BooksOfTheMoon

The City We Became (Great Cities #1)

By N.K. Jemisin

Rating: 4 stars

I read Jemisin’s collection How Long ‘Til Black Future Month and very much enjoyed it, especially The City Born Great, so when I heard that this was an expansion and extension of that story, I was excited. Some cities are alive, and their souls are human avatars. New York is just being born, but it’s already under attack by extra-dimensional horrors. Its new avatar manages to fight them off, but it’s too much, and he falls into a coma. But he’s not alone – the city has five other avatars: one for each borough. They need to come together to find the primary and to defeat something that wants to destroy them all.

I really enjoyed this book. Most of the urban fantasy that I’ve read tends to centre on London, so having this one focus on New York was a bit more “exotic”. I mostly know that city through Hollywood films, but Jemisin is deft enough to take you with her as she explores the city, even if you’re not familiar with it. We’re introduced to the avatars one at a time, starting with Manny (aka Manhattan), and we have different ideas of what it means to be a New Yorker – the bright-eyed newcomer; the up and coming; the hard as nails, takes no crap; the immigrant.

And then there’s Staten Island. I have to assume that Jemisin is being fair in her assessment of Staten Island: a haven of conservatism, inward looking, and which doesn’t want to be part of New York. Staten Island’s avatar is a young white woman called Aislyn and the chapters from her point of view are, for want of a better word, sad. She’s living with her parents, particularly her overbearing cop of a father, and is terrified of everything that might be different or foreign. I feel desperately sad for her, but also want to shake her and tell her to get a grip.

Something I quite liked is that the Lovecraftian horrors from Beyond Reality get their own avatar, and she’s quite talkative. This lets us see things from their point of view, and you actually sort of think that she’s got a point. Although her solution is terrible, it feels like the sort of thing where it might be possible to try and work out a solution, if everyone wasn’t so busy trying to kill each other. It’s something I hope will develop over the course of the trilogy.

For a book with five nominal protagonists, someone was bound to get the short straw. In this case it was poor Queens. Being an immigrant of Indian descent, she was the one I was most interested in, but apart from being young and good at maths, we don’t get much about her at all. Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn, as well as Staten Island get a lot more screen time. In fact, I think Queens only gets one chapter from her PoV (each chapter is from the PoV of one of the characters). I hope that this will change in later books.

Apart from that minor quibble, it’s greatly enjoyable book, and I’m very much looking forward to the rest of the series.

Book details

ISBN: 9780356512686

What Abigail Did That Summer : A Rivers Of London Novella

By Ben Aaronovitch

Rating: 4 stars

It’s the summer holidays and Peter Grant’s cousin Abigail has been left unsupervised. She finds herself getting involved with a mysterious old house and a bunch of disappearing and reappearing kids. Oh, and the militarised talking foxes seem to have taken a liking to her.

I enjoyed this long-ish novella. Abigail has been around for a while now, as a secondary character, but this puts us properly in her head. Set at around the same time as Foxglove Summer (Peter is away chasing unicorns in the country), I must confess that it’s sometimes difficult to keep track of the timeline between the novels, comics and novellas (thank goodness for the Follypedia) but this is before Abigail becomes a proper junior apprentice to Nightingale. It seems to be her first encounter with the foxes as well. Speaking of the foxes, I like them a lot. They seem to think they’re a spy unit of some kind, although we never find out (yet, at least), what their overall mission is. But for whatever reason, they take a shine to Abigail and hang out with her and help her locate the missing children.

One issue with the book is that I never entirely believed that the narrative voice was that of a thirteen year old girl, even a precocious one who’s well on her way to taking her Latin GCSE early. There was a lot of Peter’s snark, and quite a lot of his knowledge of architecture as well. There’s a few “yoof” slang thrown in, but I still don’t quite buy it.

