In all the hype for the Dresden Filer two-fer, I haven’t forgotten my new other favourite urban fantasy series! Since writing up my thoughts on the first three books in the Peter Grant series, I’ve positivly raced through the next three. I think Ben Aaronovitch really struck gold when he decided to blend a British police procedural with magical shenanigans; I’m racing through the series like a hot knife through butter.
While all the books so far have had self-contained stories, there have been threads of an overreaching story arc that have yet to fully solidify. After I read Whispers Under Ground, it seemed to me that the main arc of the story was coming together over two main plot-points: the masquerade keeping magic hidden from the general public and the machinations of the rogue wizard known as The Faceless Man. And after speeding through three more books, I can say that I was correct on the latter, and still might be on the former.
But like many other multi-book series, some books resonate more strongly than others, and sometimes some of them are a bit more like filler. For me, Broken Homes is one of the latter; the main plot of the story is mostly irrelevant and is mostly used as scaffolding for things to come. But while the main plot is a bit wobbly, a number of very important things occur during the course of this book: the London Met suffers from an absolutely shocking betrayal, and Peter and the reader finally get a glimpse of something we have been anticipating since the very first book.
That’s right, we finally get to see Thomas ‘Tiger Tank’ Nightingale go off like an absolute fucking firecracker and it is fucking glorious. And it’s not just the amount of power the man can wield that’s impressive, but it’s the sheer amount of cunning he displays as well. You have to feel a little sorry for Peter at this point, as his master and ‘Dumbledore’ type mentor completely overshadows him — but you also feel a little relieved for him at the same time because if this man’s the one tutoring him in the ins and outs of magic? Then Peter is is very capable hands indeed.
But after all the furore at the end of Broken Homes, you can’t really blame the author for shifting Nightingale out of focus for a bit. For the first time since the series started, we’re moving the action away from London and into the more rural Herefordshire. In Foxglove Summer, Peter finds himself aiding in a missing persons case: two preteen girls have vanished without a trace. But after liaising with one of Nightingale’s old friends, a local police officer and a troubled junky, it becomes clear that magic is involved.
Despite its quiet start, Foxglove Summer ended up being a much stronger book than Broken Homes, and much more in-line with a classic detective story. The mystery behind the disappearance of young Hannah and Nicole is such a well-written plot, and so divorced from most of the London-related elements, it could nearly sit as a stand-alone. Additionally, while the search for the girls remains suspenseful for much of the book, it somehow manages to do so without drifting into dread. No one wants to deal with dead kiddies. We also get the return of Beverly Brooke, who has been given more to do here than she had in Rivers of London, and it’s all quite a pleasant surprise.
The biggest shock in this book though is that Peter — our pop culture goldmine — fails to understand a reference to My Little Pony. And yes, there are plot consequences to that!
The main plot picks up in London again for an absolutely outstanding outing in The Hanging Tree, which starts with Lady Tyburn’s daughter, Olivia, in deep, deep shit. One of her young friends overdosed at a party and Lady Ty is stopping at nothing to make sure that her daughter is kept out of the case. Peter, as a police constable, is not meant to be doing any favours of London’s rich and spoilt, but Lady Ty is arrogant as all hell and thinks she can get Peter to go out on a limb for her without contacting The Folly. Peter, the honest boy that he is, dobs her in to Nightingale straight away.
But things get more complicated when Dr Wahlid suggests that the deceased girl — Christina Chorley — may not have been suffering from just an overdose. It turns out her brain was showing all the pockmarked signs of a poorly trained practitioner of magic. Further investigation by Peter reveals that the little gaggle of rich schoolchildren Oliva and Christina belonged to may have been dabbling with things they really should not have, which escalates into an epic chase for Newton’s Third Principia between the Folly, a secret matrilineal line of witches, the magical branch of the American military, and the Faceless Man.
No one, especially not Peter, expected things to snowball like this when he took the call from Lady Ty. And to make matters worse? The Met’s little traitor pops their head up again as well to cause havoc.
So, of the two assumptions I made at the end of Whispers Under Ground, the one where the Faceless Man turns out to be the overreaching antagonist turns out to be absolutely correct. We still don’t have the firmest grasp of his motives so far, but there’s a couple of nasty hints. His treatment of Peter for example, who’s mixed race, makes me strongly suspect he’s Nigel Farage with wizard powers. Which will only make it all the more satisfying when someone finally punches his face-less bloody face in.
The second assumption — that the masquerade will all come crashing down at some point — has not yet come to pass. But it’s only a matter of time. In London, more and more people are being drawn into the Folly’s investigations. Character’s like Peter’s young cousin and a certain ‘Muslim ninja’ look like they’ll be picking up magic sooner than later. And Peter’s efforts in the kidnapping case introduced a whole other circle of people outside of London to magical goings-on, so I suspect it’s not long until we hit a crisis point. I’m hoping it will be glorious to watch.
But despite the slight unevenness across these three books, every single one of them has been a joy to read. I have enjoyed the loving way Aaronovitch describes both London and the surrounding countryside, as well as his very dry, very British sense of humour. (See the title quote.) Peter himself, with his wry cheek and frequent pop culture references, remains a wonderfully grounded protagonist to follow. And while he’s not exactly magical powerhouse just yet, he’s honing his skills and gaining the respect of a hell of a lot of big players, to the point that some of them have dubbed him ‘The Starling’ — which is kind of sweet.
There are at least two more books that I know of in the series, as well as a whole group of visual novels, so I’ll have plenty to keep myself occupied with once if find space to slot them into my to-read pile.
Until then, you can find me in the corner here, getting all verklempt over a certain wizard who’s not at all age-appropriate for me… while consoling myself with the fact that at least I’m not as shamelessly thirsty as a certain in-series character over the whole thing.
(Which, by the way, is hilarious when you read about it)
(For bingo, this is Green for Foxglove Summer. Which IS a nice green if you aren’t reading off e-Ink!)