Foxglove Summer – Ben Aaronovitch

Foxglove Summer cover

“I was just passing the Hoover Centre when I heard Mr Punch scream his rage behind me.”

Following on from a bit of a shock at the end of the previous book, Broken HomesFoxglove Summer feels like a bit of a deep breath and attempt at a fresh start for Peter – or at the very least, a bit of a holiday as he’s sent to investigate a case outside of his comfort zone, London, and out in the actual countryside. Can a city boy survive in the sticks?!

The case du jour revolves around two missing girls. The Folly – home to the London police force’s ‘supernatural branch’ – has a long-standing onus to make sure such cases don’t involve practitioners, and so Peter is ostensibly sent out to check up on just such a person. Which is a great opportunity to get a little backstory on the Folly and Nightingale, from a former colleague. One of the strengths of the series, for me, has to be that air of mystery around magic falling out of practice in protecting the UK.

Of course, deciding to hang around to lend a hand in the case more or less ‘just because’, it’s not long before Peter discovers that his expertise may well be needed, after all. I mean, just because one of the missing girls has an invisible friend that happens to be a unicorn doesn’t mean that there aren’t really invisible unicorns hanging about…!

I said ‘fresh start’ in my opening paragraph based, I think, on several previously ongoing plot threads being allowed to lie fallow here. Nothing major, but having read the last few books in relatively short order it is noticeable that characters who have been in the last couple of books are suddenly absent – left back in London, no doubt. On the other hand, Beverley Brook has been largely absent for a while, and makes a reappearance here.

There’s still a sense of the by-now familiarity with the characters giving the writing quite a laid-back feel, even more so with so many ongoing plot threads both coming in and at the end of the book. Shifting the location out of London adds a little breath of fresh air to the surroundings (okay, and I was glossing over a tiny bit on all the descriptions of London’s streets, etc!), too.

Overall, I really enjoyed this – might be my favourite in the series to date, and I’m devastated that reading the next one will mean I have to wait for more to be written!

Kindle: 385 pages / 16 chapters
First published: 2014
Series: Peter Grant / Rivers of London book 5 (of 6, so far)
Read from 16th-19th August 2017

My rating: 8.5/10

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Broken Homes – Ben Aaronovitch

broken homes cover

“At twenty-three minutes past eleven Robert Weil drove his 53 registered Volvo V70 across the bridge that links Pease Pottage, the improbably named English village, with Pease Pottage, the motorway service station.”

Despite finding the previous installment – Whispers Under Ground – a little disappointing in terms of the overall series, it did leave me keen to just keep going with this, the next book. And I’m glad: we’re back on form here, with an exciting story involving magic, dryads, and 1970s architecture, but also feeling up-to-the-knees in the ongoing storyline of the lives of Peter, Lesley, and Thomas Nightingale. There’s also the return of a familiar face or two from the previous book!

You definitely need to have started at the beginning of the series, Rivers of London, to really enjoying this installment, I’d suggest. The story itself is… not slow, exactly, but a little measured, so having enough knowledge to find the ongoing character development interesting is needed. Things take their time in coalescing, but gradually the layers build and everything ends with quite the bang!

I said in my review of the previous book that it was starting to feel a little more settled that this is an ongoing series. Here, I’d suggest that the author is starting to settle into it a little further, himself. Still, it’s a slightly odd read when I come to try and write about it. What happens is intriguing, but I suppose there’s still that ‘middle book’ kind of a feel, low on revelations, per se, with much of the excitement left til the last moment – and hints at more to come.

So while I’m still loving the series, I still can’t bring myself to rate any individual book higher than I am.

Kindle: 357 pages / 20 chapters
First published: 2013
Series: Peter Grant / Rivers of London book 4 (of 6)
Read from 27th July 2017

My rating: 8/10

Whispers Under Ground – Ben Aaronovitch

whispers under ground cover

“Back in the summer I’d made the mistake of telling my mum what I did for a living.”

