Book Review: Foundryside, Robert Jackson Bennett

Book Review: Foundryside, Robert Jackson Bennett

 

Foundryside, Robert Jackson Bennett

Fantasy: Foundryside, Robert Jackson Bennett

Foundryside is an epic fantasy set in a new world where technology operates magically through the use of written commands that change the way reality works for an object. Certain rules seem to control how this works: the commands must be written correctly and specifically, and they must be written either directly on the object they seek to influence or they must be written in very close proximity to it. They cannot be written on living beings.

 

Robert Jackson Bennett is no stranger to SFF, having written Hugo and Nebula award nominated books. Foundryside is the first book in a new series, the Founders trilogy, introducing complex new characters into a challenging new world. Bennett sets up a series of complex rules governing the use of magic in this world. He then proceeds to break almost every one of them.

 

How much fun is that?! My granddaughters love building towers of blocks. They love kicking them down even more. Bennett builds a world based on a specific set of rules, then uses the rest of the novel to ask, What if those rules could be broken?

 

Sancia Grado is a thief. She is very good. Maybe the best. When she is hired for a huge amount of money to steal a nondescript box out of an ordinary safe, the deal seems too good to be true. Despite her instructions, she opens the box and finds…a key.

 

A key. That, Talks.

 

With this discovery, we readers realize that Bennett is already breaking the rules of his own world. Sancia is magically enhanced, which allows her to hear the key. Except, humans cannot be magically enhanced. That’s supposed to be impossible. And tools cannot have personalities or talk or have memories. That’s also impossible. Sancia and the other characters recognize that these things are violations of the natural laws they’ve been taught cannot be changed. Figuring out how these laws are being broken, and why, is part of the fun of this novel.

 

Bennett brings together a community of intriguing, often flawed and hurting characters. Sancia is a former slave and a victim of cruel experimentation. She finds common cause with a “founderkin” (essentially nobility in this world) who was the sole survivor of a military catastrophe. Neither of them survived those experiences unharmed, nor do they or other characters escape damage in the course of this story. Not every character survives to the end of the novel. But every character experiences growth and/or change as a consequence of the events within the novel. That kind of character development sets this book apart from more ordinary stories in this or any genre.

 

Exciting plot. Great characters. Fascinating world, filled with rules that were clearly made to be broken, and which Bennett breaks with elan. Foundryside is an excellent book, and gives plenty of reasons to look forward to the next installment in this new series.

 

Foundryside, Robert Jackson Bennett

Book Review: Foundryside, Robert Jackson Bennett

Book Series Review: The Murderbot Diaries, Martha Wells

Book Series Review: The Murderbot Diaries, Martha Wells

 

All Systems Red Artificial Condition Rogue Protocol Exit Strategy

Science Fiction Series: The Murderbot Diaries, Martha Wells

Winner of Hugo, Nebula, Alex, and Locus Awards

 

Sometimes all a bot wants to do is watch its videos. You know, kick back, have some “me” time, alone, away from all humans, and just watch hour after hour of mindless entertainment. No small talk, no pretending interest in human things, no playing nice. Just binge watch hour after hour after hour of pointless videos with bad acting and poor dialog and forget the rest of the world.

 

That can be hard to do when you are a programmed serial killing bot trying to escape a partially forgotten–rather, erased–past.

 

SecBot, short for Security Bot, is an artificial construct. Part organic, part mechanical, designed to provide security to humans in hostile conditions. Prevent them from being killed by hostile life forms. Try to prevent them from killing each other. SecBot is not human, though it looks very similar to humans. It is fully programmable. It is not supposed to feel emotions (or at least be affected by them), it is not supposed to be able to override its programming, it is definitely not supposed to be able to choose its own path.

 

Oops.

 

Murderbot is a SecBot that was on a mining expedition when something happened. All of the humans were killed. The how is pretty straightforward: SecBot killed them. The “why” is a mystery. Most of those records were deleted. Only the organic, partially human, memories remain. They are confused, fragmented, lacking context and connection. But Murderbot does not want to kill humans unnecessarily, and it is sure that it was not supposed to kill all of the miners. So Murderbot overwrites its own programming to make sure that it is not forced to kill again. It names itself “Murderbot” so it always is reminded of that fact. And it desperately wants to find out how and why things went so bad on the mining planet.

