The Furthest Station (Peter Grant, #5.7) by Ben Aaronovitch

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Date read: July 21 to 24, 2017

At the end of my write-up for The Hanging Tree, I said something along the line of wanting a break from the faceless man arc and more adventures of Peter doing some magical policing around London. Lo and behold, my request was granted in the form of this novella, or so I like to think. In truth, Ben Aaronovitch must have had this novella planned long before The Hanging Tree finished downloading in my inbox. The announcement just took me by surprise and the brief summary was basically what I asked for, so naturally I thought it was for me. Naturally.

This book was basically a solid 4-star most of the way through. And then that twist at the end happened that turned the investigation. 5 stars, easily, in the end.

Many spoilers scattered below, so that I don’t forget them.

Sargent Kumar (from Whispers Underground) called Peter and Nightingale in to help investigate what appeared at first to be a ghost infestation in a subway tunnel. Multiple people were reporting brief sightings in which figures clearly not of this world tried to harass or accost them, and what’s weird was it wasn’t the same ghost, but it appeared to be a different ghost each time. What’s weirder still were these people not being able to recall much of the incidents after reporting them; some even forgot they had spoken to the police at all, and the ones who did remember all said, before vanishing, the ghosts had a message to deliver and it had to be delivered to the police.

After following some leads and dead ends, Peter brought Abigail in to help with splicing and deconstructing hours and hours of CCTV footage. So it appears Nightingale has decided to take on another student, when she comes of age, of course. Right now though, she’s showing a great deal of talent for magic and will probably turn out to be a faster learner than Peter. And she has a friend in the foxes, which doesn’t really mean anything at this point. Interesting development; looking forward to seeing more.

On Peter’s end of the case, it was all very standard Falcon procedure, and all of it was hilariously described in his usual dry sardonic voice.

“Preliminary Falcon assessment,” said Jaget.

“We at the Folly have embraced the potentialities of modern policing,” I said

[…]

He would have liked blood samples as well, but we’ve found that people are strangely reluctant to give up their bodily fluids to the police for science.

[…]

From a policing perspective, motive is always going to be less important than means and opportunity. Who knows why anybody does anything, right?

[…]

The woman who answered the door gave a familiar little start when she saw us and hesitated before saying–“Ah, yes.”

We know that reaction well–it is the cry of the guilty middle-class homeowner.

This sort of thing always create a dilemma since the scale of guilt you’re dealing with ranges from using a hosepipe during a ban to having just finished cementing your abusive husband into the patio.

[…]

They started with a bell ring, a police knock, then a fist bang accompanied by shouts of “we’re the police” which was then bellowed through the letterbox.

Peter, being Peter, had quite a few hilarious turns in the investigation. He even managed to lure a ghost to him, using Toby as bait, to get her “statement,” which was the big lead he needed that turned this case from a weird ghost problem to a missing persons investigation, which then lead to a kidnapped woman trapped behind a solid brick wall in a cellar full of empty jars that used to hold ghosts.

Now I feel bad for previously saying Peter was bad at his job. So I wanna go on record and apologize. He may not be as advanced in his career as I’d like him to be, being a slower to catch on to magic than Leslie, but I must give credit where credit is due: he is quick on his feet and always manages to find a workaround for magic he isn’t yet capable of handling. Remembering those glow bats from Foxglove Summer and using Toby as a vestigia detector always make me laugh.

Anyhow. This case did not turn out to be what I expected. It was so much better and a huge surprise at that. I definitely did not see how a paranormal investigation could lead to missing persons during the read, but it was superbly done. What’s more is we’re introduced to a new kind of magic–trapping ghosts. Those ghost jars are no doubt a major development for the Folly, and,hopefully, they will feature in later books because I can’t see Nightingale not tinkering with them until he figures out a way to recreate the ghost traps and then using them for Falcon cases.

Overall, an excellent installment. I wouldn’t mind if there’s more like it in the works. *wink, wink*

Oh, and those little footnotes at the end for Agent Reynolds? Hilarious and very cute. Please add more. As usual, I had to look up a few things during the read like “mispers,” “pret,” “fried chicken stroke,” “waitrose bag,” “Nando’s,” “POLSA,” to name a few. And “refs” are apparently not short for referees, but refreshments.

The only thing I couldn’t find a definitive answer to was “tuck.” There’s a scene in which Nightingale tells Peter about how he used to snuck out to the woods with other boarding school boys to “swap comics and tucks.” What is a tuck?

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A Rare Book of Cunning Device (Peter Grant, #5.6) by Ben Aaronovitch

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date read: April 28 to May 6, 2017

Funny, too short, and available only on audio, for now anyway, and it’s still going for free at Audible.

Nightingale is out of town again, and Peter gets called to the British Library about what appears at first to be a poltergeist problem. But after some investigating, it turns out to be a book running amok after dark and keeping the librarians up at night.

