After posting a review of The Rivers of London, the first in Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series, a surprising number of friends contacted me to beg, borrow or steal the book to read it for themselves. And so, it seems only appropriate after tearing through the next four books in the series in less than a week, that I should share just how damn good they are.
So as not to spam this blog with post after post of my obsessive enjoyment of this series so far, I decided to group my reading of Moon Over Soho, Whispers Underground, Broken Homes and Foxglove Summer into one review. And the summary is?: so. very. excellent.
Peter Grant is a constable interned to the not-really-acknowledged and quite small magic section of London’s Metropolitan Police. Constantly negotiating the line between cop work and magic work, the series is witty, full of detail and imagination, wicked, and so so funny. Aaronovitch has created a series full of such intelligence and genuine character, with massive amounts of humour.
There is so much scope here: the quickly unravelling world of magic; massive London with all its dark corners for hidden secrets; the clash between the ‘weird stuff’ and the cynical 21st Century Metropolitan Police; one young bit dorky bit clever constable navigating it all. And thrown in are little things that I just completely delight in: the intelligence of Peter and his odd little obsession with architecture; the friendships and loves; this whole world of goddesses of the river, myth, mischievous fae, unknown underground people, jazz suckers; the simple diversity of characters. Like Neil Gaiman, Aaronovitch writes in a world that already exists around us, only we can’t see. There is a complete difference of tone however: Peter Grant is wide-eyed, sardonic, hilarious; while Gaiman’s dives into secret worlds of magic and fantasy seem more sure, more guided.
And in this whole wide world where the adventures happen, each book is incredibly well-plotted. It is admirable how, with such space for exploration, such fully-formed characters (even the incidental ones), such funny asides and jokes, that Aaronovitch manages and contains the story. Each book is set with a very distinct space – from a housing estate near Elephant and Castle to the Underground network – and this creates a container for the story without feeling like restriction is imposed.
I feel like how Aaronovitch writes is emblematic of how he plots a book – divergences to the entertaining, a wry joke, and then lines of pure poetry and power, a big reveal. Like in Foxglove Summer where Peter is with Beverly Brook, goddess of small river in South London:
Then she leaned back, drawing me down onto the water that was supporting us in such an unnatural way that Archimedes would have given up natural philosophy and returned to the country to become an olive farmer. I felt it suddenly – the storm surge at by back – there was nothing of people about it, nothing human, it was the smell of morning rain and the gritty touch and scrape of red sandstone. It was the laughing roar of water as it cuts its way through the bones of the earth. Beverly locked her legs around mine in the darkness. ‘Trust me,’ she whispered, and drew me down into the water.
This is sensory writing, lyrical, powerful in its impact and quite beautiful to read. Beverly is naughty and delightful, they are succumbing to the power of the river around them, mightier and older than comprehension, and Peter can’t help making just another joke on the side. It is great to read.
It’s also worth adding that there is a larger plot, a larger forces, that emerges through the series. While each book is a self-contained adventure, a larger thread comes through which makes me even more impatient for the sixth book – The Hanging Tree – coming out in mid-November. Consider the pre-order for immediate delivery on my Kindle already done.
And that’s because these books are smart whodunnits, entertaining thriller fantasy cop stories, but grounded in intelligence, myth as old as the hills, genuine characters, and bloody funny writing. It’s so good to read something that can entertain you, capture you, and doesn’t talk down to you. This is something that you’re never too tired to read – but are tired at the end of it because it’s just so good you stayed up far too late reading it.