All Systems Red

We meet Murderbot first in All Systems Red. It is on a new security mission, working for the company that it has always worked for, this time guarding a group of planetary explorers. Things start going wrong when a mapping anomaly fails to warn of a hostile native animal. Murderbot saves its people, but that is only the beginning of the challenges facing the group. When a second group of explorers is killed and a third, previously unknown, group appears, it takes every skill Murderbot has acquired both from programming and from its own off-book efforts to keep its people alive. In gratitude, the group’s leader buys Murderbot from the company and sets it free.

Artificial Condition

In Artificial Condition, Murderbot decides to revisit the mining planet where it killed the miners and try to answer the question, “Why?” Receiving help along the way from an ART bot (I’ll let the readers discover for themselves what ART stands for), Murderbot arrives at the planet and is hired as a security consultant for some young researchers trying to recover stolen data. What should have been a simple exchange proves to be anything but simple, and again Murderbot is forced to improvise to keep its clients alive. Completing this mission and getting its information about the events that led to the miners’ deaths creates a series of challenges, but fortunately Murderbot is assisted by the timely help of a SexBot, err, rather, Comfort Assistant Bot. No, not THAT kind of help! Murderbot is not into that.

Rogue Protocol

Murderbot has its answers, and in the process discovers that its clients from the first book are in need of more assistance. In Rogue Protocol, it decides to get some information for them that will hopefully end the corporation behind the planetary debacle. After sneaking aboard a ship bringing security consultants to assist with an investigation, Murderbot is discovered by Miki, a sentient PetBot fully loyal and obedient to one of the investigators. Miki agrees to keep Murderbot’s secret if Murderbot agrees to protect the investigators. When the security consultants prove to be on the side of the company being investigated and not on the side of the investigators who hired them, that job becomes significantly more difficult.

Exit Strategy

Finally, Exit Strategy sees Murderbot reunited with the team it first assisted in All Systems Red. Mensah, the team leader, has been captured by the corporation and is being held for ransom. Murderbot is not going to put up with this nonsense, and intends to rescue Mensah–even after discovering just how cool videos are on the large screen displays of hotel rooms!

 

Whatever you are doing, drop it. Get this series, start reading, move it to the top of your TBR pile and let it take over your life. Murderbot may not want to deal with humans, but trust me, we humans thoroughly enjoy dealing with Murderbot.

 

The entire series is smart, snarky fun. Murderbot is cynical, depressed, even torn between wanting to be more human and not wanting to be anything like those pathetic weak creatures it has to endure. With each novella well under 200 pages, I read through the entire series in just a couple of days. But don’t let the shortness nor the easy style fool you. These are brilliant books, full of truths about humanity that are packaged in the wisdom of a stressed rogue AI bot. The shelf full of awards should be its own indicator, but if not I will simply say it again: The Murderbot Diaries are brilliant.

 

All Systems Red Artificial Condition  Rogue Protocol Exit Strategy

Book Series Review: The Murderbot Diaries, Martha Wells

Book Review: Blood Type X, J.L. Delozier

Book Review: Blood Type X, Persephone Smith series, J.L. Delozier

Blood Type X, J.L. Delozier

Thriller: Blood Type X, J.L. Delozier

Dr. Persephone “Seph” Smith, FBI profiler, has a box of photos. The pictures are of William Blaine, the most wanted criminal in the world, responsible for the pathogen that killed nearly 50% of the world’s population. She caught him, once, but he escaped, and someone has now sent her a box of photos of him. The clues lead her and her partner first to France, then to the Basque region of Spain, once again on the trail of the evil genius.

 

Author and doctor J.L. Delozier has created a fierce and wonderful heroine in her trilogy of books about Seph Smith. We first met Smith in Storm Shelter, then saw her confront Blaine for the first time in Type and Cross. Now, her battle with Blaine sometimes takes second place to her battle with her own demons. Too many losses, too many bodies, have sent Smith to seek refuge in alcohol. It may numb the nightmares, but it does not remove either the pain that haunts her or the criminal that awaits her. Seph has a heightened sense of empathy. She is able to sense the emotions of others–which in a time of catastrophic death is an almost crippling challenge. This gives her an advantage in developing a profile of criminals, but can make it difficult living her daily life.