The book isn’t actually a book, but an ancient device of magical origins. It has moving parts and seems somewhat sentient, or at least aware of its surrounding. I’d love to learn more about it and see it featured in later books.

Peter brings Toby and Postmartin along to the library and learns from the librarians that the good professor has a reputation for stealing rare tomes. This comes as no surprise to me because I’ve always suspected that about him. Gatekeepers like the people of the Folly have always seemed like the kind to “confiscate” rare books and other objects of magical origins for safe keeping.

This short story reads like another sequence from the cutting room floor, not unlike The Home Crowd Advantage. I get the feeling these two should have been part of the main novels, but for whatever reason, they had to be cut during the editing process. But they were too good to delete permanently, so we get these little snippets to entertain us while we wait for #7.

The Hanging Tree (Peter Grant, #6) by Ben Aaronovitch

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: November 14 to December 19, 2016
Recommended by:
Recommended to:

The tag line on the cover says: Back in London, back in trouble which pretty much sums up this book. We’re back in London, and Peter Grant and friends are back in trouble. And it’s the same kind of trouble that’s been plaguing them since Moon Over Soho.

But finally, we stop chasing after ghosts and faceless mysteries and come face to face with the man behind the mask. And there really is a face behind that mask. This reveal was indeed a surprise, but whether or not it does anything for the series’ continuous arc will depend on how it plays out in later books.

This book picks up a month or two following the events in Foxglove Summer, and the trouble all started when one of the Thames sisters called in a favor from Peter. What started out as a simple, straightforward investigation into whether a teenage girl’s drug overdose was accidental or deliberate turned into a huge Falcon case, uncharacteristically complete with a huge revelation at the end. Not as big, imo, as the ending of Broken Homes, but it’s relatively seismic as far as revelations go in this series.

With that said, I must admit I’m mostly lukewarm toward this book in particular, and I’ve been mulling over it for a few months now, trying to figure out why that is. The writing isn’t that different from previous books.

“So when a bunch of fucking kids waltz into the building, the DPG wants to know how. And I get woken up in the middle of the fucking night,” said Seawoll. “And told to find out on pain of getting a bollocking. Me?” he said in outrage. “Getting a bollocking? And just when I thought things couldn’t descend further into the brown stuff–here you are.”

As a matter of fact, it’s very much in line with previous books in terms of quality, plotting, pacing, humor, adventures and misadventures. Peter and the rest of the gang are developing and progressing at their usual pace–I very much enjoyed every scene with Seawoll and Stephanopoulos.

“So he’s a French fairy tale,” said Seawoll and turned to look, thank god, at Nightingale instead of me. “Is he?”
“That’s a difficult question, Alexander,” said Nightingale.
“I know it’s a difficult question, Thomas,” said Seawoll slowly. “That’s why I’m fucking asking it.”
“Yes, but do you want to know the actual answer?” said Nightingale. “You’ve always proved reluctant in the past. Am I to understand that you’ve changed your attitude?”
“You can fucking understand what you bloody like,” said Seawoll. “But in this case I do bloody want to know because I don’t want to lose any more officers to things I don’t fucking understand.” He glanced at me and frowned. “Two is too many.”

[…]

Generally when you’re interviewing somebody and they seem remarkably calm about one crime, it’s because they’re relieved you haven’t found out about something else.

Plus, there are plenty of humorous moments scattered throughout the book, and Peter is still his usual funny, likable self. So it’s just like previous books.

Bollocks, I thought, or testiculi or possibly testiculos if we were using the accusative.

[…]

“What I’m saying here,” Seawoll had said, “is try to limit the amount of damage you do to none fucking whatsoever.”
I don’t know where I got this reputation for property damage, I really don’t–it’s totally unfair.

[…]

“I’m planning to blow up some phones for science.”

And yet…

Something’s missing. Something’s not quite there anymore. And I don’t know why.

Maybe the timing wasn’t quite right when I read it. Or maybe I’m just tired of chasing after faceless nemeses–both of ’em.

I’m all for more Peter and more (mis)adventures in London. But more faceless mysteries and/or conspiracies? Nah, that’s okay.

I could read back to back stories of Peter running around London solving all sorts of mysterious happenings, and they may even be unrelated to each other and the series’ arc, and that would be fine. Actually, I would love that. But more mysterious faceless happenings? Thanks, but no thanks.

However, I am looking forward to the next installment and being back in London and back in trouble because, honestly despite the gripe, this series is still one of best urban fantasies out there, and every single book is a blast.

Catching up on reviews, part 1

I’m behind on a lot of reviews and short on time, so I will try to say a few words about the books I couldn’t get to. They’re all really good, and I’ve been having a great time just reading and enjoying the ride. If you want to know more about any one of them, let me know and I will write a more comprehensive review.

