Thursday, 7 April 2011

‘Moon over Soho’ – Ben Aaronovitch (Del Rey/Gollancz)

Way back in January (and yes, it does feel like a long time ago now) I decided to give Urban Fantasy yet another chance to prove itself to be more than the regular dose of ‘girl meets hot werewolf/vampire etc’ that seems to come my way. I got very lucky here as the book I chose to pick up was Ben Aaronovitch’s ‘Rivers of London’ (‘Midnight Riot’ if you’re in the US), first in a series of adventures of Peter Grant, the only policeman in London who happens to be a wizard’s apprentice at the same time. I could wax all lyrical about how much I enjoyed this book but I already did over Here. Suffice it to say that Urban Fantasy got another chance to show me what it could do; I love it when this sub-genre actually concentrates on living up to its name rather then being a soap opera... Funnily enough, the next Urban Fantasy I picked up happened to be the sequel to ‘Rivers of London. No confusion with different names this time round, wherever you pick this book up it will still be ‘Moon over Soho’. Not only that, Aaronovitch very smoothly picks up from where he left off and proceeds to give us more along the same lines of ‘Rivers of London’. That’s no bad thing as far as I’m concerned.

It’s a sad fact of life that not only do people die but this is an occurrence that happens all too regularly. When the body of a heart attack victim has the notes of the old jazz song ‘Body and Soul’ rising from it though... That doesn’t happen regularly at all and is a sure sign that the involvement of Peter Grant is required. A number of jazz musicians have died in Soho over the years and there’s something supernatural going on here that only Peter can tease out. Something deadly haunts the streets of Soho and if that wasn’t enough, it will soon be joined by something even deadlier. Pete must use all the resources at his disposal to solve this puzzle and they may not be enough. Especially when the trail leads him straight to the doorstep of his own father...

‘Rivers of London’ was a lot of fun but wasn’t without it’s flaws (at least as far I was concerned) and I was interested to see if these were addressed over the course of ‘Moon over Soho’. The good news is that the issue that bugged me in the first book isn’t a problem this time round. The not so good news though is that another issue came to the fore because of this. The end result though is pretty much what you got in ‘Rivers of London’ so you can’t really complain. I certainly couldn’t and I’m too busy looking forward to the next book to even try.

‘Rivers of London’ suffered from a big old case of overindulgence in the police procedural side of the plot. Not everything needs to be explained but Aaronovitch clearly delighted in taking his reader right into the minutiae of every single element of a policeman’s job. Not only was there not enough room left to tell the actual story at times but the pacing also suffered as a result of this approach. That is not the case this time as Aaronovitch seems to have decided that his readers have enough background knowledge from the first book to be going on with. This time round, there are small ‘info-dumps’ that keep the ‘police procedural element’ at the forefront but these don’t come at the expense of the story and you can see the difference almost straight away. It all feels a lot smoother and the plot is allowed to flow at its own pace for the most part; generally very fast with enough questions thrown up to provide fresh impetus and keep the reader guessing. I saw the ‘big reveal’ coming but all credit to Aaronovitch for clouding it with enough uncertainty to maintain interest.

However, this new approach did throw up another issue that stopped me engaging with the book as much as I would have liked. ‘Moon over Soho’ has a little more room to breathe than it’s predecessor and some of this extra room is devoted to throwing an extra case into the mix for Peter to solve that appears to be connected to the original case. Or is it? I couldn’t really tell and that bugged me. It felt like a little too much effort was being made to get these two cases to dovetail when the only thing they had in common was that they were both based in Soho. Now I could be entirely wrong and these cases were not connected at all (only at the end where everything gets solved all at once) but that was the way it felt like it was meant to be and it didn’t feel quite right. This sense of things ‘grinding together’ threw me out of the flow and it took a while for it all to get going again.

This was an issue for me but the rest of the book more than made up for it, just like it did last time round. There are questions to be asked and the answers come ready supplied with either a dose of action or chills. The chills are especially chilling and make for a unique vision of a London where magic collects in forgotten corners, poor Lennie the Lark... There’s an image that stayed in my head far too long after I’d finished reading!

Aaronovitch also gives us a little more insight into certain of the main characters who make up the plot, not too much though and it’s a clever way of whetting the reader’s appetite for more to come in the future. Peter Grant is the obvious choice for this treatment and we get to see a little more of his family life as well as how he is coping with his magical training. Peter’s inquisitive nature in this regard promises good things to come as he starts to look at the rules of magic and see what he can really do with them...
Other characters are gradually fleshed out as well such as Leslie and Molly. Aaronovitch is slowly building up a detailed picture of his London and it’s done in such a way that you enjoy what you see while wanting to find out more.

‘Moon over Soho’ swaps one set of issues for another but still does a more than admirable job of popping you right in the middle of a magical London (that is far more than you ever thought it was) and then giving you a mystery to solve. We’ll be waiting a little longer for the next instalment but if the first two books are anything to go by it’ll be worth it. ‘Moon over Soho’ is published by Del Rey in the US (and I think you can get it right now) and by Gollancz over here in the UK (look for it at the end of April).

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten


Anonymous said...

The only people who seem to be writing up to the full potential of the Urban fantasy Genre seem to be the British. I'm a little tired of the American version of Urban Fantasy too.

The British seem to really take the whole idea of combining the urban and the supernatural to heart. I think Kate Griffin, Mike Carey and China Mieville are perfect examples of what I mean.

Benni said...

Loved your review...and loved Moon Over Soho as well. As for the subplot, I think it was more to set up the next book perhaps, as it was left a little open-ended? I also like the dose of "realism" in having more than one case at a time, though I guess two is probably the maximum in terms of keeping the book manageable for the readers.

redhead said...

I recently finished Midnight Riot / Rivers of London, and LOVED it, so I'm excited to get my hands on Moon over Soho.

I'm with Noobling, I get the impression that Aaronovitch is oftentimes giving us a little more info than we need, introducing minor characters and leaving some things solved and others open ended as set up for a long, episodic style series. and I'm cool with that!

Anonymous said...

I agree with your remark about Larry the Lark...shudder....!

I loved both of these books and got swept up in the impetus of the narrative so much so that I read them both in a couple of sittings each. I'm looking forward to book 3 even though it's months away from publication yet and just hope the series doesn't get written with TV production in mind to weaken it.