What could be more London than the underground? Ben Aaronovitch picks up those myths surrounding the oldest railway tunnels, and hands them to cop turned trainee magician, Peter Grant. Starting with a body on the tracks, of course!

Despite my love for this series, the third book in the installment felt a little bit of a filler for me, somehow. There is a sense of the series being ‘secure’ now, established, and this means the pace slips in favour of just enjoying being with the familiar characters. Which is great – especially Leslie, still fighting – but lost some of the tension for me. I found the new characters a little flat (although at least two of them will return), as is the overall mystery – again, your mileage may vary – with the pacing just a bit… hmm.

But, my complaints are really only testament to how great I find the series as a whole. They really are about the characters – Peter, Leslie, Nightingale – and I loved little snippets about the latter starting to slip out. He’s in danger of being more interesting than our lead and narrator, but then Peter is so self-deprecatingly funny and puts a lovely scientific head to work on his magical studies that the pairing is too perfect to complain.

I finished this and immediately picked up book 4 in the series, despite my usual ‘eke them out’ mentality. I’m glad I don’t have to wait for the next one – at least for a few more books – so taken as a slowish bit in the middles of the series, this is still a lot of fun.

Kindle: 419 pages / 29 chapters
First published: 2012
Series: Peter Grant/Rivers of London book 3 (of 6 to date)
Read from 20th-25th July 2017

My rating: 7.5/10 – not quite up to the standard of the rest of the series, imo

Rivers of London – Ben Aaronovitch

“It started at one thirty on a cold Tuesday morning in January when Martin Turner, street performer and, in his own words, apprentice gigolo, tripped over a body in front of the West Portico of St Paul’s at Covent Garden.”

I think it’s fair to say I’m always on the hunt for a ‘new Dresden Files‘, which is a terrible expectation to put on any book/series. I think, though, I might just have stumbled across something pretty close, with the added benefit of a droll British sense of humour 🙂

PC Peter Grant isn’t too happy that he’s about to graduate from ‘thief-taker’ training to a dull police clerical role, when an encounter with a strangely see-through witness at a murder scene propels him into a rather more secretive department. Yup, the London police force has a supernatural branch! It’s a bit less X-Files – well, okay, it’s a lot like the X-Files, come to think of it, given that it’s one rather strange bloke not taken all too seriously by his peers.

We follow Peter’s initiation into the ranks of magic while two cases require juggling: the inciting murder and a wave of violence that seems to spread out from it in a rather familiar kind of a pattern, and a bit of a disagreement between old Father Thames and sexy newcomer Mamma Thames. Yup, those ‘rivers of London’ have actual personifications, and they’re certainly not damp squibs!

I thought the two threads balanced each other wonderfully, and really allow for Peter’s role to start to form. The magic system is excellently introduced: not too powerful, definitely not easy, and with a down-to-earth approach to the big questions like, “Do magic and science interact?” (yes, not always well), and “Why are magic spells always in Latin?” (because the people who wrote them down were trying to sound clever, more or less ;)).

If there’s a single thing I’m not sure about it’s the sweeping statements about a culture not the author’s own (or mine, so my opinion isn’t hugely valid). As a wannabe writer I’m well aware of the need for diversity in books, but I do wonder a little at what point it veers dangerously close to stereotyping. This added just a mild discomfort for me at certain points, but your mileage may vary.

That said, I thought this was a brilliantly fun romp. Usually books so London-centric as to make the city a character are a bit of a turn off to me (as a non-Londoner Brit, it can be wearing!) but the author’s love of the city comes over well without all that centre-of-the-known-universe smugness. Just a lot of giggles, a bit more gore than I was expecting, and a well developed story. More, please – and oh, look: book 6 is just out. Excuse me while I go catch up 🙂

Kindle: 400 pages / 14 chapters
First published: 2011
Series: PC Peter Grant book 1
Read from 7th-15th November 2016

My rating: 8/10

A City Dreaming – Daniel Polansky

“It would help if you did not think of it as magic.”

