Friday, December 19, 2014

Book Review: Foxglove Summer


Ben Aaronovitch's Peter Grant series was one my big literary discoveries of last year, something that had slipped under my radar until I was lent the first three, which I devoured in quick succession. I guess they're best described as "Modern Urban Fantasy", mixing contemporary London with a hidden world of magic and assorted supernatural entities, and a healthy dash of Police Procedural. There's a lot of fun world-building, some interesting new twists, and above all a great sense of character right in the front and centre, making them books that are a pleasure to read and spent time in. Foxglove Summer is the fifth in the series, and it's largest departure to date. 

As the series has progressed, each (mostly) stand-alone novel has introduced more and more in a number of on-going plots, seeming to be leading up to some sort of dramatic event in the near future. The last book, Broken Homes, actually felt slightly hobbled by this, in my opinion, as it seemed to upset the books pacing, especially around the last third. It wasn't bad, of course, as the fundamentals of the series are pretty excellent, but it didn't quite feel as satisfying as it maybe could have done, perhaps due to so much left hanging or partially explained. It's interesting, then, that Foxglove Summer decides to take a huge detour all the way out of London, and all these slowing simmering plots, to the countryside and a whole different take on the Peter Grants world. 

The initial spur for this move is a missing children case - the sort of story that happens from time, the mysterious and (sadly, too often) tragic vanishing in quiet, isolated parts of the country. With the story being reported on, Peter is dispatched to check on a local retired practitioner, just to make sure its a "mundane" horrible missing children case rather than a supernatural one. Obviously, it turns out to the be the latter, otherwise we'd have a very short book, but it unfolds in nicely, alongside a tour of the supernatural landscape of Britain outside of London itself. 

It also serves to remove Peter from the "main" storylines, and whilst they do continue to progress in the background, it leaves Foxglove Summer standing on it's on feet and telling it's own story. What this results in is a focused, well told story that reminds of what I really liked about Rivers of London in the first place, that well balanced blend of different things. We do get a lot of insight into some of the wider picture - more on Nightingale, for instance, and more on the Genus Loci, and more of Britain Mythic past and how it intersects with the present. It goes to some familiar places, of course, but in neat and clever ways, and Peter remains a great set of grounded eyes into a world that is strange and fantastical. It's also nice to see Beverley back in a major way. 

If Broken Homes was the series looking in danger of tripping over it's own ongoing mythology, then Foxglove Summer is a breath of fresh air that still manages to keep all the balls in the air whilst breaking some new ground. Gosh thats some mixed metaphor right there, sorry. And it probably sounds like I'm doing on Broken Homes,w hich I still enjoyed, but with reservations that simply don't exist in the newer book. So if you've not read this series yet, you need to to, and on the strength of this entry, it shows no sign of slowing down yet.