 

The Home Crowd Advantage (Peter Grant, #5.5)
The Home Crowd Advantage (Peter Grant #5.5) by Ben Aaronovitch
Read from May 30 to June 06, 2015
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

Read it here.

Takes place during the Summer Olympics of 2012 in London, and all security forces around the city are on high alert. Peter gets a call about a magical situation near an Olympic stadium that has turned into a standoff, so he rushes over to see if he can contain it by himself since Nightingale is out of town.

This is an interesting piece but it’s literally too short to review and reads more like an outtake than a short story. It sort of expands on Nightingale’s past, but not enough to tell you much of anything. And that’s why I think it’s an outtake–a scene too interesting to scrap but doesn’t necessarily fit into the next book.

If you’re looking for something to tie you over until Book #6 comes out, this story will sort of do it. It’s always fun to return to Aaronovitch’s London and see what Peter is up to these days, but these shorts make me want more.

 

The Mad Scientist's Daughter
The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke
Read from April 30 to June 01, 2015
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

A post-apocalyptic fairy tale for the robotics age about a girl who falls in love with a mechanical boy. I picked this book up on a whim not knowing much about it other than the author’s name, which sounded vaguely familiar, and I’m glad I gave it a chance because it’s a great story told by a talented writer.

This is YA but not too YA that it lost me completely. There’s enough YA in it for those who like YA, and there’s enough robot things in it for those who like robots and robot theories. The writing is engaging and uncomplicated, but the ideas presented are complex and compelling. Many of Isaac Asimov’s concepts of AI and robotics are examined through the love story, and I found that the author did a good job bringing these ideas to the present age and applying them to modern sensibilities. This is a long about way of saying this book can double as political satire since it explores issues concerning the humanity of robots, particularly their sentience and autonomy. Recommended for people who like a blend of fairy tale and sci-fi.

 

The Quantum Thief (Jean le Flambeur, #1)
The Quantum Thief (Jean le Flambeur #1) by Hannu Rajaniemi
Read from May 01 to 31, 2015
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

A fascinating read about a fascinating world filled to the brim with fascinating advanced technology and mind-boggling concepts. This book completely blew my mind the moment I finished reading and kept me dazed in a book hangover for weeks afterward. I was blown away by the complex worlds (and worlds within worlds) the author created and I wanted to experience them over and over again. But now that those effects are wearing off, so are my feelings regarding the book’s ingenuity and the author’s prowess. That’s not to say I don’t like it anymore; I still like it a lot and look forward to continuing Jean le Flambeur’s flighty adventures. But I can’t help but see the fascinating world building as a distraction from a fairly clever (but thin) heist story set in outer space.

There are two story arcs that converge near the end. The thief’s story is all about cyberspace and neuroscience and outsmarting systems much clever than himself, and he’s quite a clever fellow. The detective’s story is woven with decadence and a steampunk atmosphere, as though someone brought Victorian England to outer space. Each story has a mystery and both the thief and the detective have to solve their respective mystery before their time runs out, but the things they’re chasing after aren’t what they seem. They’re mysteries within mysteries.

I enjoyed the chase and trying to stay one step ahead of both characters was exhausting and a lot of fun. I don’t read that much hard sci-fi, but I suspect this book might be a popcorn read in its genre. It’s fun, fast, and impressive–great, if you’re in the mood for mind games.

 

Fair Play (All's Fair, #2)
Fair Play (All’s Fair, #2) by Josh Lanyon
Read from May 23 to 25, 2015
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

I read Josh Lanyon not so much for story or mystery or character, but for setting and realistic portrayals of disjointed relationships. He likes to explore dysfunctional relationships and has a knack for making them seem realistic. His characters aren’t always likable, but their stories are hard to put down. However, I find the mystery elements in these stories not lacking exactly but not as interesting as the characters’ day-to-day life. This book is no exception. It’s a good story and all, and the writing is classic Lanyon, but it didn’t pull me in. Plus, the mystery was kind of dull and repetitive since something similar happened in the last book.

Elliott and Tucker have moved in together following the events of Fair Game, and their life on Goose Island is pleasantly domestic with Elliott still teaching history at the university and Tucker still an FBI agent. Then one night, they get a call informing them that Elliott’s father’s house (Elliott’s childhood home) has burned to the ground. The investigation turns up signs of arson and it turns out someone is after his father. So he takes it upon himself to find the person responsible. Meanwhile, the arson and attempts on his father’s life put more strains on his relationship with Tucker. Although things work out in the end, they take awhile getting there. I found myself bored for much of Elliott’s investigation.

 

Dust (Jacob's Ladder, #1)
Dust (Jacob’s Ladder #1) by Elizabeth Bear
Read from February 01 to May 18, 2015
Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

This is an interesting mix of sci-fi and fantasy. The story takes place on a living space ship, but a lot of magic is used throughout and there is a war going on that has roots in mythology. A lost princess with no memory of her past is found living among servants at an enemy house. The rest of the story is about rescuing her and trying to get off the ship.

