Moon over Soho

Overall Moon over Soho was worth the effort, there’s some character progression, further twists to the overall story arc, and enough laughs, smiles and chuckles to get through the pain.

I really enjoyed Rivers of London, the first book in this series, and I had pretty high hopes for Moon over Soho, the second outing of DC Grant.  DC Peter Grant does for London Coppers what Dresden did for Chicago Private Investigators.  In Rivers of London Grant discovers that he’s got hidden talents of the magical variety, luckily for him, there’s a special division of the London Metropolitan Police that covers that kind of thing.  However, it turns out it’s a one man band, so when DC Peter Grant joins he doubles the size of the entire department.

Moon over Soho picks up a short while after the first book and deals with the repercussions of the case DC Grant solved.  However, our protagonist doesn’t have to wait long before he’s involved in a new investigation, and the continued development of a case that started in the previous book.  I do like the way Ben Aaronovitch ties the books together, these are clearly part of a broader story.  However, despite that, and despite the case being quite interesting – I really struggled through the first two thirds of Moon over Soho (well, perhaps 3/5ths).

The case revolves around mysteriously dying Jazz musicians, and as well as having quite a sluggish pace, DC Grant fails early on to spot the massive white elephant in the room.  It’s sometimes okay for authors to pretend their protagonists are dumb, and sometimes it’s enjoyable for readers to shout ‘he’s behind you’, but DC Grant isn’t stupid.  It felt entirely out of character that he didn’t spot the critically important elements in the investigation, where-as the writing made it entirely obvious to the reader.  I’m skirting the subject, because I don’t want to spoil the book too much if you do read it, but essentially within a few moments of meeting a key witness in the case, it was obvious to me what was going on.

Not the fine detail, that gets worked out at the end (more on that in a bit), but certainly the broad brush-strokes of what was happening.  I took no pleasure in finding out I was right, and I didn’t enjoy watching Peter stumble around building up a picture of something that should have been crying out at him very early on.  Either Ben didn’t realise readers would pick up on it so easily, or he had hoped to introduce some element of feeling worried for Peter.  Sadly, I just spent most of the first part of the book being angry.  It felt like Aaronovitch was using Peter’s stupidity or blindness as a plot device.

However, I stuck with it, the rest of the case is still engaging, the dialogue and writing is still witty, and in general, there was enough to keep me interested and carry me through to the final third of the book.  Which is a pretty good thing, because that’s where Ben hit his stride and the story really gets going.  As with the first book there are really 2 or 3 cases going on here at once, and Peter slides between them as required.  When the pace begins to accelerate in the later section, we see some characters in a new light, get to experience some truly powerful magical demonstrations and watch DC Grant cause untold mayhem (again).

I like the introduction of real Police behaviour in this book (and the last), and it’s good to see that being blended with the magic, rather than just ignored because it’s inconvenient.  Overall Moon over Soho was worth the effort, there’s some character progression, further twists to the overall story arc, and enough laughs, smiles and chuckles to get through the pain.

The book ends as it starts, with Lesley, and a startling revelation.  Hopefully the third book will be more consistent, and show more respect for the ability of the main character.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Ben Aaronovitch
  • Series: Rivers of London (2)
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Rivers of London

Over the last few days I picked up and put down two or three books from Grete’s insane to-read pile, reading the first 10 or 15 pages, trying to find something to peak my interest. I tried a little bit of sci-fi, a little bit of fantasy and even some survival horror. However, it took only six pages of Rivers of London to know that I was hooked and that this was the lucky winner in the ‘what will Tony read next’ competition.

Ben’s writing is engaging, clear and easy to read.  His characters are rich from the outset and get more complex as the story goes on, and his take on London Urban Fantasy (should be a sub-genre in its own right) is both unique and compelling.

The book is populated by solid, realistic British coppers, and if Ben hasn’t worked for the police it would seem he certainly has someone on the inside (or, he’s good at research, but that didn’t sound as exciting).  The police procedure elements of the story were interesting and provide a good backdrop to the drama.  They ground the tale in a believable reality, despite the very rapid introduction of ghosts, wizards and other mythical beings.

Our main protagonist, Constable Peter Grant, discovers very early on that he can see ghosts and sense magic, which is just about all that saves him from a life stuck pushing paper around in the worst part of the police force.  He, his friend and fellow copper Lesley May and England’s Last Wizard, Inspector Nightingale, embark on a dangerous murder investigation where the felon is clearly not playing by the same rules.

Although the introduction of magic and ghosts happens quickly, Ben doesn’t dwell on people accepting or disbelieving it all.  Instead, we get a stoic acceptance that this kind of thing goes on, and if it goes on, it has to be handled, and if it’s going to be handled, then the Constabulary should be the people to handle it.

The pace is solid, and builds nicely towards the end.  There are really two stories going on here, the crime that Peter and Nightingale investigate, but also, the topic the book title alludes to.  The involvement of modern day living representations of the rivers of London is unique and one of the things that sets this book apart from what could have been a pastiche of Felix Castor or Harry Dresden.

Throughout the tale we are given hints of a dark past for magic and an agreement, and hence room to grow the back story.  We also get clear hints that Inspector Nightingale is more than he appears to be.  We barely scratch the surface of the mystery of the Folly and its even more mysterious maid, Molly.

Added to all of this, Ben Aaronovitch clearly doesn’t shirk away from putting his major characters at risk, and I’ll say no more than that so as not to spoil anything.

I described this book on twitter as “like blancmange with a severed finger in it – light and fluffy but filled with gore“.  The scenes are vivid, the magic is believable, the characters are engaging, rich and well thought out, and there are some really clever scenes.  Rivers of London is a superb example of what urban fantasy is all about.  You will not be disappointed.