 

Delozier’s medical experience informs her writing without making it overly technical or dry. She never forgets her plot or her characters when dropping in details about the reactions to chemo drugs and other medical details. I will admit to wondering at one point whether she had either witnessed a taser or possibly experienced one herself (no doubt in the desire to get the details correct and not from any unfortunate interactions with the police).

 

Her descriptions of the settings are also vivid. Whether she has actually visited the areas in her books or has successfully used her research to picture the locations in her mind, she effectively lets the reader see France and Spain through her writing.

 

Delozier is a local author and one of the leaders of the Nittany Valley Writers Network (State College, Pennsylvania). She is also a friend of ours. That being said, we only review books we like–even when friends write them. We like this book.

 

A flawed but triumphant heroine. A brilliant and psychopathic enemy. The beauty of Europe. J.L. Delozier’s latest thriller has it all. Read all three of the books to get Seph Smith’s full story, and enjoy.

 

J.L. Delozier will be at State College’s 2019 PA Bookfest on Saturday, July 13, 2019. This week we are featuring authors who will be part of the bookfest, part of an annual tradition we started last year celebrating authors who are from our local area.

 

Also see:

Book Review: Type and Cross, Persephone Smith series, J.L. Delozier

Book Review: Storm Shelter, Persephone Smith seriesJ.L. Delozier

 

Blood Type X, J.L. Delozier

Book Review: Blood Type X, J.L. Delozier

Book Review: The Poet, Nickie Krewson

Book Review: The Poet, Nickie Krewson

The Poet, Nickie Krewson

Fantasy: The Poet, Nickie Krewson

My mother loved romance novels. Far from a guilty pleasure, she reveled in them. She would go to libraries, used bookstores, Goodwill and other thrift stores, anywhere that carried them and exchange a shopping bag full of books she had read for a pile of new-to-her romances. I sometimes teased her about possibly rereading them, about the lurid cover art some of them had, and about the unlikely yet oft repeated plots (at least, that’s what I imagined). I will admit to reading a few of them, but overall, romance is not my thing. (My wife would agree–and she’s the editor for Scintilla.)

 

So I will admit that it took me awhile to start reading The Poet by Nickie Krewson. A local area author, her first book is a fantasy romance. Fairies and humans and romance, oh my. I picked up the book last year during the Central PA Bookfest, part of the local Arts Festival, and put it on my shelf to get to…eventually. When I saw that Nickie Krewson was going to be coming again to the 2019 Bookfest, duty called and I started reading it.

 

And kept reading it.

 

In fact, I could hardly put it down.

 

I really wish my mother were still alive, because this is a book I would recommend to her wholeheartedly. Krewson sets her book in France, and she paints the French countryside beautifully with her words. Most of the action takes place in a small town in France, and the town and the surrounding countryside feel very real. You can almost see it, the sunsets and the fields and the forests. You can almost smell the cafe and hear the traffic and taste the baguettes.

 

However, the true beauty of this book is in the people. Her characters are intriguing and far from perfect. Yes, there are fairies and magic and the protagonist writes sonnets, but it is not over the top cheesy. In fact, it is very human and down to earth. One character struggles with addiction. Others struggle with their own internal issues. There are very real friendships, true love between parent and child, between brother and sister, and, yes, romantic love as well, but the romance is only part of the story. The friendship between two of the characters, along with the brother/sister relationship two characters develop, may be more important than the romance.

 

People who like romance should like this book. Many fantasy readers will also enjoy it. But Krewson’s work deserves more than a niche audience. The characters are compelling, the story keeps moving, and the settings are beautiful. It is worth picking up and starting, and if you are like me, you may find it hard to stop.

Nickie Krewson

Nickie Krewson will be at State College’s 2019 PA Bookfest on Saturday, July 13, 2019. This week we are featuring authors who will be part of the bookfest, part of an annual tradition we started last year celebrating authors who are from our local area.