I really wish I could have liked this book more. Elizabeth Bear’s writing style and ideas are interesting, but this book just wasn’t for me. Maybe I picked it up at the wrong time and the story didn’t grab me because I found myself distracted easily by other books, then having a hard time returning to this one. But I’m still interested Bear’s writing and will probably try something else by her. Probably the Eternal Sky trilogy, which is a historical fantasy set in a Central Asian influenced realm. All three books have received rave reviews, and I look forward to starting the first one.

 

Precious Dragon (Detective Inspector Chen #3)
Precious Dragon (Detective Inspector Chen #3) by Liz Williams
Read from April 27 to May 18, 2015
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

There’s nothing quite like returning to a beloved series. I don’t really know what it is about these books that just feel right to me. Singapore Three and Detective Chen’s houseboat feel like a second home to me by now because so much of the writing is dedicated to the vibrant locales. I feel like I can navigate the streets and back allays just by following the books’ descriptions of each neighborhood.

This book starts out slow and builds up momentum as it goes. Chen and Zhu Irzh return to Hell, but this time for a sanctioned trip to escort Ms Qi, an ambassador of Heaven, to the Minister of War. Of course the trip turns out to be disastrous, more disastrous than expected, and the group find themselves in the middle of an impending war with Heaven and Zhu Irzh, in particular, finds his family in the middle of a coup. Things only get more awkward and hilarious from there.

The combination of Liz William’s humor and her takes on Chinese mythology, satire, and fantasy never fail to entertain me. I like that she’s placed Heaven in the role of the aggressor this time. Hell has always been accused of war mongering, and that’s because it’s Hell–war mongering is part of its charms. But seeing Heaven in that role puts certain things in a different perspective. Perhaps Heaven and Hell aren’t as different as Heaven likes to think…

Side note: I always thought Singapore Three was a franchise city, like there are at least 3 cities modeled after Singapore all over Asia (or the world?). But what if Singapore has been destroyed completely twice before and this is the third time it’s been rebuilt?

 

Currently reading:

The Birthgrave
Birthgrave (Birthgrave Trilogy #1) by Tanith Lee

I’m really enjoying this book so far, but if I had to describe it or explain why I like it to someone who hasn’t read Tanith Lee, I wouldn’t know what to say. The bare bones of the story is mythological. An unnamed woman wakes up inside a volcano with no memory. A malevolent spirit only she can see torments her with death. She has strange powers that only affect people who believe in her. Villagers think she’s a god, but outsiders who don’t believe in her sought to use her as leverage or for their own gain. She goes from one village or settlement to the next, but isn’t able to feel comfortable enough to stay anywhere for long. And every place she visits, death and destruction always follow when she leaves.

Without giving too much away, I can only say how it makes me feel. The writing is mostly introspective and has an eerie undertone, and the atmosphere is dreamy and fantastical. There’s also an cold sense of foreboding running through the story. It’s like nothing I’ve ever read before, but maybe that’s because I haven’t read much classic SF/F. Will have to dig out older SF/F for future reads.

Side not: I’m at 45% now and there’s still no explanation for the various depictions of naked women on the covers. The nameless goddess has never been without clothes. Sometimes she even wears a long veil that covers most of her clothed body, so I’m confused as to why she’s always naked in cover art.

 

Otherworldly news:

I’ve been following the Women’s World Cup, and it’s great to see how much attention these games are getting. Coverage this year is exceptional compared to previous years; almost every game is televised and almost every major news network is covering some portion of it every day, which is a huge improvement.

Things continue to heat up as we move to the the semi-finals. With the exception of Brazil going home early, there hasn’t that many surprising moments, but every game I’ve been able watch all the way through has been exciting. Almost makes me want to forget about the FIFA fiasco. Almost. How many days until the end of the Age of Blatter?

Review: Foxglove Summer (Peter Grant, #5) by Ben Aaronovitch

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½
Date Read: November 15 to 19, 2014
Read Count: 1
Recommended by:
Recommended for: people who’ve been anxiously waiting for what seems like forever

The events in this book take place a little over a month following the explosive ending in Broken Homes. Life at the Folly is back to relative normal as Peter and Nightingale settle back into their old routine, with a few minor changes. One being Nightingale now has to babysit Varvara Sidorovna and the other being too spoilery to mention. Since Nightingale can’t leave the Folly until he uncovers more about the Faceless Man and whatever plans he’s cooking up, it’s up to Peter to take on a missing children case in the village of Rushpool, a place well known for its UFO sightings.

With the help of Beverly Brook and local detective (and future sidekick?) Dominic, Peter takes the lead on this investigation.

