BooksOfTheMoon

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

The Somnambulist and the Psychic Thief

By Lisa Tuttle

Rating: 4 stars

We first encounter Miss Lane on a train from Scotland, bound for London, having just abandoned her erstwhile friend Miss Fox while investigating a haunted house, after discovering signs of the latter perpetrating a fraud. Back in London, needing a job, Miss Lane sees an advert for an assistant to a consulting detective. The rest, as they say, is history. This is a fun twist on the Holmes genre, with Miss Lane working much more alongside her comrade, Mr Jesperson, than Watson did. It also draws on the fascination with the paranormal that existed in the Victorian era, as the duo try to discern the connection between a sleepwalker and the mediums who are going missing in London.

Miss Lane (who really doesn’t like her first name) is a nice character, who I enjoyed spending time with. She’s very aware of her position as an active working partner in an era where women mostly didn’t do that. Her past doesn’t come up much, but what is mentioned is interesting and will hopefully be expanded in future books. Jesperson is an interesting character too. A consulting detective who lives with his mum and who still has the occasional strop. He’s certainly no Holmes, but he’s got much more personality than Holmes, even if it is occasionally childlike.

The villain of the piece is a truly horrible creation. Several times, I wanted to put the book down and wipe my hands, since they felt dirty just holding the book in his scenes. His pleasure in controlling and humiliating his victims, especially the women, sent shivers of revulsion down my spine. What’s depressing is that someone gaining pleasure from power over others is entirely an everyday occurrence (albeit in this case, taken to extremes).

The last chapter takes us right into the next mystery for the intrepid duo, and hopefully more discussion of the history of both our central characters (and maybe some discussion about what happened with Miss Fox, given that following her reappearance in the story, the original reason for Miss Lane’s flight wasn’t discussed at all).

Book details

ISBN: 9781784299620
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Year of publication: 2016

Midnight Blue-Light Special (InCryptid, #2)

By Seanan McGuire

Rating: 4 stars

The second volume of McGuire’s InCryptid series picks up with Verity Price some months after the end of Discount Armageddon. In that book, the Covenant threat to New York really wasn’t one at all, while in this one, that threat finally arrives, in full force. Verity is completely thrown by this and anguishes over which way Dominic will go while at the same time she has to protect her city’s cryptids from the Covenant.

I enjoyed this book a lot. Verity is a fun narrator and I enjoyed spending time in her head. We also get a second narrator for part of this book in the form of Verity’s cousin Sarah, the telepathic, maths-loving, adorkable cuckoo, and we get to see more of their family. Despite this, Verity, and her relationship with Dominic, are very much at the heart of the book.

If it had one major weakness, I felt that it was the Covenant. When they do turn up and things turn nasty for Verity, they feel very much like cartoon villains. They all but twirl their moustaches. I sort of feel that they would have felt like more of a threat if they’d been at all relatable. If they could have threatened Verity’s worldview, not just her life, that would be a threat. But they’re oddly bland. The best we can get is that they’re religious fundamentalists, and that would be an angle worth exploring (especially in a post-9/11 world) but they didn’t even get any decent monologues.

On the other side, the cryptid community does get some expansion. The bits where they all group together to help rescue Verity and show solidarity in diversity were probably the bits that made my heart swell the most. Even the Aeslin mice got some cool stuff to do (while still being most adorable). And the contrast between the warmth and humanity of the “monsters” versus the lack of empathy and zeal of the Covenant was hardly subtle.

So a very fun, very lightweight, novel. The world continues to be fun and I’m looking forward to exploring it more in the volumes to come.

Book details

ISBN: 9780756407926
Publisher: DAW Books Inc
Year of publication: 2013

Discount Armageddon (InCryptid, #1)

By Seanan McGuire

Rating: 4 stars

The Price family have been cryptozoologists for generations, studying and protecting mythical creatures — cryptids — from humans (and sometimes vice versa). But Verity Price wants to be more, she wants to be a ballroom dancer! But when cryptids start disappearing, and the Prices’ old enemy, the Covenant, reappears, it’s up to Verity to protect her city. If she can do it backwards and in high heels, so much the better.

This was such a fun book. Verity is a great protagonist and narrator. The story bounces along at a good pace and you’re never far from a decent action scene. It’s moderately predictable and when tall, dark and brooding turns up, you won’t have to work hard to guess a) who he is and b) that they’ll end up doing the horizontal tango. But it’s an enjoyable romance and he’s a decent character, who’s given room to evolve. Verity does sometimes feel like she auditioned for Buffy, but has enough of her own personality and the twist of the Prices wanting to protect the cryptids from humans keeps it from feeling too familiar.

This is a book that’s made much easier to read in the age of the Internet, where if I don’t recognise what a therianthrope is, I can just google it (humans who can shapeshift into an animal, so a more general sort of werewolf), but McGuire keeps such interruptions limited, so it’s not something that ever becomes frustrating.

There are plenty more books in the series, which is fine by me. The world is big and interesting enough to make more visits welcome.

Book details

ISBN: 9781472113139
Publisher: Corsair
Year of publication: 2012

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