Wednesday, July 11, 2012

I Read Books: Moon Over Soho

1. The Preface, which is all about ME: This is a sequel to Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch, which I wrote a fair, restrained and generally positive review of back in January. I went out and bought Moon Over Soho and failed to review it for no very good reason. To celebrate the publication of the third book in the series I'm now going to talk about the second. IT MAKES SENSE TO ME.

2. The Premise, which is recycled from the first review: Our hero, Peter Grant, is a copper, a member of the Metropolitan Police Service. Having completed his two years probation he doesn't quite have the aptitude to be a thief-taker and is being considered for the Case Progression Unit (the department that deals with the paperwork). However he gets involved in a case with supernatural aspects and becomes an apprentice wizard. After the fall out of the end of Rivers of London he now works full time keeping the Queen's Peace amongst the uncanny and unusual.

3. The Mystery, which comes in three parts: There are mysterious deaths of Jazzmen, which is of especial interest to Peter as he is the son of London's least successful jazz legend. There is the case of the vagina dentata[1], which is foreshadowed in Rivers of London. Finally there's some other weirdness going down, which is a bit complex and spoilery. In addition Peter is up against Lady Ty, incarnate goddess of one of the Thames tributaries, who wants to put the policing of the supernatural on a more modern and professional footing, under her guidance of course.

4. The Backstory, which is of some interest: To spoil; once upon a time England and Europe had a number of thriving magical traditions. Then WW2 came along. The Nazis co-opted or killed the magicians of occupied Europe, and there was an apocalyptic battle in 1945 that wiped out most of the magicians on both sides. After this, there was no one left to run the magic school in England[2], and most of the survivors sank into the background[3]. Until now, when the magic is making a comeback.

5. The Humour, and also the conflict: Magic is (mostly) old school. Policing is an uneasy balance of old school and new school. Peter, of mixed race, is unhappy when his boss (born circa 1900) refers to the bad guys as 'Black Magicians', and suggests 'Ethically Challenged Magical Practitioners'. Magic also tends to break technology, leading to Peter to improvise some useful nonsense about an EMP. "What's an EMP?" asks his boss.

6. The Horror, of which there is sufficient: One of the characters was quite savagely injured at the end of Rivers of London. She only appears on page when Peter goes to see her, when it's heart wrenchingly tragic, but as she's convalescing - read bored - she's quite present, and still pretty sarcastic, in text and email. This is generally how the book handles these elements - light hearted and with humour, but not backing away from how terrible the events are. The work the black... I mean, the ethically challenged magical practitioners, operating without the moral code of Peter and his boss, have, and continue to do some very nasty things.

7. The Wrapup, in which I say whatever I couldn't shoehorn into one of the other sections, then repeat myself: Without intending to, Peter is clearly recruiting a new generation of wizards and auxiliaries. This is good, to help keep the series fresh, and possibly expand the scope. Aaronovitch, a former TV writer, seems to be putting together a larger cast of recurring characters, or perhaps he's simply putting in all the bits he likes but jettisoned from the first book to strip it back to stand alone. Who knows? I mean, until I (or you) read the next book. Or we could ask him I suppose. So anyway, 21st century meets policing, which combines IT data and forensic science with old fashioned boots on the street/ kicking in doors/ up the arse, meets magic, which has been in stasis since 1945. What's not to like?

Read This: If you liked the first one. Also if you like urban fantasy, London, police procedurals and all that stuff.
Don't Read This: If you don't read books. Also if all the stuff in the Read This bores you to death.
Also: The third book, Whispers Underground, is out now in hardback.

[1] Don't look this up at work. Or if you have castration anxieties.
[2] Which Peter refers to as "Hogwarts".
[3] We meet the archivist, answering the question of who reads the reports that the magic police write.

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