For years there have been reports of strange things happening around Herefordshire, a rural area around Rushpool where the missing girls live, but no one paid them much attention until the girls went missing. Due to the strangeness of this case, local law enforcement have no leads, and so they’re open to any suggestions Peter might have. And Peter, true to his penchant for experiments with the unknown, takes the opportunity to explore as much of the unknown as he can, and the results he uncovers are quite…fascinating.

This book is the quintessential summer read, and for Peter, the adventure doubles as a much-needed break from the chaos and turmoil of London. In many ways, this book is lighthearted and fun and I can see why some people might have issues with it not picking up directly where Broken Homes left off, but personally, I’m glad for some summer R&R. It takes the pressure off of escalating the story arc too fast and too soon into climactic territory that might turn into melodrama. A climax and confrontation are in the works, as they’re alluded to many times, and things will build up to something even more explosive than what we’ve seen so far. But it’s gonna take time to get there, I think.

So if you jump in expecting many revelations or a continuation of the events in Broken Homes, you will be disappointed. But if you enjoy this book for what it is, another one of Peter’s adventures into the world of natural magic, then you’ll have a better time. And this adventure is chock full of creatures yet to be determined.

Are you certain you’re completely human? Would you like to find out for sure? Then come on down to Dr. Walid’s crypto-pathology lab where we put the “frank” back into Frankenstein!

Dr. Walid doesn’t get enough credit for what he does for the magical side of London law enforcement.

Peter is mostly on his own again, like in Rivers of London and Moon Over Soho, and I find that I like the story more this way, when he’s working things out all by his lonesome. For one, there’s a lot more funny quips, such as:

I sighed–policing would be so much easier if people didn’t have concerned relatives. The murder rate would be much lower, for one thing.

[…]

People shouldn’t be non-specific about where they made their money, not in front of the police.

[…]

This is where the whole ape-descended thing reveals its worth, I thought madly. Sucks to be you, quadruped. Opposable thumbs–don’t leave home without them.

[…]

Alas all good things must end–even if only to avoid back strains.

 

I had every intention of saving this book for Christmas break when things slow down enough for me to actually enjoy the read. But, nope, it was too tempting not to delve right in. So I devoured it a few days time. No regrets. It’s a fun read, a bit different than previous books, but still satisfying overall. I’d like to thank the people at Gollancz for sending me an e-copy to enjoy while I wait for my hard copy.

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Review: Broken Homes (Peter Grant, #4) by Ben Aaronovitch

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Date read: March 24 to April 3, 2014
Read count: 2

Just pre-ordered the next book (Foxglove Summer), 3 months in advance. No book series has ever motivated me to do that before.

First off, that revelation at the end just as everything was falling to pieces, that was perfect timing. So perfect it left me a little winded tbqh. Well done, Mr. Aaronovitch. You’ve successfully made me jump out of my seat while waiting at the DMV. That’s no easy feat because it was the DMV, the whole place was packed, and I was standing.

This isn’t a review so much as just me using this space as a concept board. So onward with it already?

“Perfectly human monsters, everyone of them.”

Nightingale to Peter when asked whether or not serial killers were of the magical persuasion*. This line alone sums up the foundation of the book.

Strange things are still happening in and around London, although this time they’re stranger than the usual disturbances. The plot sort of picks up where the previous book left off, and familiar characters make brief appearances to help Peter and Lesley as they unravel a mystery that doesn’t look all that mysterious on the surface. We see the young and curious Abigail again, this time for extended periods of the plot. Sergeant Kumar of the underground turns up to hand over a crucial piece of the puzzle. The mysterious Zach also drops by to hang out with Peter and Lesley. Beverly Brook, whom I thought had been forgotten, and her River sisters make some appearances only to disappear again.

There’s a good amount of self-deprecating humor and outright hilarious moments in this book, but all of it take a back seat to the perfect timing ending mentioned above. It’s not quite a cliffhanger, though it does leave a lot up in the air.

Unlike the previous three, I thought the title for this book lacked a sense of poetic mystery. Rivers of London, Moon Over Soho, Whispers Under Ground–oddly lyrical titles for urban fantasy mysteries, wouldn’t you say? And Foxglove Summer? Sounds sweet, if a bit twee. Even Midnight Riot (the US title for Rivers of London) promises mystery and an adventure. Broken Homes, in contrast, seems sad and straight-forward. Out of character compared to the rest of the series, and then that ending busted out of the rubble and now everything makes sense. I didn’t realize how well the title tied everything together until that very moment. And what an explosive ending that was. I’m still brooding over it.

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Review: Whispers Under Ground (Peter Grant, #3) by Ben Aaronovitch

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½
Date read: December 5, 2013 to February 12, 2014
Read count: 2

It doesn’t normally take me this long to get through urban fantasy. The book just got away from me. Literally. I lost it, along with the rest of the series, to relatives visiting over Christmas break and didn’t get around to getting another copy until last week. So I’m just making sure to say the dates read have no bearings on how much I like this book.

