The Last Smile in Sunder City – Luke Arnold

last smile in sunder city cover

“‘Do some good,’ she’d said. Well, I’d tried, hadn’t I?”

Welcome to Sunder City, once a shining beacon of industry and home to dwarves, vampires, centaurs and all sorts of other fae creatures. But when the ‘Coda’ happened – when magic disappeared from the world – these species had to find new ways to survive without their defining features. Wyverns could no longer fly, sorcerers no longer had magic. And it’s all the fault of the pesky humans…

Fetch Phillips is a ‘Man for Hire’, a hard-bitten detective in the mould of all the classic hard-nosed dicks. His only quirk, perhaps, is that he refuses to work for humans – which is odd, because he is one.

We learn Fetch’s backstory through some long flashback scenes, building up towards an explanation of his lot. And in the present, he’s landed himself a case of a missing vampire – and a whole lot of trouble.

I must confess I’ve never heard of Luke Arnold, an actor apparently best known for Black Sails. I requested this book from Netgalley based purely on the description. It’s all a little bit Dresden Files, which is a terrible bar to ask a debut author to live up to, and while it doesn’t quite hit those highs it’s still a lot of fun.

The story almost conjures that world-weary voiceover of the private eye down on his luck. There isn’t a great deal of action, rather it’s a twisty, noir-ish tale with a lot of pretty impressive world building. I loved some of the explanations for where magical creatures came from – trolls as parts of the landscape that became saturated with magic to the point of sentience, for instance.

It was possible that setting the story post-loss of all magic would make it all seem grey – yes, the story is bleak, but actually the new coping for the species is new and far more interesting than oh look, another world full of beauteous elves. Fetch isn’t the cheeriest of souls, but his self-pity is also self-aware, and I found myself mostly liking him as a character, despite some of the teenage-y-angst of the long backstory sections. I still wanted to find out what had happened.

My one main complaint would be that this debut author is maybe trying a little too hard with the clever sentences, the ironic one-liners. It settles down quickly enough, and I have high hopes for a follow-up with Fetch and Sunder City.

NetGalley eARC: 368 pages / 34 chapters
First published: February 2020
Series: The Fetch Phillips Archive book 1
Read from 4th-9th February 2020

My rating: 8/10

The October Man – Ben Aaronovitch

october man cover

“In late September, as the nights close in, a strange madness possesses my father.

After seven books following PC Peter Grant in London, Ben Aaronovitch takes a slight detour with this novel. we are introduced to Tobias winter, Peter’s German counterpart, sent to the town of Trier to investigate – you guessed it – somewhat strange goings on.

A body has been found in a field belonging to an old, but small vinery. It’s coated with mould – a fungus of the same kind used to deliberately infect the grapes to make a sweeter wine. The vinery is close to the river Kyll, and indeed the current owner’s grandfather would leave offerings to the river goddess… sound familiar?

Like the previous novella in the series (The Furthest Station), I enjoyed the way the shorter format kept things focused on the one story. It still has many twists and turns, not being quite as tight as I expected, but still intriguing.

Tobias Winter is basically Peter Grant with a few different words in his vocab. Taking any section without specific identifier, I think the narration would be indistinguishable from Grant’s street smart, slightly sarcastic tone. Which is no bad thing, but still.

While I overall enjoyed the story a great deal, I think introducing new characters, new location, and a new organisation is perhaps a bit much to ask for a sub-200-page novella.

Still very worth the read, though, for fans if maybe not newcomers to the series. It is interesting to see the Rivers of London series branching out, and I’d love to see even more – but, I think perhaps it’d only really work if the voice was as distinctive as the new region?

Hardback: 180 pages / 13 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: PC Peter Grant / Rivers of London book 7.5
Read from 25th-30th July 2019

My rating: 8/10

The Furthest Station – Ben Aaronovitch

furthest station cover

“Jaget said he’d been watching this documentary on TV about the way people learn to track animals.”

Set between Foxglove Summer and The Hanging TreeThe Furthest Station picks up with PC Peter Grant well into his training as a… well, magician is probably not a word he’d enjoy. Practitioner? Either way, this isn’t really a starting place for the uninitiated – you’d probably still be able to enjoy the story, but the background isn’t explained in any way here.

What we do get is a curious case that soon attracts the attention of The Folly, the magical-stuff branch of the Metropolitan Police. Ghosts have been harassing people on the Metropolitan Line, and in investigating some of the cases, Peter and his boss, Nightingale, start to wonder if there’s something bigger going on…

I would have grabbed at this to read much sooner, but quite frankly the price tag for such a short tome seemed a bit steep. Hurrah for libraries! 🙂 I actually ended up enjoying this almost more than the full-length novels in the series. I liked the focus on the single plot-line, without some of the distracting diversions that creep in to the longer stories.

