Why I love….. Sergei Lukyanenko

It’s been absolutely AGES since I did one of my Why I love…. blog posts, so I thought it was time to resurrect it as a feature! If you’re new to This Girl’s Book Room, the idea behind these posts is super-simple: I pick one of my favourite authors, then tell you what it is that makes me love them so much, and why you should try their books if you haven’t already. Today it’s the turn of an author who I think deserves a wider readership outside of those who naturally gravitate towards fantasy or horror: Russian writer extraordinaire, Sergei Lukyanenko. Without further ago, here’s why I love him so much.

He has an appeal that goes beyond fantasy fans

One genre conspicuously absent from my blog is, as I’m sure you will have noticed, fantasy or fantasy-horror. My general rule of thumb is that is if a book features either a map or an absurd fantastical character name on the first page then I’m not going to like it. I just about made it through Lord of the Rings and even slogged my way through a Juliet Marillier novel to prove to a friend I was willing to try something different, but nope, I’m definitely more at home in a real-world setting. I really thought, then, when The Night Watch (the series’ first book) was recommended to me, it was going to be another politeness read – but no! To my joy it’s set in modern day Russia (and other countries as well later in the series) and despite the presence of vampires, werewolves and magicians it’s fully grounded in a recognisable world.

Sexy vampires? Not here, thank you very much.

Let’s be honest, the constant fetishization of vampires is a bit yawnsome isn’t it? That’s not to say it can never be successful, but I for one was mightily relived that there are no brooding, sultry bloodsuckers here – at least none who take on that role unironically. On the surface Lukyanenko’s vampires appear almost no different to everyday people: they’re licensed, regulated, and most of them go about their business in a law-abiding fashion while holding down apparently normal lives in Russia’s capital city.

His books will make you think. And then think again.

There are 6 books in The Night Watch series, and while I’d say the first one is probably the biggest mind-bender of the lot, all of them have complex and well-executed plotlines and even more complex characters. The novels imagine a world in which magical forces are battling and collaborating by turns to maintain the elusive balance between Light and Dark that keeps society running as it should. There are constant questions being asked of the characters, and by extension the readers, about the nature of the false binary that we conventionally term “Good” and “Evil”. What sacrifices are acceptable in the pursuit of a greater good? Is it possible to do the right thing without ever having to compromise on your values? And most importantly, is there such a thing as being unequivocally on a single side?

Anton Gorodetsky

Light Magician Anton Gorodetsky is hands down one of my favourite literary creations. Despite having the power to rip dark magicians to shreds in battle, Light Other Anton is still somehow an everyman, walking the streets of Moscow alongside its human inhabitants while juggling the blessing of extreme power with the crushing curse of responsibility. I think that’s the secret to how Lukyanenko manages to make you so attached to him; despite his fantastical abilities he’s more human than many mortal characters we come across in the course of our reading lives. When I parted company from him at the end of book 6 I was broken.

I really hope I’ve tempted you into trying this fabulous Russian writer, especially if you’ve always thought he wouldn’t be up your street. Definitely start with The Night Watch, as this is not one of those series you can join part way through and not lose out. If you’ve read these books already, I would love to know what you think! Thanks for reading and see you back on the blog soon.

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My Top 5 Mindbenders

There’s nothing more satisfying than a truly mind-bending novel, the kind that makes you feel the need to go and lie down with a cold flannel on your head as you recover from the effort of getting your head around the unfolding events.  No-one likes to be completely mystified; we prefer, I think, to feel like we’re on the verge of “getting it” before the author surprises us, and there’s a very fine line between complexity for complexity’s sake and the genuinely clever writing that drip feeds you just the right amount of information to keep the mental cogs whirring without leaving the reader floundering in a sea of confusion.  The novels listed here fall on the right side of that line, so if you fancy a bit of an intellectual workout you could do a lot worse than today’s top five.

  1. “The Luminaries” by Eleanor Catton – I’m not going to lie: when I read various reviews of this novel after finishing it I came to the conclusion there was a whole subtext that I’d completely missed. Yet even on the – apparently superficial – level on which I’d read it, it proved to be a pretty intellectual endeavour.  I don’t think I’ve ever come across another book that managed to juggle so many different characters’ plot threads, and I couldn’t help thinking that if keeping up as a reader was challenging then what on earth must it have been like to write!
  2. “The Ecliptic” by Benjamin Wood – by the time I got to the end of this novel I was in a state of stunned silence. It was one of those moments when you can only sit there thinking, “what? how? WHAT??” repeatedly, until you’re forced to admit that the author has been toying with you the whole time.  Slightly galling at the time perhaps, but with hindsight a very impressive feat.
  3. “Never let me go” by Kazuo Ishiguro – what makes this novel so clever is the way in which it skirts incredibly close to normality but all the while instils a sense that something is definitely not right. If you manage to guess where the story is headed then you’re a smarter cookie than me – in a million years I wouldn’t have seen the conclusion coming.
  4. “The Night Watch” by Sergei Lukyanenko – yes, there are plenty of wizards, werewolves and vampires, but this Russian masterpiece is less about the bloodsucking and more about the battle for control between the forces of the righteous Night Watch and the malevolent Day Watch. But hang on – are things really as black and white as all that?  Apparently not; just when you think you’ve got your head around the double crossing, the triple crossing begins, and by the end you will have no idea who the bad guys really are.
  5. “Stone’s Fall” by Iain Pears – this author is one of the ultimate scramblers of grey matter and I love him for it! If you want a devilishly clever plot that wrong-foots you at every turn and bombards you with twist after revelation after rug-from-under-feet moment, then try this; just make sure you’ve got your brain in gear first.  There’s a real skill in executing a story such as this without making it feel contrived, and despite the shocks it’s completely believable all the way to the end.

Hope you enjoyed today’s suggestions, as ever I’d love to hear what your choices would be!

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