This is another great installment by Ben Aaronovitch and the series definitely improves with each book. All the praises I had for the previous two books also apply here. Not that it should matter, but I feel as though I’m being repetitive when I say how much I like this series and Aaronovitch’s writing.

The premise is an American international student is found dead in a subway tunnel. The cause of death is murder, of course, and quite possibly murder by magic, which is why Peter Grant is called to the scene. Now that Leslie May is made apprentice, she also joins in on the investigative work. This case introduces Peter and Leslie to a whole new world of magic, very different from what’s he’s encountered up to now, and the trail takes him under ground into the tunnels, sewers, and more rivers of London. This new world of magic is literally a whole world, a different way of living, under ground.

Once again, Aaronovitch has found interesting ways to incorporate London’s history into London’s present time and then work both into the murder mystery and magic of the week. Like the previous two books, this story is another journey into the heart of London, this time literally, and what I really like about that is you learn new things with each chapter. I spent a good part of a weekend looking up London’s messed up sewer systems, and I didn’t mind at all. Another thing I like about these mysteries is that they’re smart and smartly plotted. They’re usually one step ahead of my calculations and that’s just how I like murder mysteries.

Some highlights from the book:

How the police actually handle your personal information:

In the old days every police station used to have a collator–an officer whose job it was to maintain boxes of card files full of information of local criminals, old cases, gossip and anything else that might allow the blue-uniformed champions of justice to kick down the right door. Or at least a door in the right neighbourhood.

Introducing Sergeant Kumar of the tunnels:

“If you have to walk the tracks with the juice on, then you stay off the sleepers. They’re slippery. You slip, you fall, you put your hands out and zap.”

“Zap,” I said. “That’s the technical term for it, is it? What do you call someone who’s been zapped?”

“Mr. Crispy,” said Kumar.

“That’s the best you guys can come up with?”

Kumar shrugged. “It’s not like it’s a major priority.”

Introducing DCs Guleed and Carey of the family relations unit:

The metal was painfully cold under my hands but it took me less than five seconds to get my foot on the top bar, swing myself over and jump down. My shoes skidded on the cobbles but I managed to recover without falling over.

“What do you think,” asked Carey. “Nine point five?”

“Nine point two,” said Guleed. “He lost points for the dismount.”

[…]

Given that all three of us were Londoners, we paused a moment to carry out the ritual of the “valuation of the property.” I guessed that, given the area, it was at least a million and change.

“Million and a half easy,” said Carey.

“More,” said Guleed. “If it’s freehold.”

Introducing Molly to the guest:

“This is Molly,” I said. “Molly–this is Zach who will be staying overnight. Can he use the room next to mine?”

Molly gave me a long stare and then inclined her head at me, exactly the way Ziggy the dog had, before gliding off towards the stairs. Possibly to put fresh linen on the guest bed or possibly to sharpen her meat cleavers–it’s hard to tell with Molly.

Law enforcement professionals at work:

‘I can’t believe you didn’t bring handcuffs,’ said Reynolds.
You didn’t!’ I said.
‘It’s not my jurisdiction,’ said Reynolds.
‘It’s not my jurisdiction,’ I said.
We both looked at Kumar. ‘Evidence,’ he said. ‘You said you were looking for evidence, not suspects.’
Our suspect had started shaking and making snorting noises.
‘And you can stop laughing,’ I told him. ‘This is really unprofessional.’

Adventures in the sewers:

“Stop,” I yelled. “Police.” I hoped they would, because I was getting knackered.

Our fugitive tried to pick up their pace, but my height gave me the advantage.

“Stop,” I yelled. “Or I’ll do something unpleasant.” I thought about where we were for a moment. “Even more unpleasant than what we’re doing now.”

[…]

“Oh, great,” I screamed. “Now we’re a bobsleigh team.”

“It’s the luge,” yelled Kumar. “It’s only a bobsleigh if you’ve got a bobsleigh.”

“You two are insane,” shouted Reynolds. “There’s no such thing as a triple luge.”

Between duckings I glimpsed a patch of grey. I opened my mouth to yell “Daylight” and then really wished I hadn’t when I got a mouthful of diluted sewage.

It was another intersection. I saw an alcove with a ladder and lunged–only to be swept past, with my fingers centimeters from the metal. My foot hit something underwater hard enough to pitch me over and the world’s first-ever Anglo-American Olympic sewer luge team broke up.

The scenes in the sewer had me laughing for a good hour. There plenty more hilarious moments like these, but they edge into spoilers territory so I will refrain from listing all of my favorites.

A few things I thought were interesting:

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* * * * spoilers below * * * *

Continue reading

Review: Moon Over Soho (Peter Grant, #2) by Ben Aaronovitch

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date read: October 22 to November 16, 2013
Read count: 1

With “moon” in the title and a setting like London, I was expecting there to be a werewolf tale or at the very least a shapeshifter subplot, but this a story about Soho and jazz… and murder and magic and supernatural forces and things beyond our existential control, but mostly Soho and jazz. So of course, my favorite kind of urban fantasy. You won’t even miss the lack of werewolves at all.

