Tag Archives: Ben Aaronovich

My Top Ten Fantasy Reads (including series)

Standard

Thanks to Anastasia’s blog, which I reblogged here, there was a fair amount of interest in favourite fantasy books – many thanks Dylan Hearn for going to the trouble of giving us your list as well. So here is mine, in no particular order:-

1. Among Others by Jo Waltonamong others
This is an amazing book. In fact, ALL of Walton’s books are amazing, from Tooth and Claw right through to My Real Children. But Among Others has an extra dose of awesomeness. I happen to think she is one of the finest speculative fiction writers of this generation. I met her once, before I’d read any of her books and now fervently hope I get a chance to meet her again, though I’d probably embarrass myself with inappropriate fangirl noises.

2. The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart
A firm family favourite, I just love the writing in this small children’s book – and even having read it aloud at various times to various classes and my own children and grandchildren, the ending still brings a lump to my throat…

3. The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, starting with Storm Front + 14 others…
Set in Chicago, this urban fantasy series is about a snippy wizard who has trouble with authority and takes it on himself to try and right supernatural wrongs. It’s funny, sharp and entertaining.

4. The Realm of the Elderlings series by Robin Hobb, comprising The Farseer Trilogy, Liveship Traders Trilogy, The Tawny Man Trilogy, The Rain Wild Chronicles and The Fitz and the Fool Trilogy
I absolutely second those of you who nominated this wide-ranging, epic series – wonderful and magical slice of fantasy building…

5. The Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch, starting with Rivers of London + 4 others so far…
This sharp and interesting crime fantasy series took this sub-genre and nocked up the quality a notch. Though at times London descriptions occasionally become a little OTT, Peter Grant is a wonderful character and the narrative arc is going off in a fascinating direction.

6. The Magicals Anonymous series by Kate Griffin – Stray Souls and The Glass God so far…
This London-based urban fantasy series is a spinoff from Griffin’s the Midnight Mayor series and has all the superb descriptions we grew to love in those particular books, but with more wonderful humorous touches that regularly has me laughing out aloud. If you haven’t ever read her – do so, she’s a treat.

7. The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin – The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdoms and The Kingdom of Gods
When I first picked up The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, I simply couldn’t wrap my head around this wonderful writing and the sheer originality of the worlds. And years later after first reading it, the world still resonates in my head…

8. The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway
Like Jo Walton’s offering, this is simply a remarkable book with one of the greatest twist endings I’ve ever read…

9. The Glass Thorns series by Melanie Rawn – Touchstone, Elsewhens and Thornlost so far…
Again, an awesome, original series that has enriched my inscape and every book has me pining for more, as this magical theatrical cast manages to create something unique and special…

10. The Discworld series by Terry Pratchett, starting with The Colour of Magic + 39 others…
colourofmagicI’ve read ‘em all, loved most of them – and I don’t think any serious list of fantasy books could leave the Great Man off. He took the genre by the scruff of the neck, shook it thoroughly and left it forever altered. May he rest in peace…

Because it’s my blog, I can ALSO mention Fantasy authors it HURT to leave out – Juliet E. McKenna, Diana Wynne Jones, Miles Cameron, Cressida Cowell, Charlaine Harris, James Lovegrove, Sharon Lee and Tanya Huff…

Review of EBOOK Broken Homes – Book 4 of the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovich

Standard

I have read and enjoyed the other three books in this police procedural urban fantasy series set in London. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure, don’t start with Broken Homes, give yourself a treat and tuck into the first book, Rivers of London.

brokenhomesA 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 an 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?

This excellent series has a number of distinguishing features that separate it from many other offerings in this crowded genre – for starters, it is a police procedural crime drama, told from the first person viewpoint of P.C. Peter Grant, who works for the magical division of the Met. Grant’s voice is wryly humorous and more than a tad cynically weary and – unlike many urban fantasy protagonists – he is fond and reasonably close to his family and regularly alludes to his parents and their opinions. He is also mixed race and casually defines most characters by their skin colour – including the whites. Grant is also good-looking, and like many physically attractive young men, rather spoilt and definitely wary of any kind of commitment. It also has left him with a rather cool, appraising eye regarding the opposite sex which isn’t a particularly pleasant trait – but rings so very true.  As a junior member of the team, headed up by Nightingale, his superior officer, Grant is regularly involved in departmental tussles as the cases stack up. Unlike many other urban crime mysteries, Grant isn’t permitted the luxury of working on a single case – not until he and Lesley get to go undercover in the hopes of flushing out their nemesis, the Faceless Man.

Aaronovich isn’t afraid to slow the pace right down in order to furnish his readers with a wealth of detail about various places in London, or exactly how the brutalist tower block that provides the backdrop for a chunk of novel is laid out. Some readers thoroughly enjoy these interludes, other find them exasperating. I have to say that I fall into the former camp – which is uncharacteristic as I am the first to have a good old moan when the adventure goes on hold while the alien planet’s weather system is discussed and described. Perhaps the reason I’ll cut Aaronovich such slack is that I particularly enjoy the strong Brit flavour of Grant’s voice, along with the cast of quirky characters. Although I could have done with more of Molly in this particular adventure, as she is one of my favourites and I want to know exactly who she is and more about her backstory. All we got was another slice of her odd cuisine and the fact that she is secretly using Peter’s computer in this book.