 

The Poet, Nickie Krewson

Book Review: The Poet, Nickie Krewson

Book Review: Spinning Silver, Naomi Novik

Book Review: Spinning Silver: A Novel, Naomi Novik

Spinning Silver: A Novel by Naomi Novik

Fantasy: Spinning Silver, Naomi Novik

I didn’t particularly like Prince Casimir. He’d come to stay at my father’s house once, and I’d been beneath his notice, so he hadn’t been on his best behavior….He was nearly my father’s age, and a man who lived almost entirely on the surface. But he wasn’t a fool, or cruel. And more to the point, I was reasonably certain he wasn’t going to try and devour my soul. My expectations for a husband had lowered.

 

Spinning Silver is a sweeping reinvention of the Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale. Miryam is the daughter of a moneylender, one who is too nice to be successful. Frustrated at her family’s poverty and the disrespect her Jewish family faces, she takes over the debt collection business and changes their fortunes. However, she unwisely boasts of her ability to turn silver into gold while in the forest, within the hearing of the king of the Staryk. This fairy creature has silver but needs gold, and he gives her a bag of silver coins for her to turn into gold for him.

 

Miryam realizes that she has no choice but to obey. She takes the silver to a jeweler in the city, who melts it into a ring for the duke. The ring is sold and the purchase is made with gold coins. But, of course, the transaction was never going to be a one off, and more silver follows.

 

Irina is the daughter of the duke, of marriageable age but not particularly attractive or notable. However, the silver is magical, and the duke realizes that with the unmarried tsar visiting soon, magical jewelry on his daughter might attract the tsar’s eye. He purchases everything that Miryam can have made, and bargains are set that push two unwilling women into unwelcome marriages.

 

For the Staryk king has decided that a mortal with the gift of turning silver into gold would make a fine queen. And the tsar is not himself, but is possessed by a demon who wants nothing more than to take the life of one who can wear magical jewelry. Unless these two women can find a way to work together, their lives and the lives of everyone in two kingdoms may be forfeit.

 

Naomi Novik is a prizewinning author with both a John Campbell and a Nebula award to her credit. In her two latest books, 2016’s Uprooted (Nebula winner) and 2018’s Spinning Silver, she has begun a series of books taking Polish fairy tales and reimagining them. In this case, she has indeed taken the silver of a classic fairy tale and spun it into the gold of a marvelous fantasy novel.

 

Spinning Silver shifts back and forth between the perspectives of Miryam, Irina, Miryam’s servant Wanda, Wanda’s brother Stepon, and Tsar Mirnatius. It also shifts back and forth in time occasionally, retelling the same events from different perspectives. This can be confusing sometimes, but Novik usually does a good job distinguishing the voices and perspectives to help the reader stay with her. In a book that builds two worlds so fully, the human world where Miryam and Irina live and the Staryk world, the occasional confusion during a perspective change is a small challenge for the reader.

 

Novik does not shy away from legitimate social issues within her worlds. The Staryk world is very hierarchical. It is an icy world, gripped in winter. To protect his world from the demon living in the tsar, the Staryk king is quite willing to freeze the human world and kill all of the people living in it. That iciness is not only toward humans. Staryk are not given names until they are valued by someone willing to name them. It may be the most valuable gift a Staryk peasant can receive.

 

Miryam’s family are Jews. Because of this, they are resented and not trusted by the general population. Miryam’s grandfather, also a moneylender, could greatly advance his standing in the city if he converted. He refused. Miryam’s parents are despised in their small town, even though her father’s soft heart means he allows people to go for years without repaying their debts. To her credit, Novik does not assume any fantasy can fix anti-Semitism. Miryam fights to conquer the Staryk king. There is no magical cure for blind hatred.

 

Spinning Silver is pure gold. My only suggestion: make sure you read it someplace warm. The descriptions of northern European winter and the icy Staryk kingdom made me want to hunker under blankets the entire time. Hot chocolate, warm fires, thick blankets, and time to savor a magical fantasy.

Spinning Silver: A Novel by Naomi Novik

Book Review: Spinning Silver: A Novel, Naomi Novik

Book Review: A Natural History of Dragons, Marie Brennan

Book Review: A Natural History of Dragons, Marie Brennan

A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent (The Lady Trent Memoirs) by Marie Brennan

Fantasy: A Natural History of Dragons, Marie Brennan

Lady Trent is a naturalist, an expert in dragons. For a woman to accomplish this in a Victorian-type society is no small accomplishment. It is little wonder, then, that her autobiography would be so eagerly sought by publishers. A Natural History of Dragons is the first installment of her autobiography, one that tells the story of her early life, her marriage, and her first trip abroad to study dragons in their native habitats.

