The fourth installment (I believe of six) in the magical police procedural series focussing on PC Peter Grant, apprentice wizard and policeman in the Met. I ‘blogged about the previous book, Whispers Underground, a while back, commenting on the downward turn in quality from the first two, and the tragic lack of Thomas Nightingale. In Book 4, the quality hasn’t, I’m afraid, taken a massive upswing… but at least there’s a lot more Nightingale again, for which we can all be thankful.
As per the rest of the series, Aaronovitch continues to try to make a book about magic as policey as he possibly can. There is a lot of attention paid to details which might otherwise appear tedious, but because of their contrast to the magical bulk of the book, seem kind of charming. It also just, because of this focus, feels very different to most magical fantasy I’ve read. It’s refreshing. This aspect hasn’t changed at all throughout the series, and I’m extremely glad. What has changed is the quality of the plotting and general story. The first book is just… wow. Second book… still pretty good but not amazing. Third another small step down. This one doesn’t quite continue the trend of sequel-suckage, but doesn’t quite hike all the way back up to the second book’s quality either. It’s cool and interesting, but it’s just not that exciting. I wanted to read it, but more because I was interested in extending my knowledge of the world Aaronovitch creates than because I had a desperate need to know what would happen next. It’s not that it’s predictable… just that it’s not incredibly inspired either.
Add to this the fact that his character creation isn’t really on par with his better qualities. Peter Grant is, to me, fundamentally unlikeable. He’s a bit up himself, in some respects, and the way his relationships are handled is just annoying. They sort of pop in and out without resolutions or real focus. It also makes the book’s interaction with the river people kind of… hazy and intermittent, which is really annoying as they are genuinely interesting and part of what made the first book so fantastic.
That said, the plot for Book 4 is better than 3, and Lesley’s character gets a bit more fleshing out, as does Nightingale’s, to the joyous applause of all spectators. We also get a new bit of folklore, some new magic, a new practitioner and plenty more London-facts to keep us interested. I read it in about a day, too, so it’s light reading and moreish enough that I didn’t want to leave it alone for all that long.
Sort of spoiler tags now (well, I’m hinting rather than spoiling but I feel I ought to warn anyway): there is something of a massive twist at the end. I texted a friend I’d finished reading it and his response was “dun dun duuuuuhhhh”. It was pretty appropriate. I genuinely cannot wait for the next book to come out so I can find out what the hell happens. An actually tense cliffhanger is a marvel and a wonder and I treasure it (while hating it and needing to know right now goddamnit). There are a lot of loose ends created in the book, actually. Some minor and some less so, but all interesting enough that I need to have them resolved next book to stop myself from fidgeting over them. There is even hinting that we might get some explanation about the mystery of Molly, the silent and strangely determined Edwardian-style housemaid, cook and general lady-who-does-for-people (while still being a magical monster who eats raw meat). Which is something that has been bugging me since book one.
All in all, a decent book and one that I was keen to read all the way through to the end, even if not for the actual plot. I look forward to the next book, and encourage strongly anyone who likes slightly quirky fantasy to read the series because it is totally worth it. This particular book is not completely amazing, but the series as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts and I have no regrets about the time I spend reading it.
Seriously. Go read it now.