That’s a fairly minor quibble though. This is a great fun novella, that deepens Abigail’s character, and gives her some secrets and leverage of her own (can’t wait to find out what comes of her contact with Simon’s mum). Nightingale is present, albeit as very much a background character, and the other recurring cast don’t appear at all. This is pretty much all about Abigail, although Simon is interesting, and Simon’s mum is terrifying.

This scratches my Rivers of London itch for the moment, but I’m very much looking forward to the next full novel.

Book details

ISBN: 9781473224346
Year of publication: 2021

Rivers of London Volume 8: The Fey and the Furious

By Ben Aaronovitch

Rating: 4 stars

Alongside the excellent pun in the title, this is probably one of the better recent Peter Grant graphic novels, as the Folly is called to investigate a drowned boy racer with a boot full of very unusual cargo. Once again, Peter finds himself entangled with the fey, reliant only on his wits to help him through.

Moreso than even usual, this graphic novel was Grant-heavy, with minimal appearances from Nightingale and Guleed (and none whatsoever from Molly, boo). There was an incident with Guleed that I think would have been interesting to expand upon, although with space restrictions, they made do with what they could, and the visual medium does help here, with facial expressions and body language.

The artist has changed again for this story. They’re good, and handle the fast action of the car racing well, but I still miss Lee Sullivan.

The story is very plot-heavy, with little character development, and possibly the most interesting snippet in that area comes right at the end, with some internal captions from Beverley musing on her relationship with Peter which is both sweet and kind of ominous.

Like the last volume, there’s some articles at the end discussing the historical background to some of the story elements, including street racing and fairy myth. These are interesting, but I’d have preferred it if the text were in straight columns rather than at an angle. It might look cool, but it does make it a bit harder to read.

All in all, a fun, standalone story. Not essential, but a good read for fans of Peter Grant and his world.

Book details

ISBN: 9781785865862

False Value (Rivers of London #8)

By Ben Aaronovitch

Rating: 4 stars

Following the dramatic events at the end of the last book, Peter is nominally still suspended, but with fatherhood impending, he needs a job, so he joins security for the Serious Cybernetics Corporation, a new startup by one of the less-flashy silicon valley tech bros. Peter settles down fairly quickly, but soon realises that there’s something strange, and possibly magical, going on up on the top floor of the building.

It’s odd seeing Peter outwith the support network of the Met, but he’s still got his informal network to rely on, and he’s now moved in with Beverley. The police are still very much involved, and Nightingale, Guleed et al make their appearances.

Spoiler
And, of course, it only lasts long enough to tell us that Peter’s currently working under cover.

As others have noted, there’s an awful lot of Hitchhikers’ references in this book, but while others found it irritating, it seems to me that it’s appropriately over the top for a silicon valley tech startup that’s wanting to appear to be “hip” and “cool” (for nerdy values of “hip” and “cool”).

This book finds Peter more aware of Beverley’s status as a goddess, and getting a bit worried by things that happen around her, and the actions that she feels she needs to take. Maksim, for example, until now, has mostly been played for humour, but Peter’s now worrying about free will and whether it’s ethical for Bev to put her influence over him, and others she comes into contact with. It’s not easy dating a deity, and it’ll be interesting to see where this goes in future volumes.

No Lesley May in this one, but the magical world has been expanded again, this time with more details of American magic, and especially the Librarians (no, not those Librarians). There’s also been some seeds planted for the future, and possibly a new nemesis coming up.

All in all, a worthy entry to the canon. But you can’t just drop in the suggestion that the London Underground possible has its own genius loci and then walk away like that. I’m outraged. Outraged, I tell you!

Book details

ISBN: 9781473229761

Rivers of London Volume 7: Action at a Distance

By Ben Aaronovitch, Andrew Cartmel, Brian Williamson

Rating: 3 stars

A funeral is an occasion for Nightingale to suggest that Peter Grant do some reading in the Folly archives, and what he finds sheds a bit of light on his governor’s mysterious past. This is quite a slight story, but it’s nice to see a bit of what went on with the Folly in the years before Peter, when Nightingale was the only official wizard in England. This sheds little light on the time during the War, which is sort of the period that I’m most curious about, but a post-war event.