 

Marie Brennan thus begins a new fantasy series set in a Victorian-esque world where ladies wear dresses and do not do things like travel abroad to study dragons. Unless those ladies are Lady Trent. In this fun and well-written book, styled as a first-person autobiography of the protagonist, our heroine breaks the mold of feminine society to pursue her passion as a natural historian, studying dragons in the mountains of someplace like Russia (but not actually Russia).

 

Lady Trent is smart, brave, and quite willing to confront society, travel hardships, smugglers, and dragons head-on. She is self-aware, noticing her own shortcomings and occasional lack of compassion with regret. She loves her husband almost as much as she loves her dragons. In all, she is a delightful protagonist.

 

As fun as it is to see a woman tackling the conventions of Victorian society, it’s important to step back for a moment and realize that women and girls still struggle to break through stereotypes to pursue careers in the sciences and other STEM fields. Reading about the challenges faced by a woman who was expected to fulfill her role as wife and mother and lady-in-society should serve to remind us that society still has expectations of women that are governed more by gender perceptions than by logic. We can be grateful that a woman traveling to study animals in their native habitats is no longer scandalous. Let’s be even more grateful when a woman pursuing her career in science or math is no longer unusual.

 

Marie Brennan has written a fun novel about a bold protagonist who may be as brave as the dragons she studies. I look forward to getting into further Lady Trent novels, and learning more about dragons in the process.

 

If you like this book you may enjoy:

Book Review: Voyage of the Basilisk, Book 3 of the Memoirs of Lady Trent, Marie Brennan

Book Review: European Travel for the Monstrous GentlewomanTheodora Goss

Book Review: The Invisible Library, Genevieve Cogman 

Book Review: The Mortal Word (Book 5 of The Invisible Library Series), Genevieve Cogman

 

A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent (The Lady Trent Memoirs) by Marie Brennan

Book Review: A Natural History of Dragons, Marie Brennan

Book Review: The Swimmer, Joakim Zander

Book Review: The Swimmer, Joakim Zander

 

The Swimmer, Joakim Zander

Thriller: The Swimmer, Joakim Zander

A young mother, killed in an explosion meant for her deep cover CIA lover. Their baby, left on the steps of the Swedish embassy. A man, tortured for decades by the decisions he made back then. That is the backdrop for Joakim Zander’s powerful thriller, The Swimmer.

 

The Swimmer is an unnamed operative who likes to swim. During a mission to Damascus in the mid 1980s, he falls in love and has a child with a Swedish woman. She is killed in a car bomb that was meant for him. Not certain how best to protect their child, he leaves the baby at the Swedish embassy with a note telling them how to place her with her grandparents in Sweden. Thinking he has covered his tracks, he returns to Washington and to his life as a spy. But he never forgets the child and tries to keep an eye out for her from a distance, hoping to protect her from his dangerous life.

 

Perhaps it’s genetics, but Klara manages to find her own danger. An ex-boyfriend gets drawn into an international conspiracy and asks for her help. When she agrees, she finds herself going across Europe, from Brussels to Paris to Amsterdam and finally home to Sweden, barely staying one step ahead of those who want her dead for reasons she doesn’t understand. Along the way she finds help from some unlikely sources: a lover who failed to mention to her that he was married, a stoner teenaged hacker, an old friend who runs moonshine, a college roommate who has become a lawyer, a corrupt lobbyist who is caught up in the same conspiracy against his will, and the father she never knew.

 

Zander’s book shifts from the first-person of the never-named swimmer to third-person narratives of other characters in the story. Somehow the author manages to make these shifts appear seamless, changing voices and perspectives smoothly and clearly. Zander also treats violence as an ugly reality. When people die in this book (and they do), it is not clean or neat or tidy. It is messy and terrifying and ugly and disturbing. One character has to vomit after committing an act of violence against another character. Guilt and sorrow and anger and panic follow the acts of violence. I love that a thriller author actually gets how an ordinary person would react to violence. Too often it seems that violence in thrillers is only told from the perspective of professionally violent people: soldiers or police or spies. But it is the very ordinariness of the characters that makes this book feel very real.