A City Dreaming is less a novel and more a collection of vignettes centred around our ‘hero’, known only as ‘M’. M is, in his own words, “in with the management” which very loosely translates as ‘wizard’. Not that he goes around performing magic (unless he has to), but without effort he finds luck goes his way, most of the time. For instance, traffic lights will always be green for him, jobs and money and places to stay appear when needed – that sort of thing.

Over the course of the book, M experiences a number of scenarios, some rather familiar, most more innovative. I particularly liked the train that could take you to stops not on any map, or another time when a walk through familiar neighbourhoods took an entire day through realms unknown – there was something of a Narnia-esque feel to these, I think.

Not that this is for younger readers, by any stretch! M spends his abnormally long life chasing pleasure in all forms, so there’s a fair amount of drinking, drug taking, and (off camera) sexual activity. M is just a regular kind of guy, in many ways, and not always a particularly lovely one. It put me in mind of Harry Dresden, if perhaps he had no interest in morals or quests to do the right thing – just, went about life as any of us might if an unknown number of centuries had made us a little on the selfish, hedonistic side. This is a great strength of the book, for me at least: this grounding all the magic in total normality.

Except, of course, there’s nothing normal about walking out of a pub and finding yourself and your friends in a medieval role playing scenario – for real! The format of short episodes makes it easy to put down and pick back up later – which is good and bad – and the broad range of scrapes M finds himself in means that if one segment doesn’t wholly appeal, the next will be entirely different.

Of course, the real star of the piece is the city – New York, but of course! – and how there is that layer of magic just under the surface of everyday life. If you’re in with the management, that is 😉

NetGalley eARC: 304 pages / 32 chapters
First published: October 2016
Series: none
Read from 28th September – 18th October 2016

My rating: 8/10

Now You See Me 2 (2016)

What does a group of magicians do after pulling of some of the most successful illusions of all time, fooling the FBI, the nay-sayers, and serving up justice to the crooks? A year has passed, and the Four Horsemen are still in hiding, growing increasingly restless. So when the chance to out another huge conman with their tricky skills, they jump at the chance – only this time, the illusion is being pulled on them. Press ganged into pulling of a heist for a shadowy tech genius, which side is ultimately going to pull the bunny out of the hat?

The original Now You See Me (2013) was something of a surprise pleasure for me – I really enjoyed it, and even knowing the twists and turns, I still like watching it again. There’s something… offbeat, perhaps? Something a little quirky and different, and just fun.

And so, despite mediocre reviews, I was looking forward to seeing the second (of three) installment. Unfortunately, those mediocre reviews are pretty spot on. Away from the freshness of the original, there’s just a sense here of trying just that bit too hard, and it falls short of the sense of fun.

I was also deeply unsure about some of the new characters. Most obvious is the switch-out of Henley (actress Isla Fisher being a little too pregnant, although she’s due back for Act 3) for newbie Lula (Lizzy Caplan) who again is just trying that bit too hard, although she’s largely likeable. Adding a twin brother for one character, though – urm, no thank you. Really did not get or like that one! And while there is a smile to be had from Harry Potter himself (Daniel Radcliffe) playing in a movie about the ‘other’ kind of magic, he’s only so-so in the role, imo.

It’s not all bad, though, and it is a pleasure to see the 4H staging some impressive feats of prestidigitation and misdirection. I did think the card flicking scene was about twice as long as it needed to be, or just not showy enough for the ‘main’ scene, and while we’re shown the ‘how’ of most tricks, there is one that just seems impossible without movie magic – slightly annoying! 😉

Alas, the ending is a bit… hmm. Still, I will be buying my ticket for Act 3 when (if?) it appears, like magic!

Released: 4th July 2016
Viewed: 22nd July 2016
Running time: 129 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6/10