The Furthest Station, Ben Aaronovitch
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 30th June 2017
This novella joins Peter Grant and (some of) the usual suspects for a new investigation. Present: Peter, Abigail, Nightingale, Jaget, and briefly, Beverley. I was a bit thrown by the total absence of any mention at all of Leslie; it feels like it’s set in some weird time bubble where there’s nothing going on with her at all, where she didn’t even exist. I don’t know if it’s set before or after The Hanging Tree, which I haven’t read yet; possibly that’ll resolve my slight confusion.
It’s a fun story, which feels very much like the full-length novels, although it resolves faster (of course) and doesn’t involve any of the larger threads like the Faceless Man — though it does advance Abigail’s story, showing her interest in and aptitude for the work of the Folly, whether Peter thinks she’s ready or not. We get some more ghosts and ghostly phenomena, and Peter’s ongoing attempts at rationalising them.
All in all, I rather enjoyed it, perhaps especially because it’s just Peter and business as usual. No heartwrenching personal storylines for him in this novella, and thank goodness for that.
Foxglove Summer, Ben Aaronovitch
Once again, this book takes a step back from the main action. It’s not that the events of Broken Homes aren’t alluded to, because they are. In the background, there’s a lot of stuff going on with tracking down Lesley and the Faceless Man. But the main action of the plot is a police procedural dealing with some missing children. I wasn’t really surprised that this book brought in the concept of a changeling child, but it did manage to give the whole idea a couple of twists that did surprise me.
For me, both the strength and weakness of the book is the lack of progression in that main series plot, and the absence of many of the supporting characters. There’s no Lesley to make Peter do the proper policing thing, and there’s no Nightingale for backup. Which leaves Peter on his own, thinking for himself, and showing that actually, he doesn’t need those two. He also keeps showing that though he might not be as good a copper as Lesley, who never misses a beat, he’s a good policeman because he’s a good man. And this book reminds us of the people Nightingale and Peter are meant to be working for — ordinary people who need protection — rather than against (mysterious practioners of unclear motive).
I’m definitely ready for more of the main plot now, but the respite from it wasn’t bad either.
Broken Homes, Ben Aaronovitch
Reading the end of this book for the first time made me realise I really was hooked on the series. It just punched me in the gut and made me realise how much I cared. Reading the whole series again, I’ve been anticipating this book. And yet… for most of the book, you have no idea what’s coming. It’s pretty much like the other books in the series: police work, friendship, the mysteries of various characters… It widens up the world again, of course, giving us another glimpse at magic elsewhere in Europe. But the tone feels the same.
Even the ending is, I suppose, not that big of a twist: we get a similar shock ending to Rivers of London itself. But it’s something about the particular circumstances that really make it work. We really care now, and we definitely weren’t expecting this.
I don’t know how to review Broken Homes except in terms of that ending. Until that point, it’s a fairly typical book for the series. There’s some interesting stuff, the characters remain fun, etc. But it’s that ending that pulls things together and raises the stakes.
I haven’t read Foxglove Summer yet, but I hope it takes the momentum of this and, well, runs with it.
Whispers Under Ground, Ben Aaronovitch
This series remains fun, and the interactions between Lesley and Peter are just A++. I think I found the pacing a bit off reading this for a second time; I couldn’t really remember the plot, but it seemed to be taking an awful lot of time to get to the sewer scenes I remembered. All the same, it’s a worthy entry in the series, with Lesley taking a more active part again, and featuring a less comic-book like amount of violence. Instead, the threat is more personal, more like what you would expect from routine police work… if routine police work required you to notice the vestigia on a murder weapon, and try to track where it came from. Still, this is definitely the most police-procedural-ish of the three books so far; that may or may not appeal to you!
There are some great atmospherics in this book, though, given the sewer excursions (incursions?) and the visit to the Quiet People. And, though I don’t remember it being mentioned specifically before, Peter Grant’s former interest in architecture — the way he can describe buildings and features just adds a little something.
