RogerBW's Blog

Foxglove Summer, Ben Aaronovitch 19 February 2021

2014 contemporary fantasy, fifth in the series. Peter Grant, Metropolitan Police constable and magician, goes to Herefordshire to help the local force with the investigation into the disappearance of two girls.

Well, it seems that Broken Homes annoyed me more than I thought it had, because it's nearly five years later that I felt like tackling this one. And… it left almost no impression.

All right, so we're out of real London and in imaginary places again, this time a small town near Leominster, so there isn't that detail of reality that got this series off to such a good start. Does Aaronovitch need an Iron Age hill fort just here, and a river just over there? Well, he can put them where they're needed without having to worry about real geography; but this also means there isn't the depth of real legend to dive into and reinterpret, just the pastiche of the invented stuff which so rarely manages to achieve multiple layers of meaning.

Ongoing situations are put on hold because Peter's away from London. Obvious new recurring plot elements get introduced, but not much is done with them and there's no resolution to them. Peter gets laid a lot. Only one of the series' other recurring characters shows up in more than a cameo, and the ending's cut short without anything like a coda.

I think that perhaps the reason this one felt so flat to me is that its appeal rests on its one big idea, that this is how faerie is going to work in this universe, and, well, I've been reading speculative fiction for getting on for fifty years and I'm not really impressed by big ideas any more unless they're developed, engaged with, rather than shown off by a cast of ephemeral characters look how clever we are OK on to the next book.

It's the sort of series book which isn't so much "I need to produce another of these, do it by rote" but "I have only so much Big Plot to stretch across the rest of the series and I want to keep writing them as long as people keep buying them, so I will measure it out in tiny little drips and spend almost all my time on the immediate story". Which would be fine if the immediate story were compelling in itself.

I mean, there's so much potential here. Grant is obviously non-white and he's presented as being the first non-white person many of these country people have met in person, but there are one or two surprised comments and that's it, so it never affects the story. There's a lot of fuss about how he's going to combine his magical investigations with being a visible officer on loan, but the police know that there's a magical division and so they let Grant do pretty much whatever he likes – even though at first he makes a point of getting himself into a specific slot in the investigation/search operation, which he then ignores whenever it's convenient. On the other side of the prejudice, Grant's entirely ready to dismiss things he doesn't understand as "posh", but since Aaronovitch doesn't notice he's doing it that doesn't come back to bite him. (Something else Aaronovitch doesn't seem to notice, and therefore no character does either, is a huge sexual consent issue, which is treated as funny.)

Oh, and what's going on when, in the context of a failed WWII special operation, they're talking about gliders being used in the withdrawal? The glider, she does not work like that.

Eh, lots of people love this one. If you already like the series probably you will too. For me the enchantment is most definitely faded.

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Previous in series: Broken Homes | Series: Rivers of London

  1. Posted by Gus at 10:18am on 19 February 2021

    None of this strikes me as unfair comment, but I did enjoy the evidence adduced for Hereford's city status.Cathedral, tick. Ann Summers, tick.

  2. Posted by J Michael Cule at 12:09pm on 19 February 2021

    Magical Gliders Launch!

  3. Posted by DP at 04:26pm on 20 February 2021

    I felt myself losing interest in the series around the same point you did. Started Foxglove, but never finished it.

    Pity, as the first books were refreshing.

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