Books

Books : reviews

Ben Aaronovitch.
Remembrance of the Daleks.
Target. 1990

Ben Aaronovitch.
Transit.
Virgin. 1992

Ben Aaronovitch.
The Also People.
Virgin. 1995

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 19 October 1999

Nowadays, I don't read much media SF unless I like the author. Although I have never read anything by Aaronovitch before, I do like his Doctor Who TV episodes Remembrance of the Daleks and Battlefield, and I have heard net.posters describe The Also People as "An Iain M. Banks Culture novel with the serial numbers filed off". So I thought I would try it. And it's good.

Up until now my Doctor Who experience has consisted solely of watching the TV shows and reading the odd anniversary special coffee table book (and building a cardboard Tardis, of course). This is different. The Doctor may be familiar (here in his 7th, Sylvester McCoy, incarnation), but all the Companions are new to me, and yet obviously have a lot of back story with him (I suspect that reading only one of the many "New Adventures" is responsible here). Also, there is more depth to the characters, and a more adult tone to the story -- Companions hopping into bed with the natives, and so on. Although the TV series was made by the BBC's Drama department, not its Children's department, it was supposedly deemed suitable for children (on the sex and bad language front, if not always on the violence front, at least). So I found reading this Doctor Who novel rather disconcerting, like coming back to a familiar place after a long absence, where much is the same, but changed.

Anyway, to the review. The Doctor has taken his three Companions -- Bernice, Roz and Chris -- to paradise for a holiday. They are on (in?) a Dyson sphere, controlled by a planet-sized computer known as God, where all the inhabitants, biological humanoids and artificial drones and ships, are effectively immensely wealthy and powerful, having ready access to immensely advanced technology (all this is the Culture-esque bit). So powerful, in fact, that they have a non-aggression pact with the Time Lords.

As always, The Doctor has an ulterior motive for his seemingly innocent actions, and, as always, things start Happening as soon as he arrives. There's a murder, and the Doctor and Roz are the most suitable beings to investigate. They have to find the solution before the inhabitants decide that actually the Doctor is violating the pact.

It's not the detective plot that makes this story fun, however. The investigation merely serves as an excuse for exploring the world and its people, and suggesting how one might live in a world where one's every whim is catered to, and yet still lead a satisfying and fulfilling life. There are some wonderful scenes as the Companions experience the technology, and some beautifully acidly witty one-liners. It doesn't have some of the depth, or the nastiness, of a Banks' novel -- I would say it's a Culture novel with the serial numbers, and the darkness, filed off -- but it's well written, keeps the Doctor in character, and poses some interesting questions. A good read. (And I would probably have rated it 2.5 if I hadn't already read the Culture.)

Ben Aaronovitch.
Rivers of London.
Gollancz. 2011

rating : 2.5 : great stuff
review : 30 October 2011

Probationary Constable Peter Grant is not looking forward to being assigned to Case Progression Unit where he would be performing a valuable role. He wants to do real policing. Then he questions a ghost who witnesses a murder, and his career direction suddenly changes. He is apprenticed to the mysterious Inspector Nightingale, not only to investigate a series of haunted murders, but to help placate Mother Thames and her daughter rivers in their feud with further upstream Father Thames. All while trying to start a relationship with PC Lesley May.

This is a wonderful innovative fantasy police procedural situated in a totally recognisable and yet completely alien contemporary London. The tone is relatively light and street-smart, but there are real consequences and real heartaches to deal with. Peter is bright and capable, but still junior and not yet experienced in either policing or magic. It will be fun to watch him grow through the series.

Ben Aaronovitch.
Moon Over Soho.
Gollancz. 2011

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 8 November 2012

Constable Peter Grant is called in to investigate the death of a part-time jazz musician, as there is a whiff of magic about the case. He discovers this is not the first such event, and is soon on the trail of a "jazz vampire". Things are made more personal as his father, washed up jazz player himself, starts to play again, with the dead man's group. Can Peter stop him being the next victim? Along the way he has to deal with a possible succubus, the children of the Thames, and a powerful faceless magician. But he is at least helped remotely by PC Lesley May, recovering from her horrific Punch-inflicted injuries.

More magic, mayhem, policing, and street smarts. Again, this is relatively light, in an ironic, sarcastic way, but again there are deep undercurrents, and something very nasty waiting to jump out of the woodwork. The ending leaves room for a whole series of follow-ons, if needs be.

