Ben Aaronovitch's Peter Grant returns in 'Broken Homes'
by Ben Aaronovitch
(DAW Books, 2014)
Ben Aaronovitch's series of novels featuring Peter Grant, rookie policeman and wizard's apprentice, moves from Del Rey to DAW with Broken Homes, the fourth volume, and things are looking up for the series. Not only is it the best installment since the first, with a cover taken from Stephen Walter's The Island - London Series (as was every volume of the British edition but not the original U.S. editions of the first two books), but for the first time the series is identified as Rivers of London.
This is a big deal to me because that was the title of the first book in the series in England, but not in the U.S. (where it was retitled Midnight Riot for reasons I've yet to see explicitly stated). As I've stated in an earlier post, I only read the first book after reading a review of it under the British title, which I found evocative; Midnight Riot does nothing for me, seeming more like the name of an '80s metal band than a fantasy novel. Now I have hope that DAW will acquire the rights to the earlier books and they will get the attention and promotion they deserve.
Since discovering that he could see ghosts in the first book, Peter Grant has been working with Inspector Nightingale, apparently the last wizard in England and the only man protecting Britons from supernatural menaces and criminals. Grant has been learning magic, but he's a little too much of a rationalist to excel at it. Instead he is trying to apply scientific methods to the study of magic, serving as a bridge between the police and Nightingale.
Much more adept is Lesley, a former fellow police officer (she was more adept at police methods, too) whose face was mutilated by the menace in the first novel. Since the end of the second book, she has been a co-apprentice.
Also since the end of the second book, Grant and Nightingale have been looking for an evil magician whom they call the Faceless Man because he uses a spell that makes it impossible to remember what his face looks like. He was a background threat in the third book, but he takes a more central role in this one, with explicit reference to him being a magical Moriarty.
Broken Homes revolves around a strange housing project, seemingly designed by a madman but actually built for a purpose that the Faceless Man intends to co-opt. We again meet some of the Rivers of London, a wood nymph, fairies and other characters of or with sorcerous intent.
My only complaint is that there is a lot of backstory that new readers probably can't pick up without going back to the earlier books, which are from another publisher. With the current state of brick-and-mortar bookstores, the odds of finding them in stock is poor (they rarely keep series titles that old unless the series is a bestseller), and if you do, they probably have the moronic tough-guy covers the previous publisher used initially. Ideally I would have liked a prologue summarizing the first books, at least the relevant points. (Even fans of the first books might have benefited from a refresher.)
Still, that's their lookout. I have all of the books, and I'm pleased to be benefiting from the products of Aaronovitch's imagination. If you're curious, visit Aaronovitch's blog, in which he discusses his books, books he's reading and offers advice to would-be writers.