Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Review Roundup

     Here are some reviews I've been meaning to post for some time.

From Temporarily Significant blogspot
Review: Whispers Under Ground
by Ben Aaronovitch
(Del Rey)

     The third novel in Ben Aaronovitch's fantasy/police procedural series about sorcerer's apprentice Peter Grant has been published, this time with a cover that is the same (or close; it looks like the cover might be tinted a different color) to the British original. The American editions of the previous two volumes have tried to portray Grant as a tough guy without a face (ironic, since his arch nemesis is a wizard who -- because he magically makes it hard to be identified -- is referred to as The Faceless Man). Grant's not a tough guy, being more of a clever, humorous narrator, a fledgling policeman and wizard. The cover now features an altered map of London, appropriate since geography plays a large part in the books (some say to their detriment, I say to their benefit).

    Although it's mostly self-contained, this probably isn't the best place to start the series because it doesn't go into a lot of detail about what happened in previous installments. These include the ghost who twists people's faces (including a fellow officer and potential love interest) into an approximation of the Commedia del'Arte character Punch in Midnight Riot, or the ageless jazz succubi and The Faceless Man from Moon Over Soho.
    In Whispers, Grant is primarily investigating the murder of an American with an enchanted piece of pottery, which brings him into contact with some new-to-him supernatural entities (though, thankfully, no vampires, werewolves or flesh-eating zombies). The most interesting parts of the book are still Grant's irreverent narration and his attempts to use science to understand and apply sorcery.
     This book was released last summer, and Broken Homes, book four isn't yet scheduled (Aaronovitch was still writing it the last time he posted on his blog). I'm looking forward to it.

Review: The Janus Affair: 
A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel
By Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris
(Harper Voyager)

     This is the second of Ballantine-Morris' Ministry of Special Occurrences books, a steampunky, 19th century government department something like the X-Files.
     The first book, Phoenix Rising, chronicled the adventures of Wellington Books, appropriately enough a bookish member of the Ministry who runs the archives of closed and open but abandoned cases, and Eliza Braun, originally a more active member of the Ministry, who is moved to the archives after raising too high a profile in a case where she rescued Books from torture and almost certain death. That she is also being punished for insubordination because she was meant to kill Books, not rescue him, lest his knowledge fall into the hands of the Ministry's enemies, is an irony of which Books is not aware.
     Janus Affair begins to move a bit beyond what I consider proper steampunk principles (technology introduced earlier than in our world/timeline because of inventive use of steam power or similar period technology) and limits by the introduction of a remote teleportation device. That's my prejudice and, of course, Ballantine and Morris aren't obligated to conform to it.
     We learn a bit more about Books and Braun's history, develop more of the obvious intense attraction between the two, and about the conspiracy trying to destroy the Ministry. Unfortunately, a lot of time is wasted on a red herring investigation of and battle with a female crime lord, and occasionally the unconsummated attraction between Braun and Books begins to become the tail that wags the dog for me.
     On the plus side, a female counteragent/mercenary gets some welcome development, there's some nice action involving airships and there's a setup for a future volume in which Books and Braun explore America in this steampunk world.
     If Janus were shorter and tighter, I would be happier with it, but I still intend to read the next volume, whenever Ballantine and Morris get around to writing it. (In the meantime, there are some e-books of other cases from the Ministry available on I just hope they continue to keep clear of the supernatural.


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