (Very unfortunately. But Russian society is, frankly, not known for being very accepting). And, of course, vodka."The Dark freedom is, first of all, the freedom from yourself, your consciousness and soul. When you feel no more pain in your chest - it's time to scream for help. Except for then it's too late."Sergei Lukyanenko's Night Watch has all of the above. It starts as your typical urban fantasy featuring a magical cop who is one of the 'good guys' in the city filled with wizards and vampires and other outwordly stuff (Harry Dresden and Peter Grant immediately come to mind). But very quickly it takes a turn from magical adventures to moral dilemmas, questioning of Good and Evil, and blurring the distinctions between the Light and the Dark. What does it mean to be good or evil? Can the Light side cause as much harm or even more harm than the Dark side? Communism and Nazism are prime examples of that. What is more important - individuals or society?"It would have been so good had everything remained just as simple and clear as it was when you were twelve or twenty. If the world had only two colors: black and white. But even the most honest and simple cop, brought up on the stars-and-stripes ideals, will understand sooner or later that the streets have more than just Light and Dark. There are also agreements, contracts, concessions. Informants, traps, provocations. Sooner or later you'll have to sacrifice your own, plant packets of heroin into others' pockets, hit them in the kidneys - carefully, so no traces are left.And all of this for the sake of the simplest rules.To preserve the law. Persecute Evil. Protect the innocent.I had to learn to understand that, too."From very early on, you realize that the Light and the Dark are not fighting each other in Lukyanenko's Moscow. The goal instead is learning to coexist, to maintain the precarious balance, to uphold the laws, to live at a standstill, so to say. The balance that often requires sacrifices and questionable deeds - for example, the vampires who hunt people without permission are punished, yes, but what about the people who by the tacit agreement are meant to become nothing but food for the law-abiding predators? This is the tenuous peace where distinctions are arbitrary and bureaucracy rules. This is the kind of peace that cannot sit well with anyone who is at all idealistic - but what is the alternative? The benefit of one versus that of many? That's enough to drive anyone crazy. And that is among the things that Anton Gorodetsky, an ordinary Moscow 'Other', a member of the Night Watch (the police force of the Light side) has to deal with. And it bothers him - and yet he knows why it is necessary. And I loved the moral dilemmas and ambiguity that come from that."The scariest thing in the war is to understand the enemy. To understand means to forgive. And we don't have the right to do that..."Now, if you love your straightforward Good versus Evil and 'good guys always win' approaches, then this book will be frustrating as hell to you. If you prefer action over long ruminations about the nature of good and evil, you will be bored and annoyed. But if you love some philosophizing and a bit of moral ambiguity and Dostoyevsky-style moral dilemmas - well, my friend, you will probably have a great time reading this book.'So why don't I understand where the boundary is, what is the difference between me and some witch that goes to black mass? Why am I asking these questions?''You will always ask them. At first, out loud. Then silently. This will never pass, ever. If you wanted to be rid of painful questions, you have chosen the wrong side.''I've chosen what I wanted.''I know. And therefore you will suffer.''My whole life?''Yes. Your life will be long, but you'll never get used to that. You'll never be able to stop questioning how right is every step of your way.'I found it very interesting to have a fantastical story set in Russia (and by a Russian author!) and not in the familiar Western surroundings. I loved the distinct post-Soviet feel of the story, the language and the references that easily pinpoint the time period of this book. The events take place in the late nineties, when the allure of capitalism and the sad realities of it were colliding in Russian society, when idealism and enthusiasm of early nineties were hit by the harsh reality and had to meet cynicism and disappointment. It created a very specific vibe in the society, the vibe that resonates throughout this book. And this vibe made the endings of each of the three stories that comprise this book feel not as much underwhelming (as some thought) but inevitable and unavoidable. Because life does not have to be fair, let's face it. Because nobody owes you anything. Because quite often life, honestly, sucks, and you can't have it all, and you can't be whatever you want to be regardless of what people tell you."We want so badly to have clean hands, warm heart and cool head. But somehow these three things cannot coexist. Ever. A wolf, a goat, and a cabbage - where is the insane ferryman who could stick them into the same boat?""The common benefit and the individual benefit rarely go together".Yes, I understand. This is the truth.But perhaps there are some truths that are worse than lies.'Overall, I liked this book. Yes, it is nowhere near perfect. Yes, there are bits of intolerance that spoil the overall picture and yet do not surprise me, a child of a post-Soviet country. But it was fun, and sad, and had just enough moral rumination to appear to my inner Russianism, and for all that I recommend it and give it 4 stars.'And we will try to change the fate of the world again?' I asked. 'In addition to our little personal matters?'He nodded. And asked, 'You are not happy about that?''No.''Well, Anton, you can win at everything. Even I didn't manage that. And you won't be able to.''I know,' I said. 'Of course I know that, Geser. But I still want it so much.'----------------By the way, my review of the sequel, The Day Watch, is here - for your reading pleasure.