The Day Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko (Shane's book 25, 2010)

This is the second part in a four-part series of fantasy novels that chronicles the battle between Light and Dark magicians - known as the Others - in Moscow. The two sides are in a long stand-off that parallels the Cold War and Lukyanenko brings elements of the spy novel into these books. There's also an amusing mundanity to the lives of the magicians, who are worn down by paperwork and admin. [amtap book:isbn=0099489937]

I read the first part, which focuses on the Light magicians, a couple of years ago. This second part turns its attention to the Dark side. Perhaps it's simply a case of diminishing returns or maybe I was just not in the right mood, but I didn't enjoy this anywhere near as much as the first novel.As with the first novel, Lukyanenko splits the book into three short stories, which gradually prove to be linked - each is part of a grand move on the part of Zabulon, who leads the dark magicians. Zabulon is head of the Day Watch, which monitors the Light magicians to ensure that they do not break the terms of the treaty that keeps the two sides in stalemate. In turn, the Dark is kept in check by the Night Watch.

In the first story Alisa Donnikova is sent to a youth camp near the Black Sea to recuperate after an operation in which she drained her powers. Alisa falls in love with someone who turns out to be a Light magician. It's fairly lightweight but picks up at the end with a surprising twist.

That story is followed by one in which a mysteriously powerful Other, Vitaliy Ragoza, comes to Moscow. Ragoza has no idea of who he is or where he has come from but turns out to be highly dangerous. The third and final story deals with an investigation into the events of the first two stories and the resulting trial. During the trial we discover a little more about what happened at the end of the first book and find out some of the details of the machinations that have driven events in this book.

It's all fairly silly. Lukyanenko is at his best when revealing the plots of Zabulon and his rival Gesar - the two magicians are constantly planning two or three moves ahead, like chess players, and unpicking their plans is fascinating. At his worst, though, he gets bogged down in sentimentality and resorts to lyrics from Russian heavy metal songs to convey emotion. That's not even as good as it sounds, believe me.

It's entertaining enough but I'm in no rush to read book three.