What is driving me mad is that the library had one UK edition and one probably US edition, which spell Lesley’s name differently. I don’t even know anymore. Help. Which does the UK version use?
Not my favourite of the series, anyway; I think if I remember rightly, that’s probably the next one, Broken Homes. Wish me luck going back into that heartbreak, is all I’m going to say.
Moon Over Soho, Ben Aaronovitch
Rereading the second book confirmed that this series is definitely deeply British, usually funny, and with a bit more depth than I originally feared. Reading it this time, I was really interested to note how Peter and Nightingale clashed when it came to understanding the magical creatures around them. Nightingale is a decent guy, and yet he wasn’t prepared to give the ‘jazz vampires’ a single chance, despite all the evidence that they couldn’t help what they did, and didn’t even understand it either. But Peter, an ordinary cop, steps up and says hey, no, we’re meant to protect these people too. They have rights too. He’s the kind of idealistic cop that would greatly better the police forces the world over — he’s not just idealistic, but he also says something.
Granted, he’s also thinking with his dick again, given his personal connection to the case and the fact that women are involved. But it’s still notable that he does the right thing.
It’s also fun that his background, and his dad’s jazz career, are key to this mystery. And it really does leave you wondering how the heck Nightingale managed without an apprentice all that time. Again, despite the fact that he’s generally a good guy and well meaning, I think it shows that Nightingale has been a bit blind.
Also, hey, who doesn’t enjoy the lines like this?
“For a terrifying moment I thought he was going to hug me, but fortunately we both remembered we were English just in time. Still, it was a close call.“
Well, okay, the “NO HOMO” tone it takes sometimes is less fun, but the lack of hugging because English… yep.
Rivers of London, Ben Aaronovitch
The first time I read Rivers of London, I wasn’t entirely sold on it. The story itself was fine: it’s basically both urban fantasy and police procedural, which makes it feel so British it hurts. Unlike a lot of other urban fantasy, it really does feel centered on a particular location, and that location is very much London. There’s a lot of intriguing stuff in the background — Nightingale, the Folly, Isaac Newton’s system of magic, Molly, the genii loci… And there’s also a lot of female characters, and of course Peter Grant himself (the main character and narrator) is a person of colour, whose background plays strongly into how he interacts with London, while feeling entirely British.
The thing I wasn’t so keen on was Peter’s character: the way he referred to the female characters around him, evaluating their bodies and their prettiness. Fortunately, having read the later books and enjoyed them more, I was able to view Peter in the context of the rest of the series, including his genuine respect for the women in his life, his efforts not to be superficial, etc. It still has quite a “bloke-y” feel, but it also makes sense; knowing the character Lesley becomes throughout the series, I don’t feel as skeeved out by that ending and the potential for just trowelling on Peter’s guilt (manpain) about what happens to her.
For me, it falls together pretty well, and reading it a second time, I didn’t see the pacing problems that I found the first time either. Might have been a bit of a case of wrong book, wrong time — or it just really is improved by knowing how the later books go.
Broken Homes, Ben Aaronovitch
Review from July 30th, 2013
I think I need a support group to talk about this book. Or at least, the end of this book. If you like your books to kick you in the teeth real hard, go ahead and read this one.
At this point, I’ve stopped comparing these books to the Dresden Files because apparently I care a lot more about them and the characters involved than I ever did about Harry Dresden and crew. I’m still a bit disappointed there aren’t more major female characters, but I’m very definitely emotionally invested.
This would’ve been really amazing if it had all connected up. I mean, all the events are connected with one or the other overarching plot or subplot, but it feels a little bit episodic at times. The last half is pretty much unputdownable: I worry I’m already forgetting the first half in the wake of the gut punch that is the second.
