The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko (Shane's book 16, 2008)

Set in Moscow in the late 1990s, The Night Watch is the first of a four-part fantasy series in which the Others, who owe allegiance either to the Dark or the Light, battle for supremacy. Wait, come back. I know how it sounds but it's better than that. What sets Lukyanenko's series apart is his ambivalent attitude towards good and evil. The first book deals with the Night Watch, the force of Light Others who patrol at night to ensure the Dark ones don't misbehave, and the second book switches to their opposite numbers, the Day Watch.

Anton, works in IT for the Night Watch. (That's another of the amusing touches about Lukyanenko's world: some of the magicians work in admin.) He is given training in field work that brings him into contact with Svetlana, who has been cursed by persons unknown, and Egor, an Other who hasn't yet chosen sides but is fated to play a significant role in the balance of power.

The book is divided into three stories that intersect with such density that it's hard not to feel that a little more work could have turned them into one richer, more rewarding novel.

In each story Anton pursues what appears to be his goal only to find that he has been manipulated, usually by the deviousness of his own side rather than his opponents. By the end of the book he has seen the willingness of the Light to sacrifice innocents when it suits them and is utterly disillusioned. The Dark are, at least, honest about their intentions.

The series has been compared to JK Rowling and Philip Pullman but it reminded me more of Le Carre. This is a book that deals with the Cold War and the shattered Russia of its aftermath. It's an unusual and entertaining novel.