Book Review: Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Book 4 of Peter Grant
Publisher: DAW (US: February 4, 2014)
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
New rule: if you are an urban fantasy starring a London policeman-turned-wizard named Peter Grant, then I MUST READ YOU. Let’s just say I have waited a long time for this! After devouring the first three books last spring, I was left with a void that only this series’ dry wit and magical action could provide, and now book four has finally made its way to the US.
Ben Aaronovitch does not hold back for Peter’s latest adventure, which involves our favorite magician-constable working to solve yet another string of odd deaths happening around the city. The first red flag goes up when a chance car accident leads him to a murder victim, who may have a link to the mysterious “Faceless Man.” That’s the big baddie that Peter and his supervisor Nightingale have been hunting over the course of the last couple of books.
As such, Broken Homes probably wouldn’t be the best jumping on point if you’re new to the series, albeit the central plot within the bigger picture is still wildly entertaining. When it is discovered that the odd deaths are all connected to a controversial housing estate “designed by a nutter, built by charlatans, and inhabited by the truly desperate”, Peter and his fellow investigators come up with an insane plan to get to the bottom of the mystery. What do they do? They move in and go under cover. Trouble ensues. And with that, tons of amusement for readers.
Here’s why I think it would be a good idea to at least tackle the previous book first before reading this one: if you’re not familiar with the overall story arc with the Faceless Man, the first half of the book will probably feel pretty slow. I personally was interested in the investigations because a lot of it had to do with uncovering the identity of the enemy and trying to capture him, but without that context I think a lot of the happenings will feel disjointed or only tenuously connected.
But as someone who has been following this series, I think it is clearly starting to come into its own. With that comes a greater appreciation for the little quirks only found in these books, like London’s rivers personified as semi-divine spirits, Peter’s esoteric interests into the city’s architecture or even his frequent funny jabs at the Metropolitan Police. All this made even some of the more low-key bits of the book very fascinating and engaging — such as the scene with the spring celebration, or descriptions of Peter’s magical training sessions.
However, I have to say the second half of the book — which includes the subsequent build-up to the climax — and ending is simply phenomenal. As the main protagonist and narrator, I thought Peter would always be my favorite character in these books, but Nightingale may have just given him a run for his money. His anachronisms and total fail with modern technologies notwithstanding, the guy is awesome. You might think you know wizarding duels, but you don’t — not until you read about the one near the end of this book, with Nightingale versus the Russian Night Witch. I think I may have a crush.
Then, there’s the climax and the shocking “twist”. I put the quotations there because I’m not sure how truly surprising it is if you’ve been following the series and the characters. It was shocking yes, but it wasn’t completely unexpected. The clues leading up to it weren’t entirely subtle, though that might just be me. All the same, the excitement and snappy pace in these final chapters will make you ache for more, and leave you desperate to find out what happens next.
Sigh, which leads me back to this familiar place, of pining for the next book. The waiting does not get easier!