Well, the sun’s finally out, Spring is here (sort of) and I have the prospect of a chocolate-fuelled weekend ahead. I’ve also had a couple of pleasant surprises over the last few days and so, in keeping with the optimistic mood, I thought I’d write about what I can only describe as booky surprises – the literary equivalent of an extra Easter egg you didn’t expect.
The books that are most likely to confound your expectations, I think, are the ones that lie outside your favourite genres. I’ve made some spirited (and some not so spirited) attempts to explore fantasy writing over the years, and not only have I not been converted, I’ve actually had some of my negative preconceptions of the genre confirmed. Bizarre, then, that one of my favourite book series of all time is a dark, magical concoction of vampires, warring wizards and various otherworldly dimensions inhabited by, well, various otherworldly creatures. I’m talking about the Night Watch trilogy (and its two sequels) by Sergei Lukyanenko. Never in a million years would I have picked them off the shelf had it not been for my then-flatmate’s last minute choice in the local video rental store (remember the days of the video rental store? – that’s a whole other blog), a Russian film that I’d never heard of: Night Watch. To my surprise not only did I love it, but loved it to the point where I didn’t believe the book could be any better. Of course, as a devoted bookworm, I should have had more faith. The book is better, in fact I would go so far as to say it’s outstanding. All the novels in the series are multi-layered and mind-bendingly complex; the at times barely fathomable levels of intrigue, double-crossing and triple-crossing will make your head spin. Yet the plot twists and turns are handled with the utmost dexterity. This is not a soap opera wrapped up in the guise of dark fantasy, but rather an intellectually – and I would say spiritually – challenging exploration of just how blurred the lines between good and evil, the light side and the dark side, really are when our society is inevitably split into factions who are all striving for what they consider to be the greater good. So even if, like me, the words “book” and “vampire” in the same sentence turn you off quicker than you can say “Robert Pattinson” I would implore you to give these superb books a go. They may just turn out to be your next surprise.