The Short Version: Peter Grant, London constable and apprentice wizard, is just starting to recover (personally and professionally) from the madness of the Covent Garden Riots (see: Rivers of London) when he stumbles into a case involving dead jazzmen. What starts off simply enough, however, reveals that there’s a greater evil at work in London – one that forces the Folly to adjust how it sees the world at large.
The Review: On the one hand, this book is an obvious step up from its predecessor because Aaronovitch takes little time to dally with the exposition of that first novel. The world has been established and if you’re foolhardy enough to jump in without reading book one, well, that’s your own fault – there’s not much of a life raft for you here (although there are a few reminder-esque concessions, mostly in the form of character development). But on the other hand, this feels perhaps ever more like a ‘set up’ book than the first one did. Where that first one introduced a lot of things about this world, this book presents our ‘Big Bad’ and sets the playing field for the ensuing adventures to come – the first book was the board, this one the pieces.
…that’s a shoddy metaphor, but it’s the best I’ve got for you.
There are two mysteries at hand here – and Aaronovitch does a great job at the classic crime trope of making you think one is ‘bigger’ than the other until WHAM you realize that the other is just the tip of the iceberg. It was an impressive move and perhaps even more impressive for the fact that Grant is – with the exception of one fantastic chase sequence – only secondarily involved. His primary case is what he dubs the ‘jazz vampire’ and so when he gets called back to a crime scene and Nightingale walks him through, we realize just how big this other thing is. And, I have to say, that does the rest of the book a slight disservice – because suddenly, the jazz vampire feels like small change. Even after the reveal (one of those headsmacking “oh of course”) moments, you feel like Grant has successfully closed something personal but the Faceless One is still out there and they know barely anything about him. There’s a real (and hopefully intentional) sense of imbalance at the end of the book: darkness looms, in a big way.
This is a somewhat unjust thing to say, though – because the jazz vampire isn’t a bad or weak villain. In fact, it’s a rather wonderful one. Aaronovitch really dives deep into the jazz world and, for a jazz listener, it was a joy. Peter isn’t much of a fan, at least not of anything post-bop – and I have to agree, although there are times that a good track by the atonal modernists can grab me – but the author seems to have an affinity more akin to that of Peter’s father. Even his little note at the end, explaining that one note about the story is entirely true except for the song, which he changed for narrative purposes… that’s a cool little slice of history, made even cooler by Aaronovitch’s acknowledgement of the reality.
Back to what I was saying earlier, it was nice to pick up a bit of character development over the course of the novel – nice to learn more about Nightingale’s past, about the past of wizards in general, and even to get to spend a bit more time with Grant and his family. The only real surprise, character-wise, was how the River Thames clan barely factors into this novel, although they’re prominently featured in the background (as they seem to be for most things). Still, it was nice to know that Lesley won’t be forgotten and that the team at the Folly has coalesced into, well, a proper team.
Rating: 4 out of 5. A really solid read and a strong entry into a so-far, so-good series. The jazz vampire was a fun case and the reveal of a far-greater evil in London has me excited to see how things build – because it’s clear that they’re going to build, and probably rather quickly. Peter Grant is a unique character in the urban fantasy genre – just different enough from everyone else – and so is Aaronovitch’s London. I look forward to spending many, many more pages there.