This story, set mostly in 1957, and touching on the Windscale fire that was the turning point of the British love affair with all things nuclear, is interesting and fun, but I’m sort of disappointed that Nightingale didn’t get to take on Fischer properly. We’ve seen magician to magician battles so rarely (the Faceless Man is about the only worthy opponent that we’ve seen in the books, and he couldn’t come close to touching Nightingale in a fair fight) that it felt like a missed opportunity.

The main artist of the series has changed with this volume, losing some of the distinctive “cartoon-iness” of the series. The replacement is decent and workmanlike and, no doubt, I’ll get used to it, but I do miss Lee Sullivan’s work.

So a fun story, all in all, but not essential, and not as much a delve into Nightingale’s psyche as I might have hoped for.

Book details

ISBN: 9781785865466
Publisher: Titan Comics
Year of publication: 2019

Neverwhere

By Neil Gaiman

Rating: 4 stars

Richard Mayhew is just an average guy who performs an act of kindness, and, in return, finds himself thrown out of the life he knew, and deep into an underworld, beneath and around his London. He has to help the girl Door to find out who killed her family and perhaps in doing so, can get his life back.

I think this may have been one of the first books I encountered in the “magical London” subgenre. Back then, just after having seen the TV series that it was written alongside, it was new and fresh. It still retains some of that power, although I’m more worldweary of that particular subgenre now (I am totally there, however, for magical Glasgow, of which there is far too little literature). I must confess that I mostly visualise the book through the TV series. In particular, the Beast of London always makes me giggle a bit, as it’s a highland coo in cosplay. Croup and Vandemar, on the other hand, are truly chilling, as portrayed by Hywel Bennett and Clive Russell respectively.

Richard, is our everyman protagonist, and we explore London Below through his eyes, as he first tries desperately to find his way home, and later, as he starts to become accustomed to this new life. What mostly strikes me about Richard is that he is kind, not necessarily a survival trait in this world (or, one might say, if feeling cynical, for a Londoner in general). He got sucked into the world because he couldn’t leave a young woman to bleed out on the street, and all his later actions are also to be seen in this light (when he’s not doing his best Arthur Dent impression of confused bewilderment; at least Richard can get a decent cup of tea).

Door is more a macguffin than a character, although I like both Hunter and the Marquis de Carabas. I’ve already mentioned Croup and Vandemar, who feel like the best characters in the whole book, at times; their somewhat comic exteriors never distracting from the terror that they beget.

It’s not a hugely complex book (certainly nothing compared to, say, Sandman or American Gods) but it’s good old-fashioned hero’s journey, and Richard is a hero you’ll be happy to trod alongside.

Book details

Publisher: Headline Feature
Year of publication: 1996

The October Man (Rivers of London, #7.5)

By Ben Aaronovitch

Rating: 3 stars

This novella is a bit more substantial than The Furthest Station and is the first mainstream work that moves away from the PoV of Peter Grant. Looking at the GR series for the Rivers of London I did notice the name of Tobias Winter though, so it turns out that this wasn’t his appearance in the series, even if the previous one was a flash fiction piece on Aaronovitch’s blog summarising the lead up to Tobias becoming a practitioner.

In this novella, Tobias is well on that journey, and is sent to investigate the potentially magical death of a man in the city of Trier. His local liaison is Vanessa Sommer (and more than one person cracks a joke at the expense of Winter and Sommer) who turns out to be competent, enthusiastic and ambitious.

Although we’re not in London any more, the local river goddess does make an appearance and Tobias is a decent enough Peter Grant substitute. I do miss the familiar crowd though. I liked both Tobias and Vanessa, but the former doesn’t really have a distinct narrative voice for me, and it did feel like Aaronovitch spent a long time covering basics that readers would really be familiar with by now, after seven novels, six graphic novels and a handful of short stories. Although, to be fair, it is interesting to see the German perspective on things that we think we’re familiar with.

