23 February 2020

Review - False Value by Ben Aaronovitch

My copy. MINE...
False Value (Rivers of London, 8)
Ben Aaronovitch
Gollancz, 20 February 2020
HB, 404pp

I'm really, inordinately pleased that I was able to buy a copy of False Value at Ben Aaronovitch's signing at Blackwell's in the Oxford Westgate - so to mark that, I'm using here not the jacket picture from Gollancz but the picture I took of MY copy afterwards when having a celebratory curry nearby. (No books were harmed during consumption of said curry).

It was a fun evening. Aaronovitch was in conversation with Rebecca F. Kuang, author of The Poppy War and The Dragon Republic (which I also got signed) and they discussed diversity in books, London, how Aaronovitch did his research (he has no time for authors who get detail wrong like confusing Chinese and Korean names: with the Internet, he said, there are no excuses), why there is no attempt to edit Rivers to aid the understanding of US readers, why Foxglove Summer was written as an act of revenge, what might appear in Ben and Rebecca's future books, and the glories of copy editors. You get good value at an Aaronovitch signing.
Ben and Rebecca in full flow
OK - so what about the book, David? (Also, do you actually intend to review the 8th in this massively popular series? What is there to say? The presumption!)

Well, there is quite a bit to say, I think. Not every massively popular series is still going strong by Book 8. Some become formulaic, continuing to please the fans but not really justifying another book... and another, and another.

Not true of Rivers of London, though. False Value finds us in quite a new place and Aaronovitch exploits this to excellent effect. After the events of Lies Sleeping, Peter faces an uncertain future - suspended from the Met and now starting a new job as security at a tech startup based near the Old Street "Silicon Roundabout" (London's go-to quarter for would be dotcom entrepreneurs - this being London, I should perhaps, London's go-to quarter for much-mocked would be dotcom entrepreneurs). Other things are changing too - the Folly is being redeveloped, the Met is suffering brutal budget cuts (taking out not only officers but canteens!) and Beverley, Peter's river goddess girlfriend, is expecting.
...all mine!
Back to that new job. The Serious Cybernetics Corporation (and yes, the book does abound with Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy puns and references) needs a good pair of eyes - and hands - to track down a rat, a rogue who's messing with the systems logs and, perhaps, trying to get where they ought not to be. A rat among the workers known as "mice" (Yes, one of those references). And Peter has the background to help with this. Recruited by ex-Met colleague Tyrel Johnson, he's soon on the case.

This being a Rivers of London novel, though, Peter's never going to be far away from the weird shit. It's fun to see him get to grip with things on his own, with little or no backup (there are of course favours to be called in, rules to be bent) and to learn more in the process about Aaronovitch's alternate London (and indeed, about the actual London). We hear a lot in False Value about how magic is policed in the US, and events in the book link back not only to Lovelace and Babbage and early computing in 19th century London but also to going's on in Silicon Valley. 

(Maybe this is prepping us for future developments?)

This is, I think, a more confident, capable Peter than we've seen before. Despite his setting being quite different, he's on top of things and he's not being run ragged by the Faceless Man or Lesley May. While there is, somewhere, a scary antagonist this book is, compared to some of the previous instalments more a game of chess than a deadly thriller (though it does lead up to a nail biting conclusion) and the pace allows for interludes such as Beverley holding an impromptu river goddess pageant (naturally, bringing together everyone Peter wanted kept apart...) an event that allows Aaronovitch to show just why the two are close (his portrayal of this complex relationship, visibly deepening through the series, is one of the things I like most about these books).

It's in many respects a more straightforward story than many of the earlier books (which is not to say it's simple to follow - there are some fiendish turns to the plot) with no villainous mastermind in sight (or out of sight). The solution to the mystery turns neatly on both information from previous stories and hints dropped here (no spoilers, but watch carefully...) but potentially takes the Rivers series into deeper and darker territory than before: the books are, in a sense, outgrowing London with the threats Peter is now facing not arising from the deep ghost soil of London (Mr Punch, the Faceless Man's cabal of banker would-be sorcerers) but coming from somewhere quite beyond, somewhere deeper.

There is still a lot of humour here - the ridiculous startup culture of the SCC or the the dry wit of Nightingale, who makes several appearances. There is dark humour focussing for example on the downsized Met There is also plain darkness (besides the threat that emerges, we learn more about what happened in the Eckersberg forest). What there isn't, is any sign, hint or trace of this series becoming stale or flagging in any way. Rather this series is ion rude health. There is clearly more to explore in and beyond magical London and I look forward to reading another instalment soon.

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