Ben Aaronovitch.
Whispers Under Ground.
Gollancz. 2012

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 27 November 2013

‘Come Monday I get to do some proper policing. Person Unknown has been stabbed to death on the tracks at Baker Street tube. Magic may have been involved.’

Person Unknown turns out to be the son of a US senator and before you can say ‘International incident’, FBI agent Kimberley Reynolds is on DC Grant’s case.

And down in the dark, in the tunnels of London’s Underground, the buried rivers, the Victorian sewers, there are whispers of vengeance from beyond the grave.

DC Grant’s latest case is about to come off the rails…

DC Peter Grant gets called in to help with a murder investigation, since there seems to be something potentially “odd” about it. This leads to investigation of the London Underground, and, inevitably, the London sewers. Meanwhile, Peter and Lesley are continuing to track down potential rogue wizards.

This is another excellent entry in the series. Peter is growing into his magical role, and also growing as a police detective. The pace here is relentless, as Peter tries to work out how magic and pottery are linked to murder, while avoiding letting the FBI discover his secret. More and more people are being let in on the secret, though; it will be interesting to see how this unfolds in future books.

Ben Aaronovitch.
Broken Homes.
Gollancz. 2013

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 26 November 2014

A mutilated body in Crawley. Another killer on the loose. The prime suspect is one Robert Weil; an associate of the twisted magician known as the Faceless Man? Or just a common or garden serial killer?

Before PC Peter Grant can get his head round the case a town planner going under a tube train and a stolen grimoire are adding to his case-load.

So far so London.

But then Peter gets word of something very odd happening in Elephant and Castle, on a housing estate designed by a nutter, built by charlatans and inhabited by the truly desperate.

Is there a connection? And if there is, why oh why did it have to be South of the River?

DC Peter Grant, wizard in training, gets sucked into yet another weird case, with bodies and books all pointing to mysterious goings on in a south London skyscraper. He and Lesley go undercover to see if they can discover what is going on, why so many people are interested in architecture, and if the Faceless Man is involved.

This is another great entry in the series. I love the depiction of the surreal characters, especially the police working through all the bureaucracy of their jobs, and the ordinary, extraordinary, and riverine people’s reactions to them. There is a tremendous sense of place, be it in inner city London, or deepest Essex. And the magical plot is developing in interesting directions, with characters old and new showing unexpected facets.

After the shattering conclusion, I can’t wait for the next installment!

Ben Aaronovitch.
Foxglove Summer.
Gollancz. 2014

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 27 August 2015

When two young girls go missing in rural Herefordshire PC Peter Grant is sent out of London to check that nothing supernatural is involved. It’s purely routine, Nightingale thinks he’ll be done in less than a day.

But Peter’s never been one to walk away from someone in trouble, so when nothing overtly magical turns up he volunteers his services to the local police who need all the help they can get.

But because the universe likes a joke as much as the next sadistic megalomaniac, Peter soon comes to realise that dark secrets underlay the picturesque fields and villages of the countryside and there might just be work for Britain’s most junior wizard after all.

Soon he’s in a vicious race against time in a world where the boundaries between reality and fairy have never been less clear!

Two yound girls go missing in Herefordshire, and PC Peter Grant is sent there to check up that it’s not the fault of a local wizard. Despite feeling a bit of a strange buzz, Peter clears the old man of any wrongdoing. But he doesn’t want to go back to London yet, still recovering from a shattering betrayal. So he stays to help the local police search. And discovers there is a magical element after all.

This is another great entry in the series, as Peter copes with the bizarre behaviours of country dwellers, and the even more bizarre magical creatures living there. The juxtaposition of matter-of-fact policing, sleuthing with the help of river goddess Beverley Brook, and encountering invisible friends who are not that friendly is just delicious.

As all the others in the series, the specific plot is tied up well. But there is one thread that is merely setting up for a later encounter between Peter and his betrayer. I can’t wait!

Ben Aaronovitch.
The Hanging Tree.
Gollancz. 2015

Suspicious deaths are not usually the concern of PC Peter Grant, even when they happen at an exclusive party in one of the most expensive apartment blocks in London. But Lady Ty’s daughter was there and Peter owes Lady Ty a favour.

Plunged into the alien world of the super-rich, where the basements are bigger than the houses and dangerous, arcane items are bought and sold on the open market, a sensible young copper would keep his head down and his nose clean. But this is Peter Grant we’re talking about.

He’s been given an unparalleled opportunity to alienate old friends and create new enemies at the point where the world of magic and that of privilege intersect. Assuming he survives the week…