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Book Review: Peter Grant Mysteries

January 24, 2015

Looking back over the books I read in 2014, I’m surprised by two things: I’m surprised I didn’t blog reviews of some of the books I read that I especially loved. Also, I’m surprised that I had time to churn through as many books as I did during two challenging semesters of juggling classes and two part-time jobs and an internship. Although, given that second aspect, the first is probably more understandable. Fortunately, I at least wrote a little bit about some of the books I liked on GoodReads. I’ve been meaning to catch up on blogging some of the books that stand out.

Midnight Riot
Ben Aaronovitch
Del Ray Books

A mystery set in London, with magic and technology intersecting, and lots of snark and sarcasm while old and new knowledge and ideas forge an uneasy peace? Self-deprecating and pithy narrator? Police work? Banter? London-as-character? Interesting mythology, both drawn from history and built to exist within the series?

Why yes, yes please. That sounds like a book designed for me. I love Peter Grant’s narrative voice, the way he is both a funny sarcastic bloke kind of a sports-loving guy, but also a curious and keen intellect who pokes and prods at the scientific principles of magic. I love how Nightingale, Grant’s boss, a man of uncertain age from a longer Newtonian magic tradition, wearily tells him to concentrate more on practice of the traditions, less on scientific inquiry. For that matter, I love the idea of binding magic into Newtonian science, Latin and Greek, and understandings of physics, almost as much as I love Peter’s 21st century tinkering sensibility in reaction to it. I love Peter for his commentary on London and police work, and for his sense of humor, ranging from dark to amused and wry. It’s well placed. Plus, there was history of London and historical mystery with the supernatural, and just enough gore for a thrill without being terrifyingly gross. Though, I do admit I winced a lot at some of the climactic final scenes and their aftermath. But then I grabbed the second in the series.

Moon Over Soho
Ben Aaronovitch
Del Ray Books

Some of what I like about the second (and subsequent) installments will be a repeat of what I liked about the first book. But, with the characters developing through both new details revealed and dealing with the consequences of the first book, I am even more impressed. The plotline involving jazz musicians allows for explorations of writing about music and magic in ways I was pretty guaranteed to love. The only thing better than winding music up with magic is working out some of the ways both can interact with neuroscience and biology. I also appreciated getting more detail about Peter and his relationship with his dad, and with his dad’s addictions, musician life, and characterization.

The emotions that opened up there didn’t feel forced. Other sets of emotional character development made me skeptical early on in the book, including plot twists I saw telegraphed early on that emerged as significant plot points. But, the way it played out, I’m not even mad at the cliche. Yes, Peter should have seen that coming when I did, because the author telegraphed it. But I’m satisfied with it, because it’s interesting to see a character in a fantasy novel positioned as neither super-capable hero or dystopian misery anti-hero, but just a bloke trying to do his human best to navigate and respond to a world that used to be much more normal than he now finds it. I didn’t get suckered in by what Peter did. But I could understand and appreciate him getting taken in and making some staggeringly dopey choices in a way that served the plot.

Whispers Under Ground
Ben Aaronovitch
Del Ray

As it goes on, this series is starting to read like a wish list of my favorite ingredients in a good book, in general, not just things I like to see in urban fantasy. The conceit in this installment used the knowledge of the London underground and also interesting bits of anthropology and art. In the art and anthropology aspects, it’s sort of building a riff on the music and magic exploration of the previous novel. And I absolutely love the use of the transit system, and its history, as a focus and site for magical happenings of varying degrees of sinister. It reminds me of some of my favorite scenes from The Shades of London series by Maureen Johnson… Wondering what would happen if Rory from The Name of the Star met up with Peter Grant,  but wow is that a whole other post entirely.

Also the good things from previous installments. Peter Grant is still ridiculous and sarcastic and I enjoy his voice. But he’s starting to grow into his role as a wizard and even reconcile his practice with science and technology while working on becoming as disciplined as his mentor wants him to be. I really like how characters carry the events of previous books, as healing hurts, as things they learn from and ways they learn about each other. There has also, over the course of the first few books, been the build of a decidedly creepy ongoing Big Bad. Good stuff.

Broken Homes
Ben Aaronovitch
Del Rey

Even if this book had focused on the plot threads and mysteries carried over from previous installments, there would have been plenty to keep Peter Grant busy. There’s dealing with the Faceless big bad, a missing grimoire, his evolving relationship with Lesley, fellow apprentice and maybe-who-knows-what, plus trying to learn how to be a proper magician as well as navigating his way through being on the normal police force as well as part of Nightingale’s team for handling the really weird stuff. And carefully navigating allegiances with territorial mythical river spirits, some of whom really like him. Possibly a serial killer in there somewhere too.

But no. There’s more. There’s a series of crimes centering around a housing estate that seems to be constructed in a very particular sort of way, by someone with more on his agenda than affordable housing or improving the city skyline. So, there’s magic. Possibly, watching Ghostbusters at around the same time as read this installment was an excellent thematic choice. Bonus points for Peter and Lesley going undercover to pose as a married couple in the spooky, potentially possessed building.

And then the dratted book ends on a cliffhanger with the Big Bad. And I made several outraged noises and swore at Ben Aaronovitch.

The good news is that I have the next installment, Foxglove Summer, in my possession. I’m afraid to read it, though, because I really don’t want to face the book hangover when I’m done and there are no more Peter Grants to read.

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