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Gollancz, 15 November 2018
I've made a little space now to read "bought" books - and hopefully will do more over Christmas, reducing the H&S risk from that TBR potentially falling.
The first of these is quite recent - the latest in Ben Aaronovitch's Peter Grant series. I have no illusions about ever being high enough in the blogging food chain to request a copy of a book such as this, but I'm still smug, because I do have a signed first edition of the original Rivers of London, so there.
Warning for mild spoilers for the previous books - and also that this review will make little sense if you haven't read them yet (but if you haven't, you really shouldn't be starting here, should you?)
Like the previous books, it's eminently readable: if you start this you'd better have blocked out your day because you'll get nothing else done till it's finished. Indeed I think the adventure may actually flow a bit more smoothly than it has in the past, with Peter and the team on top form and a defined, targeted operation against the Faceless Man in train rather than the normal series of seemingly unconnected crimes that eventually join up. It's "intelligence led" policing (cue some subtle Met humour as you can imagine...) designed to draw out the target, not wait for them to act.
Other things are also a bit different. While The Folly has always been part of the Met, it tended to be pretty empty, more of a bolt-hole for Peter, Molly, Nightingale and Toby than a functioning police station. Now that's changed - they even have whiteboards! (The plumbing is as dodgy as ever, though). And it's not just Muggle cops either - in various different ways, a number of Peter's colleagues now have, or are developing, magical abilities (apart from Lesley May, who went over to the Dark Side several books ago). So while we gain something in teamwork and efficiency, there's a but less, perhaps, atmosphere Folly-wise. That's more than made up for by the extraordinary focus of this book - like its predecessors - on London and London history, in particular the Whitechapel Bell Foundry and the Roman origins of the City.
More importantly, perhaps, I think this book has a darker atmosphere than the earlier ones. We are closer to seeing exactly what the Faceless Man is up to, of course, but there are other strands too. Lies Sleeping presents Western magic (perfected by Isaac newton) in a somewhat critical light. There is a story from the Old West of Newtonian magic being used to bring down a Native practitioner, and Peter muses on what his predecessors at the Folly may have dome themselves in the service of the Empire (I will remind you here that Peter is Black - I really enjoy him introducing characters he meets as white, where appropriate). This is underscored by allusions to Tolkien, of all writers. There is a running joke equating the Folly to Mordor. Of course one does not simply walk into the Folly... but also when a base of rival (cast out?) magicians is discovered, a chapter title - "The Flattery of a Slave" - refers directly to the description of Isengard in Lord of the Rings (implicitly making the Folly the Dark Tower). And more prosaically, in another strand, we see some of Peter's colleagues affected by stress, with a concern over his own wellbeing. And there's even a menacing prophecy (in Latin, natch...) suggesting no good may come to him.
If that makes it all sound introspective and doomy, it's really not, though the story is perhaps slightly more edgy. Aaronovitch shows here - as he has before - a rare ability to portray the mundane and real (all that police procedure, which reads as very accurate, though what do I know?) alongside and sometimes entwined with, the metaphysical (the magic, the London history all those hints of darkness, the mystery that's Nightingale, and much more). It's a mixture that makes for an entertaining story, but also has a sense of depth, of seriousness, of there being a point. And that's only enhanced by the normal shenanigans with the River gods and other strange denizens of London.
Basically, this is Aaronovitch in stonking good form. The book is a delight to read and it's great that, so far in, the series shows no sign at all of flagging.