One thing I really appreciate about these books is that it’s very much rooted in actual policing. Yes, it’s policing with the involvement of magic and supernatural creatures, but you still have the support network of a policeman — including superior officers to a) answer to and b) drag you out of trouble. On which note, Nightingale’s big scene was amazing. But you don’t have a freelance detective or a guy who can be a loose cannon (e.g. Ian Rankin’s Rebus). You’ve got your average police officer, with much to learn.
Whispers Under Ground, Ben Aaronovitch
Review from July 18th, 2013
My previous hangups haven’t really been dispersed yet, but I am starting to think that Peter Grant is several cuts above Harry Dresden on the misogyny-sorry-I-mean-chivalry front. It’s starting to feel like he’s a genuinely nice guy who is sometimes a bit of an ass in the way he expresses himself, as people do.
Anyway, these books are definitely easy reads, and I like a lot of the background — the Folly, Molly, Nightingale’s long career — and the accumulated emotional stuff from previous books (i.e. Lesley and her mask — which I seem to have been under the impression was spelt “Leslie” in previous books, I’m not sure why). I really liked that Lesley’s still considered sexually attractive by various characters, and that she’s definitely a strong character in her own right, not a love interest or tragic past mistake.
I’m not sure how coherent I found this, though. I found so many places where the spelling was off, or the grammar just didn’t make sense (i.e. wasn’t something anyone would say, let alone write), but now when I sit back I’m not so sure about the plot, either. It felt like there was a fair amount of packaging.
I can understand why people like this series so much — and it is growing on me, too.
Moon Over Soho, Ben Aaronovitch
Review from August 12th, 2011
I found Moon Over Soho more compelling than Rivers of London, somehow. It was a bit unputdownable, which is a quality I’ve been missing in my books lately, so that’s nice. Yeah, Peter’s led round by his dick here, too, and fails to think about things because he’s too busy having sex with them, and yeah, he’s got serious manpain over Leslie, who he also makes do all his menial work, but… The plot moved at a decent pace, and set up some plot threads which will no doubt be ongoing.
It still reminds me of the Dresden Files, and I’m still not enamoured of the treatment of the female characters, but it didn’t irritate me as much as I expected — I think I’ll continue reading this series. (Mind you, I didn’t give up on the Dresden Files right away, so there’s still time for it to annoy me.)
I read it more or less all in one go — in three sessions, in one day — so that’s definitely a bit better than the first book, which took me seven reading sessions over just over a week’s time. So if you were only planning to pick up Moon Over Soho if it was better than Rivers of London, showing that bit of improvement, well, it does.
Rivers of London, Ben Aaronovitch
Review from July 1st, 2011
I first came across Rivers of London on the Kindle store, and downloaded the sample. I was intrigued by the first chapter, and put it on my wishlist. A friend or two read it, and finally one lent me his copy. He thought I’d tear through it in one go.
Not quite true, as it happens. Oh, all in all, I think it took about two hours to read, but sometimes a few days would go by without me reading more. It reminded me a lot of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files books — which is not really a compliment, coming from me. They were similar in tone, and something about the narrators was similar. Thankfully, I didn’t pick up on the same type of waves of misogyny — sorry, I mean chivalry — but I wasn’t entirely happy. Do guys really think with their dicks to this extent? Leslie was, most of the time, a great character — and then I was left feeling rather like she’d been there as a plot device all along. To fill in that role, of Pretty Polly, who is a silent onlooker and untroubled when wooed by a murderer…
Not a great start for women in this series, particularly with the nubile Beverley eventually used as a hostage, and then the whole thing ending with vagina dentata…!
To some extent, it depends what happens to Leslie now. Is she just the instrument for trowelling on Peter’s manpain? Or the exposition tool to help Peter figure everything out? Or will she have a plot of her own?
I will be reading Moon Over Soho, though I did think Rivers of London also had a few problems with pacing, but I won’t have the same tolerance with it. I do like the idea — actual, officially sanctioned members of the constabulary dealing with supernatural events — and I do love a good crime story when it falls together reasonably well.