 

Zander is not an American, so don’t look for the typical American heroes here. This is not your Jack Ryan saves the world thriller. This is a darker view of American power, where there are good guys and bad guys and it is not always clear which are which or whether the good guys are actually all that good. But that’s probably a more realistic view of how the world actually works. We don’t live in an era with easy answers and clear distinctions, and it’s only fair that fiction follows life in that regard.

 

The Swimmer is a taut and fascinating thriller with well conceived characters and surprising twists. I look forward to reading more from this author.

 

If you like this review, also see:

Book Review: American Spy, Lauren Wilkinson

 

 

The Swimmer, Joakim Zander

Book Review: The Swimmer, Joakim Zander

 

Book Review: Foxglove Summer, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Foxglove Summer, Rivers of London Book 5, Ben Aaronovitch

 

Foxglove Summer, Rivers of London Book 5, Ben Aaronovitch

Fantasy: Foxglove Summer, Rivers of London Book 5, Ben Aaronovitch

 

This fifth installment of the DC Peter Grant series of books brings London’s very most junior detective wizard to the country. Two young girls, age 11, have gone missing. Since on very rare occasions children are used in evil magical practices, DC Grant is sent to rule out involvement by an elderly retired wizard who lives in the area. Although he quickly determines that the wizard played no part in the disappearance, Grant offers to stay to help the local force in their search. He is a policeman, these are children whose lives are at stake, and so it is all hands on deck.

 

When the girls’ phones are found, though, they show signs of having been affected by magic. This puts Grant at the center of the investigation, and although the retired wizard may be innocent there are other magical forces at play. Aided by the arrival of his sometime love interest, Beverly Brook, goddess of a small river near London, Grant looks into local phenomenon that might explain where the girls had gone. There is the wizard’s mysterious daughter, who has a way with local bees and with local boys. There are the local water goddesses, who are less than pleased with Beverly’s arrival for reasons they will not explain. There are the occasional texts from his former partner who betrayed him to side with an evil magician. And there is the strange rumor that one of the missing girls had an invisible friend. Not imaginary–invisible. In other words, plenty of things to keep an investigator of the paranormal busy.

 

Aaronovitch’s writing is delightful. His plots are involved but not muddy, his characters are complex and interesting, and his prose is crisp and sometimes hilarious. He weaves in some pointed social commentary with a deft touch of humor through his examination of race as a factor in Grant’s work. Grant finds himself the only person of color involved in the search for the girls (until Beverly arrives). This gives him the opportunity to practice his diversity training, since working with all white rural police and citizens provides multiple cultural cross-currents. Fortunately he manages to avoid conflict even when some of the less broad minded citizens seem bent upon fomenting it.

 

The world building in this series is quite elaborate, and moving the setting to the country allows Aaronovitch to add multiple layers to the work he has already established in London. Grant approaches magic from a scientific mindset. He likes to reason out how and why magic works. In the city, vestigia or echoes of magic remain observable (to the trained) on hard surfaces: stone, metal, plastic, and to a much lesser extent flesh. In the country, though, with dirt and plants, how is magic absorbed…or is it? Are magical beings visible only in certain types of light? Is there a parallel fae world existing essentially overlaid on the mortal world? Those are questions that did not require a full answer on the streets of London, but in this rural setting they become central to the search for the girls.

 

Foxglove Summer is a nice addition to a series that is fun and fascinating. It is one of the best urban fantasy series I have ever read, made even better by this sojourn out of the city.

 

Also see by the same author:

Book Review: Midnight Riot, Rivers of London Book 1, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Moon Over Soho, Rivers of London Book 2, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Whispers Underground, Rivers of London Book 3, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Broken Homes. Rivers of London Book 4, Ben Aaronovitch

 

Foxglove Summer, Rivers of London Book 5, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Foxglove Summer, Rivers of London Book 5, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Broken Homes, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Broken Homes, Rivers of London Book 4, Ben Aaronovitch

Broken Homes, Rivers of London Book 4, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Broken Homes, Rivers of London Book 4, Ben Aaronovitch

Detective Peter Grant is becoming stronger in his magical powers, more confident in his detective work, but still is not allowed to drive DCI Nightingale’s jaguar around the streets of London. Nor is he very good at telling the future, like when a river goddess suggests she may start a flood, she may actually start a flood. Still, it was a small flood, insurance paid for most of it, and that really wasn’t his fault. Probably.

