The Night Watch, by Sergei Lukyanenko: part of the book swag my sister gave me for my birthday (belatedly, since she isn’t in Paris currently. Russia is underpinned by another world, that of the Twilight, and its children, the Others. Wizards, sorceresses, vampires and were-tigers stalk the streets of Moscow, divided into two sides, the Dark and the Light. Those sides once fought each other, but have now signed a truce in the interest of survival. The truce preserves neutrality: every act of magic by an agent of the Dark gives an agent of the Light the right to perfom an act of similar intensity. The Night Watch is the Light entity which watches over the Dark to make sure that it doesn’t break the rules, and the Day Watch, made up of Dark field agents, does the reverse.
Anton is an agent of the Night Watch, a minor magician recently assigned to field work in order to catch rogue vampires. But when he meets Egor, a young, unaligned Other on the verge of change, and Sveltana, a young woman under a powerful curse, he has no idea his life is about to change… The Night Watch is made up of three semi-independent stories, each focusing on Anton, his relationship with his powerful boss, Boris Ignatievich, and his growing awareness of how both sides manipulate their own pawns for their gain. It’s urban fantasy, Russian-style, but very refreshing both in its setting and in its attitude: Anton isn’t a kickass hero (and, indeed, his kindness and human judgments end up much more useful than his magical abilities), just a man trying to make sense of what is around him and gradually coming to question his role in the organisation. Though there are clear sides, you can’t really say that one is better than the other, since they both have a tendency for ruthlessness. Both sides will cooperate to chase rogues, which makes for interesting scenes when they’re all bickering together. The characters are great, each pretty well-drawn, from Anton to were-tigress Tiger Cub, to young mage Yulia. Pretty strongly recommended. I’m definitely going to check out the other books in the series.
All the Windwracked Stars by Elizabeth Bear. Thousands of years ago, Ragnarok occurred, leaving only three survivors: Muire, the last of the waelcyrge (Valkyries), the war-steed Kasimir, reborn into a thing of metal and hydraulics, and the Grey Wolf, the betrayer, the one who swallowed the sun. Now the city of Eiledon is all that is left of the human world, dying more slowly than the rest of the poisoned land. But the Grey Wolf has come hunting again, to bring about the second end of the world…
An awesome mix of postapocalyptic SF, Norse myths and steampunk. I love Bear’s writing style, and this book did not disappoint. It also had a very cool plot and a cast of interesting, flawed characters I rooted for easily (the Grey Wolf is made of awesome, but Bear has always been good at doing mysterious and dangerous, like Whiskey in Blood and Iron). Again, I’m looking forward to picking up the sequels.