Rating: ★★★★¼ 

Book Information
  • Author: Ben Aaronovitch
  • Series: Rivers of London (1)
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Ghost Story

It’s incredibly hard to write this review without spoilers.  I keep wanting to go ‘ooh and there was this and that!!’ but I shall try not to spoil it. If you haven’t read Changes yet though, you need to go and read that first, before Ghost Story.  You just have to!

This book has so much that is good about it.  The humour, drama, action scenes; all part of Jim Butcher’s unique and engaging writing style, but in Ghost Story, somehow he’s turned that dial up to eleven.  It is simply phenomenal and such a fantastic read that I couldn’t put it down.  I laughed out loud, I cried, I even shouted at one point, so I’m glad I was reading it at home.

I think the best of Harry comes out in this book.  Because of his situation, he has to think and plan, rather than fireball first and ask questions later.  It lets you see more of the man behind the wizard and how intelligent he really is.  That’s not to say he isn’t still running full pelt into trouble, he wouldn’t be the Harry we know and love if he wasn’t.  Just without his usual methods of dealing with things, he has to get… creative.  I also have to highlight the puns and pop culture references in this book, they provided much needed laughter and were brilliantly used.

The pace of the books in the Dresden Files is as much a part of Butcher’s style as the stories are, and Ghost Story is right there, leaving you breathless.  There are moments of reflection and realisation but they are most definitely the calm before the storm.  You know it’s only a brief respite, time to gather yourself, before you are off again.  In some books that relentless pace might be considered a bad thing but in this series it’s an integral part of the experience, and I would be disappointed if it was any different.

The story itself is amazingly well written, gripping and has more twists and turns than a twisty turny thing.  There is one definitive ‘Oh my God‘ moment and it was gloriously done and I did not see it coming.  At all.  If you’ve read it, you will know exactly what I mean.  If you haven’t, hopefully you will have to read it now!

Because of the events in Changes, some of the usual cast of characters are different and not necessarily in a good way.  You see the effect Harry has on the people in his life and what happens when he is not there for a time.  I fear some things are too broken now to repair, but I still hold out hope.  Just two simple paragraphs towards the end reduced me to tears, and they weren’t even about any of the human cast.  The characters, as always, are vivid and well realised.

The Dresden Files is a series that just gets better and better, and I honestly think this is the best one so far.  So much so, I worry where it goes from here, can it actually get any better?  Does it need to?  I don’t have an answer to that other than, I need the next one now!

Jim Butcher is the absolute ruler and master of Urban Fantasy and long may he reign!

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Book Information
  • Author: Jim Butcher
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Buy from Amazon (UK)

Changes

Harry Dresden, the only Wizard in the phone book is in for the shock of his life.  After a phone call from his ex-girlfriend Susan rocks his world, he realises Arianna Ortega has sworn revenge for the death of her husband and she is going to get it by killing his daughter.

The White Council, still reeling from betrayal and foolishly trying to garner peace with the Red Court vampires can’t help him and his list of allies is thin.  Those who mean the most to him however are ready to stand and fight by his side and Harry must find a way to take on the Red King and the entire Red Court, or lose the daughter he’d never known about.  With few options open to him, some of them down a very dark road, and growing more desperate, he must choose the best way he can to save his daughter and his friends.

Since Changes is the twelfth  book in the Dresden Files series, there are certain things you have come to expect.  Fast paced action, Harry being witty, heroic in the face of all evil and being regularly beaten into a pulp.  This book has all that and much, much more.  The very first sentence of the first paragraph gives you a big UH-OH moment and really, it doesn’t stop til the OH MY GOD moment at the end of the book.  It’s an emotional, engaging, gritty ride that doesn’t really let up apart from the laugh out loud sections that Butcher has such a talent for.

This book is a much more personal look into Harry’s life and what he believes in than previous novels.  The sections that show just what he’s capable of and willing to do for those he loves reduced me to tears.  I really can’t say more than that without spoiling it.

I absolutely love these books and while they have never become formulaic and samey for me, some are better than others and I honestly feel Changes is one of the best.  The title says it all really, there are some big changes in store for Harry and if you like this series, it’s an absolute must read.  Jim Butcher at his very best.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Book Information
  • Author: Jim Butcher
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Buy from Amazon (UK)

Turn Coat

Harry Dresden is used to being in over his head where the supernatural community is concerned, even used to it turning up on his doorstep.  When a severely wounded Morgan, Warden and Executioner for the White Council (and regular pain in Harry’s ass) turns up at his door asking for help, Harry is of the mind to refuse.   Morgan is accused of murder and the penalty for the crime is death, along with anyone who helps him.  In spite of overwhelming evidence Harry knows Morgan is innocent and there is something much larger happening.  Can he let an innocent man (even if it is Morgan) die for a crime he didn’t commit and can he stop the plot that threatens to bring the entire White Council down?  Most sane men would turn Morgan in but hey, this is Harry.

Wow.  That’s the first word that sprang to mind when I finished Turn Coat and I even had to sit and reflect for a while.  You get answers to some questions that have been running through several books, new questions needing answers and some truly emotional scenes.  Harry as usual is in over his head and the highly entertaining part is how he gets out of it, with mind, skin and bone mostly intact.  I feel that Harry has become just that bit more mature as well, while the usual supporting cast are there, by and large, he figures things out on his own.

Jim Butcher has such an entertaining writing style that lets you get up close and personal with his characters and this latest and 11th book in the Dresden Files certainly has that, in spades.  Many a long running series can suffer with the reuse of plot, phrases and same old descriptions of characters but I can honestly say there is nothing like that here.  The only downside I can think of is that it will be another year til the next one is released.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Book Information
  • Author: Jim Butcher
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Buy from Amazon (UK)