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

Moon Over Soho – Ben Aaronovitch

“It’s a sad fact of modern life that if you drive long enough, sooner or later you must leave London behind.”

In Rivers of LondonPC Peter Grant discovered that ghosts are real, as are various supernatural creatures such as the personifications of the eponymous rivers, and that the Metropolitan Police have a ‘spooky’ department. He’s swiftly sworn in as the new apprentice wizard with the latter, the first in years.

The second instalment of the series picks up where we left off, with Peter continuing to train and use his skills while working on police cases. This time he’s caught up in the suspicious deaths of various jazz musicians, a crime rather close to home given his father’s former fame in just that genre. A second case is more obviously ‘spooky’ – and quite frankly with various men turning up missing an, urm, important body part, is this really the best time for Peter to get a new girlfriend?

I talked about this series possibly being the new Dresden Files for me, and while I thoroughly enjoyed this return to that world, I’d have to say the jury is still out on whether or not it can live up to the other-wizard-called-Harry.

For a start, the two cases that might just link up by the end seems a rather obvious and overdone structure, and it was a little distracting seeing it so noticeably. We’re also very quickly into ‘middle book’ territory, meaning this couldn’t be read as a standalone with any great satisfaction – which is fine, because I firmly believe in starting at the beginning of series, anyway!

On the other hand, the ongoing plot threads – certain people having been shot, others facing disfiguring conditions – really add depth to the characterisation. It’s also intriguing to start to get some of the history of the department of magic, so to speak.

I’m not convinced I like Peter Grant as much as Harry Dresden, at least not yet. But he’s lovely and real, and the down to earth telling is a great deal of fun to read. Bring on book 3!

Kindle: 384 pages / 14 chapters
First published: 2011
Series: PC Peter Grant (Rivers of London) book 2 (of 6 currently published)
Read from 11th-18th December 2016

My rating: 8/10

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