Once in a very rare while, an author’s writing style syncs up with all the qualities which I look for in a genre. When these things overlap, reading becomes less of a task and more of an experience. Ben Aaronovitch’s writing is everything I look for in urban fantasy. I had an inkling shortly after finish Rivers of London that that was the case, but I wasn’t certain until this book.

When a good book takes you a step further into the realm of experience, the feeling I associate with reading is similar to returning home after a long trip away. And that was what it was like for me all through this book. After finish Rivers of London, I took a break to explore other genres and fictions and they were interesting, but the moment I picked up Moon Over Soho, it was like I was home again. Even though I’ve never been to London and only know of it through media representations, Aaronovitch’s London feels like a familiar place.

Anyway.

There are a lot of things I like about this book and a handful of things I have issues with, which are somewhat “resolved” in the end. I won’t get to them though because they are huge spoilers.

Peter Grant is still a fun protagonist to follow around. You get to follow him around all corners–and through alley ways and rivers and creaks and abandoned buildings–of London during the investigation. He has a peculiar, yet entertaining, way of describing present-day London while dropping chunks of past-London into the narration. I enjoyed these moments the most because my interest is often piqued and I end up looking all of these references up as I’m reading. They add more depth to the story and investigation and an different perspective that I’d not otherwise consider, and ultimately following Peter around London feels like getting an underbelly tour of Soho.

Peter’s magic takes on a more prevalent role in this book as he grows as an apprentice, an absurdly easily distracted apprentice, but still. Aside from beginner’s magic and Latin practices, Peter is also introduced to a new type of sinister magic and the possibility more like it exists. This is more sinister than what we’ve seen in Rivers of London. It’s interesting to note that, while Nightingale is the Master Wizard, he often takes a supporting role in Peter’s investigations due to his recent injuries and Peter ends up doing most of the legwork, which is why he’s often sidetracked (and distracted by shiny things). But he gets well on his own.

Peter’s family and his interactions with his mom and dad are sweet while being realistic. Although his parents have limited screen-time, every scene they appear in show a glimpse of the family’s true dynamic and Peter’s biracial background. It’s a testament to Aaronovitch that he can write this family with an honesty and sense of care that I rarely see in genre fiction and almost never in urban fantasy. Even when Peter is taking the reader around London tracking down a lead, in between snark and satire, he would often mention the influences his parents had and still have on him, which shows in both his personality and behavior. When the family is together, you can see that Peter takes after both of his parents. I find this endearing.

Wow. This is turning out to be a very Peter-centric post. That’s because I can’t really talk about anything else without going further into the investigation. I can’t even mention Simone, even though every book blurb already has. I can’t even talk about the specific type of sinister magic that Peter encounters without revealing the ending. I certainly can’t bring up Molly due to the nature–or mystery?–of her being. But I can say that this story takes the reader back to a prolific time in London’s past that still has an effect on the London of today. That’s not too vague, now is it…

Like in Rivers of London, the narration and dialogue are great fun and quick-witted. Peter’s funny when he’s narrating or on his own talking to himself, and he’s hilarious when Nightingale is around. The two of them have that old-world meets new-world dynamic that’s perfect for Peter’s comedic timing.

Life outside of London:

“There’s more to life than just London,” said Nightingale.
“People keep saying that,” I said. “But I’ve never actually seen any proof.”
“We can take the dog,” he said. “He’ll enjoy the fresh air.”
“We won’t,” I said. “Not if we take the dog.”

Peter and Nightingale discussing a victim’s “hobby”:

“Assuming he was a practitioner,” I said.
Nightingale tapped his better knife on the plastic-wrapped copy of the Principia Artes Magicis. “Nobody carries this book by accident,” he said. “Besides, I recognize the other library mark. It’s from my old school.”
“Hogwarts?” I asked.
“I really wish you wouldn’t call it that,” he said.

Peter and Nightingale discussing connotations:

“You can’t call them black magicians,” I said.
“You realize that we’re using black in its metaphorical sense here,” said Nightingale.
“It doesn’t matter,” I said. “Words change what they mean, don’t they? Some people would call me a black magician.”
“You’re not a magician,” he said. “You’re barely even an apprentice.”

Peter meeting Postmartin for the first time:

I could see him trying to parse the phrase but he’s colored in a way that wouldn’t cause offense and failing. I put him out of his misery by shaking his hand; my rule of thumb is if they don’t physically flinch from touching you, then eventually they’ll make the adjustment.