Broken Homes is the fourth book in what is quickly becoming one of my favorite series, The Rivers of London. Aaronovitch has quirky and likeable characters interacting in believable ways–that is, once you accept the premise that there is an entire magical London living among and amid the ordinary human residents. It makes sense that this magical London would have dedicated police officers who work to capture rogue wizards and witches, keep the peace between various magical factions, and above all prevent ordinary humans from realizing they are surrounded by magic.

Peter, Nightingale, Lesley, and the rest of the crew (including Toby the dog) are trying to solve multiple crimes when they realize that those crimes are related. We see the return of a witch they faced in a previous novel, but here they find out she is much more powerful than they had realized before. They also find clues that the “faceless man” is becoming active again, a powerful wizard who nearly killed Peter during their last encounter. Not even Nightingale is certain he can be beaten, which gives Peter and Lesley increased urgency in their training. When they are required to move into a building to investigate suspicious activity, that brings them face to face with their most challenging enemies.

Aaronovitch has built a terrific sandbox in this Rivers of London series, and invited all of us to play in it with him. Broken Homes is a fun and easy read. Well worth the time.

Also see by the same author:

Book Review: Midnight Riot, Rivers of London Book 1, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Moon Over Soho, Rivers of London Book 2, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Whispers Underground, Rivers of London Book 3, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Foxglove Summer, Rivers of London Book 5, Ben Aaronovitch

 

Broken Homes, Rivers of London Book 4, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Broken Homes, Rivers of London Book 4, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Whispers Underground, Rivers of London Book 3, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Whispers Underground, Rivers of London Book 3, Ben Aaronovitch

 

Whispers Underground, Rivers of London Book 3, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Whispers Underground, Rivers of London Book 3, Ben Aaronovitch

Peter Grant got his start in the police department that handles magic by interviewing a ghost who witnessed a murder. So when a young girl who lives near his parent’s apartment says she has seen a ghost, he can’t really ignore her request to come investigate it. This is the first supernatural visit to London’s underground that DC Grant and DC Lesley May make. It won’t be the last.

 

Whispers Underground is the third installment in a terrific series, Rivers of London. Ben Aaronovitch uses a lot of humor and terrific characters to tell a magical story. After investigating the ghost young Abigail has found, they are called to investigate a murder, a young man stabbed by a piece of pottery. The pottery has traces of vestigium, the echo left by magic, an echo that only those trained in magic can usually sense. Grant and May are part of the Metropolitan Police Force’s department that handles magic and the supernatural, and they are now part of a high profile case.

 

The victim is an American art student, the son of a US senator. This means that the FBI has a vested interest in the case, and despite his quite junior status on the team the agent decides that Grant is the one she should focus on. Scotland Yard may have a division focusing on magic, but it doesn’t LIKE having that division, and especially doesn’t like admitting that they have that division…or even admitting that magic exists. They certainly don’t want to share that information with their friends across the pond. This makes things awkward for Grant. He is charged with investigating a crime involving magic, underneath the watchful observation of an FBI agent, without revealing that magic is involved or even that magic exists.

 

Good. Luck.

 

Aaronovitch continues his often hilarious storytelling style in this wonderful series. The humor is quite dry. In some ways this was the most “British” of the novels, with no efforts made to translate the British idioms into American ones for us colonists. For me that adds to the charm. I don’t mind looking up words that I don’t know. If I am going to read a book set in London, written by a writer living in London, I may as well experience the full effect. A trip to London is on my bucket list…but for now I will have to settle for the vicarious experience through fiction.

 

This series continues to delight. Through wit, compassion, and maybe a little magic, Aaronovitch gives us an urban fantasy that feels very real. His characters are wonderful, his setting is vivid, and his stories are imaginative. It’s hard to ask for anything more in a book.

Also see

Book Review: Midnight Riot, Rivers of London Book 1, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Moon Over Soho, Rivers of London Book 2, Ben Aaronovitch

 

Whispers Underground, Rivers of London Book 3, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Whispers Underground, Rivers of London Book 3, Ben Aaronovitch