That’s really the most interesting thing about this story, really: seeing familiar things from a different perspective and seeing how another culture deals with magic. Towards the end of The Hanging Tree Peter Grant muses on establishing communications with other national magical police forces. It’s clear from Tobias that this hasn’t happened yet (although Tobias keeps tabs on Peter, he doesn’t think that Peter knows about him) and that would make for an interesting story.

Book details

ISBN: 9781473228665
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 2019

Codex Born (Magic Ex Libris, #2)

By Jim C. Hines

Rating: 4 stars

The second volume of the Magic Ex Libris series kicks off a few months after the first, with Isaac, Lena and Nedhi chasing after someone who murdered a wendigo. There’s a girl who can use e-readers for libriomancy (something thought to be impossible) and someone who’s after Lena and her own powers.

Like its predecessor, this is a fun book. Isaac is a very likeable protagonist, the love triangle between him, Lena and Nidhi is sensitively handled and you can’t complain about lack of action. In fact, if I had one complaint, I’d say that at times you barely had time to breathe between big set-pieces where things were exploding, being captured, breaking free etc.

I wasn’t really sure what to make of Janeta and her abilities. Being introduced in the opening chapter, she felt like a Chekov’s Gun, but (given the epilogue) it seems that she’s being held back for the next book.

I must confess that the ending, with Isaac having his magic taken away, blindsided me. I wasn’t expecting that. Well, maybe not so early in the series. I thought maybe it might go a bit Earthsea, and he’d lose it in the final showdown in the final book, but this is intriguing. I assume that he’ll get it back since otherwise, the next couple of books are going to be short!

An enjoyable and fairly short and easy read. I look forward to getting the next book in the series.

Book details

ISBN: 9780091953461
Publisher: Del Rey
Year of publication: 2013

The Witch at Wayside Cross

By Lisa Tuttle

Rating: 3 stars

Picking up where the first book left off, this novel sees our intrepid detectives with a dead man in their hall. The police chalk it down to natural causes, but they aren’t so sure. The trail leads them to a small village in Norfolk and more mysteries sprout up as they investigate.

I didn’t really enjoy this one as much as its predecessor. There was no single villain with the presence or charisma of Mr Chase and the three mysteries never really gelled that well for me. I’m also surprised that the discussion of Lane’s abilities were never mentioned at all, given their importance in the first. In fact, there was very little here to count as supernatural. Yes, there was talk of witches and magic killings, but who needs magic when you’ve got a knowledge of botanicals? And the whole subplot of the fair folk kidnapping Maria’s child just seemed to fizzle out.

I found Di Lane less engaging as a protagonist in this one too. She seemed to miss obvious clues and was generally a bit slower on the uptake than I would have expected of her. I also found Jesperson slightly more annoying as well.

Despite being negative in this review, I still read the book avidly and, for the most part, enjoyed it. I’ll look out for the next book in the series, but won’t jump at it.

Book details

ISBN: 9780857054555
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Year of publication: 2017

Libriomancer

By Jim C. Hines

Rating: 4 stars

A book about a secret society of magicians who do magic through their love of books?! How could I not love this? Isaac is a libriomancer, someone with the power to reach into a book and pull out objects (and, in rare cases, living creatures) to use in our world. Johannes Gutenberg created libriomancy and he’s still around (thanks to supping from the holy grail) but he’s gone missing, and vampires are attacking libriomancers and those close to them. It’s up to Isaac, along with the dryad Lena Greenwood, to discover what’s going on.

This was a lot of fun. The book was incredibly readable. It’s not hugely complex but the characters are enjoyable and the reason that Lena seeks out Isaac makes for an interesting dilemma, and moreso when a revelation makes that more complicated. I’m not entirely comfortable with the ethics of Lena’s situation (i.e. a magical creature, created in a book to be a man’s fantasy and moulded to his personality) but I think it’s handled well. I’ll look forward to looking out the next book in the series.

Book details

ISBN: 9780091953454
Publisher: Del Rey
Year of publication: 2012

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