I also liked the reintroduction of Abigail, Peter’s far-too-curious little cousin. She was slightly forgotten in the most recent book, but actually her ongoing story should be impacting quite a lot. I do wonder if Mr Aaronovitch is struggling a little with his plot- and time-lines, as things have been jumping around a little. Perhaps more novellas like this could help fill in the gaps that are appearing? Of course, any use of magic is likely to leave gaps in the grey matter, so…! 😉

Fully recommended for fans, even if I do think charging full price for a slim volume you could easily read in a day is a little bit of a cheek. And if you’ve yet to discover the series, absolute give Rivers of London a go first! 🙂

Hardback: 118 pages / 9 chapters
First published: 2017
Series: PC Peter Grant / Rivers of London book 5.5
Read from 10th-13th June 2018

My rating: 8/10

The Hanging Tree – Ben Aaronovitch

hanging tree cover

“I dreamt that I heard Mr Punch laughing gleefully by my ear, but when I woke I realised it was my phone.”

NB: this is the sixth book in a series, and as such it’s almost impossible not to have vague spoilers for events in the previous instalments – read at your own peril!!

Peter Grant’s life seems pretty established now, since we first met him in Rivers of London and he discovered the branch of the police that deals with “weird bollocks”. Still training in magical skills, he’s now confident in his role, au fait with the ‘demimonde’, and even has a girlfriend who may or may not be the physical representation of a major English waterway. Yeah.

The story, too, is pretty established: this is not a volume for newcomers, this is a continuation of events that have been building over several books. If you don’t know who The Faceless Man is, or what Lesley may or may not be up to these days, or how Peter’s ‘relationship’ with Mr Punch has come about, then you’re really going to struggle with this.

As it was, it’s been long enough (for no good reason!) since I read the previous book(s) (and note to self: really, stop leaving series unfinished!!) that I was a little vague on just a few points. That was fine: I caught up quickly enough. But there was enough of a gap to make me very aware that this wasn’t a ‘whole story’ – not only is the ending (no spoilers!) fully open for the next instalment, but it picks up the plot directly not even from the previous book (Foxglove Summer), but back even further to Broken Homes!

So, read this as a series. I’m really quite looking forward to a bit of time passing, a few more books being out, and starting over from the very beginning as a continuous piece. As it stands, this one is a very good read but with flaws from that ‘middle book’ kind of feel, and perhaps just a bit of cockiness in both the main character and from the author being fully into his best-selling stride. I still want more! 🙂

NetGalley eARC: 384 pages / 16 chapters
First published: 2016
Series: Peter Grant book 6
Read from 7th-15th May 2018

My rating: 8/10

The Dresden Files: Dog Men – Jim Butcher

dresden files dog men cover

“Get up, Dresden.”

(Story by Mark Powers, Art by Diego Galindo)

The Dresden Files is one of my all-time favourite series, but it’s been a long wait since the last novel. So, despite not being a huge fan of graphic novels, I absolutely jumped at the chance to nab a copy of this. I hadn’t even known that there was a canon-approved series of graphic novels, but you don’t need to have read the rest before this – or even the main series, really, but why wouldn’t you?

“I was ready. I was confident. Usually that means I was f-‘ed.”

Harry Dresden is asked by senior Council member, Listens-to-Winds, to accompany him on a case. Of course, it’s as much a ruse to get Harry away from his self-recrimination and nightmares, although it says a lot when a grisly murder scene and some non-human monsters are less bad than his nightmares!

The artwork here is pretty good, but given my previous attempts with the format were the gorgeously illustrated Sandman set, this was unlikely to compete. In fairness, some of the bigger ‘location’ panels are great, but I wasn’t desperately impressed with the depiction of Harry himself – limitations of any pictorial adaptation of a series, your readers have their own mental images!

The character still comes across exactly as he does in the main books, though – all pop culture and offbeat humour, offsetting the rage and fearsome power. The story is fairly slight, with rather two-dimensional supporting characters, and a little heavy on the lessons for our hero. Still, while we’re waiting impatiently for the next novel in the series, it was really nice to check back in again with the best wizard called Harry 😉

NetGalley eARC: 146 pages / 6 issues
First published: 2018
Series: Dresden Files graphic novels book 7 (collection of issues 1-6)
Read from 3rd-18th February 2018

My rating: 7/10

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

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