 

All jokes aside, there is something that still bothers me and that’s the casual use of the word “Jap” to refer to anything Japanese. In this case, a sushi restaurant. Here in the US, it’s a racial slur that dates back to WWII and the Japanese concentration camps. In the UK though, I don’t know how this word is used or whether or not there is tension behind it. Aaronovitch has been respectful of diversity and racial discourse whenever he brings up Peter’s biracial identity and Peter’s mother’s Sierra Leonean background, so perhaps the word “Jap” doesn’t carry the same racial connotation in the UK as it does in the US…?

And another thing, I find it hard to believe that Peter, whose mom is Sierra Leonean, would refer to Africa and also the Middle East as “countries” when grouping both with other actual countries like China, Russia, and India. I will excuse this as an editing slight, but if something like it happens again, it will be very disappointing.

Review: Rivers of London (Peter Grant, #1) by Ben Aaronovitch

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Date read: July 27 to August 15, 2013
Read count: 1

If you like your urban fiction to have flavors of modern-day London and you like your London stories to have London-specific historical accounts popping up every so often, then look no further. This book could fill that void in your reading reservoir (river pun intended).

Peter Grant, a young officer in training, is done with his interim year, though his prospects for an exciting career in law enforcement are not bright. Then a chance encounter at the scene of a crime reveals that he has an innate sense of the paranormal. This leads him down a path to the weird(er) side of law enforcement—magic.

Peter becomes an officer and an apprentice to a wizard named Nightingale and moves into Nightingale’s huge Victorian estate—it’s all very English, you see. After settling into the narration, I somehow developed an English-accented reading voice inside my head that lasted for the duration of the book. If I stay very quiet, I can still hear it.

Peter’s journey into magic takes time, effort, and practice. Many exploding apples later he’s able to perform a single levitation spell on command. He’s not an overnight success. As a matter of fact, he can barely manage a spell on his own by the end of the book.

What I like most about this approach is that Aaronovitch ties real-world science and history into otherworldly magic to create a encompassing, believable world full of wonder and mystery and chaos. Since he’s just a regular guy with some magical inclination, Peter is no genius. Both science and magic are hard for him, so his training starts with very basic physics and chemistry to explain the nature of magic and how it works in our world. The reader learns more about the inner-workings of science and magic as Peter learns—and stumbles and flails and destroys cell phones. Aaronovitch doesn’t get into biology or species origins much in this book, but I suspect he’s saving them for later books (because you can’t introduce a host of creatures and not delve further into their origin mythology).

In terms of content, I don’t think Aaronovitch is shaking up the urban fantasy genre much with this book. What he does well, though, is tell a relatively familiar story in his own way. You get a strong sense of London, magic, creatures, and especially Peter Grant. He’s special in the most ordinary, economical, pragmatic, solid kind of way, and he’s special because he’s (street)smart, calculating, and doesn’t take things for granted. A sensible kind of smart that evolves as the character evolves.

Aaronovitch’s writing is so much better than what I’m used to seeing in this genre. He makes subtle, yet poignant commentary about racial identity, racial tensions, race relations, and ties them to Peter’s life. It’s evident when an author understands the depths of the character he’s created and the real-world problems that such a character would face if he were alive today. I think Aaronovitch has done this exceptionally well.

I’ll wrap up this review on a lighthearted note. The narration and dialogue are great. I love how it moves events along at an even pace while throwing in a hilarious quip here and there when you least expect it. Many of my favorite lines caught me off guard during the first read through.

Peter and Nightingale off to interview a possible witness:

“I’m just going to have a chat with this troll,” said Nightingale.
“Sir,” I said, “I think we’re supposed to call them rough sleepers.”
“Not this one we don’t,” said Nightingale. “He’s a troll.”

After Peter and Nightingale blew up a vampire den:

Concerned neighbours rushed out to see what was happening to their property values, but Nightingale showed them his warrant card.

Peter concerned for a possible witness… and himself:

I actually used the word “goovy” and she didn’t even flinch, which was worrying on so many levels.

The moment Peter and I connected on a spiritual~ level:

Not that [Mum] ever beat me, a deficiency that she later blamed for my failure to pass my A levels. Numerous university-bound cousins were held up as shining examples of discipline through physical violence.

I have never liked a first book in a series enough to give it 5-stars, so this is a first because this book really deserves the highest rating. Here’s to hoping that this series gets better with each book.

 

Since Peter Grant is biracial and the main character, there’s some controversy regarding the US Midnight Riot cover art. While I agree that intentionally obscuring the model’s face with a silhouette is suspicious, I still prefer the UK cover art because it fits more with the tone of the book and Peter’s personality.

Aside from hiding his racial identity, the US cover art also markets Peter as a trigger-happy, take-charge ass-kicker, and that’s just false advertisement. He doesn’t care for firearms and doesn’t like to intrude on other people unless he’s making an arrest. Clearly not the qualities of ass-kicker—well, not in this book anyway.

 

Original review can be found here.