So is Broken Homes a worthy addition to this strong series? Absolutely. The major twist near the end was a plot development that I certainly didn’t see coming – and had me more than a little winded, and wanting very much to know how it will play out. So I will definitely be getting the next book in the series – which I’ll have to negotiate with Himself as to who will read it first.
9/10

Review of Whispers Underground – Book 3 in Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch

Standard

D.C. Peter Grant – U.K.’s answer to Harry Dresden – serves in a little known branch of the Metropolitan Police. So in this, the third book in the series does Aaronovitch manage to sustain the energy, quirky humour and detailed knowledge that has made this series so popular so quickly?

In Tuffnell Park, North London, a pair of railway tracks dive under a school, taking trains to and from Kings Cross. Wet, filthy, dangerous. Lovely place. And one Sunday before Christmas a sweet (sort of) kid called Abigail took me and my long-suffering Lesley May down there to look for a ghost.

We found one.

whispersundergroundAnd that was that, I thought, because come Monday, I get to do some proper policing. Persons Unknown has been stabbed to death on the tracks at Baker Street tube. Magic may have been involved. And sure enough, in the blood; vestigia, the tell-tale trail magic leaves. Person Unknown turns out to be the son of a US senator and before you can say ‘International Incident’, FBI agent Kimberley Reynolds and her firmly held religious beliefs are on my case. And down in the dark, in the tunnels of London’s Underground, the buried rivers, the Victorian sewers, I’m hearing whispers of ancient arts and tortured, vengeful spirits…

That’s the premise – and with that we are whisked off in Peter Grant’s engaging, chirpy first person viewpoint to a ringside seat as he embarks on another investigation. Once more, we are treated to his cinematic descriptions of the city he clearly loves and knows as well as a London cabbie, while he plunges into another plot more twisty than Mama Thames herself.

Lesley May is accompanying him for most of the ride – and the sparky, yet poignant interaction between the two of them lit up sections of the book for me. In any successful long-running series, it becomes as much about the supporting characters as the protagonist. Aaronovitch doesn’t rely solely on having one of the most cheekily engaging main characters to keep our interest – he also surrounds Peter with a quirky cast. This ranges from Molly, the housekeeper at The Folly (think Mrs Hudson with sharp teeth and chronic insomnia); Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, Peter’s boss and that last official English wizard, to the pantheon of headstrong river goddesses who all seem to have a bit of a thing for Peter…

Aaronovitch is a highly experienced writer and knows that one of his writing strengths is creating powerfully effective backdrops, providing mood music to the action. This book has underground tunnels as a creepy setting to the action – not just the Underground, but also slices of the complex warren that burrows under London for a variety of purposes. I’d strongly advise you to avoid reading the passages set in the sewer while eating your dinner – it’ll put you right off your food…

Whispers Underground is every bit as good as the first two books – if anything, better. Peter’s character sings off the page and as Aaronovitch refines and fleshes out the world and supporting cast, his voice gains in emotional depth and confidence. This is certainly one of 2012’s outstanding reads.
10/10

Review of Moon Over Soho – Book 2 of the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovich

Standard

Ben Aaronovich’s first book, Rivers of London, garnered a great deal of critical acclaim and positive attention from reviewers and critics alike. I certainly enjoyed it. So, does the sequel, released only a few months later by those busy folks at Orion, live up to the high standard set by the first book?

The song. That’s what London constable and sorcerer’s apprentice Peter Grant first notices when he examines the corpse of Cyrus moonoversohoWilkins, part-time jazz drummer and full-time accountant, who dropped dead of a heart attack while playing a gig at Soho’s 606 Club. The notes of the old jazz standard are rising from the body—a sure sign that something about the man’s death was not at all natural but instead supernatural.

Body and soul – they’re also what Peter will risk as he investigates a pattern of similar deaths in and around Soho. With the help of his superior officer, Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, the last registered wizard in England, and the assistance of beautiful jazz aficionado Simone Fitzwilliam, Peter will uncover a deadly magical menace – one that leads right to his own doorstep and to the squandered promise of a young jazz musician: a talented trumpet player named Richard “Lord” Grant – otherwise known as Peter’s dear old dad.

Apart from the fact that this book reaffirms Aaronovich’s detailed research/knowledge of London’s tucked-away corners and we learn that he is also a jazz nut – it also firmly establishes this series as One To Watch. Peter Grant is a delightful protagonist – funny, slightly vulnerable and insatiably curious. And someone who seems to trip over trouble with great frequency. I liked the way this book immediately picks up the threads from Rivers of London, so we get to see more of the engaging cast of characters. Molly is a standout favourite and I’m waiting to see her get a lot more action. Peter’s long-suffering mentor, DCI Nightingale is still recovering from the injuries he sustained at the climactic ending of Rivers of London, as is PC Lesley May, Peter’s girlfriend. We also get to see more of the river deities at the heart of this series and the adventure with Ash is one of the more exuberant set pieces in the middle of this fast-paced whodunit. It is a relief to have an urban fantasy protagonist who isn’t nursing all sorts of major emotional damage due to a dysfunctional upbringing. While Peter was raised in a tough part of town, he also has a strong, loving family around him – even if it was rather haphazard.

I sort of guessed who was responsible for killing off the jazz musicians well before the denouement – though that didn’t really matter. I hadn’t seen the how and besides there’s another case where the threat is even more deadly and is clearly going to be taking up Peter’s time in the next book. The humour threading through the story immediately drew me in and held me. I read the book in a single sitting – however, in devouring it so greedily I’m conscious that I’m selling this novel short. There is a wealth of detail packed alongside the engrossing storyline – descriptions of London haunts; snippets of magical lore and delightfully irreverent insights into police procedure. So you can pounce on it and gorge on the story, but I think this is also a book that would benefit from being reread at a slower pace to fully appreciate what Aaronovich has crafted and I’m very much looking forward to reading the next book in the series, Whispers Under Ground.
10/10