Book Review: Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Book 5 of Peter Grant
Publisher: DAW (US: January 6, 2015)
Mogsy’s Rating: 5 of 5 stars
There are only a few urban fantasy series I would drop everything for, and this is one of them. So when Foxglove Summer arrived on my doorstep, I did exactly that – every other book that was on my plate got put on hold while I set forth to devour this one. Move over, “The Boy Who Lived”, for when it comes to my favorite British wizard, his name is Peter Grant.
Foxglove Summer may the fifth installment of the series, but it’s still going strong. While I hardly ever recommend starting in the middle of a series, I suppose if you’ve been mighty curious about these books, this could possibly be a decent place to jump on board, it being book five notwithstanding. Here, author Ben Aaronovitch gives our protagonist a little break from his long-term struggle with his arch nemesis the Faceless Man, sending Peter out of London into the rural countryside to investigate the possibility of magic involvement in the disappearance of two young girls.
We could all use a little breather sometimes, and this served as a nice rest from the hustle and bustle of the city. But of course, it’s never a vacation for Police Constable Grant, a Londoner to the core and who now finds himself way out of his element. He is thrown into the case, working with the cordial yet skeptical local police who have no idea what to make of Peter’s area of expertise, namely all things supernatural and thaumaturgical – a perfectly reasonable response, if you can imagine what it would be like if Mulder and Scully suddenly showed up at your precinct going on about formae and vestigia. But time’s a-ticking, and the desperation grows with each day that goes by with still no trace of the two missing girls. It’s time to try anything and everything Peter can think of, including bringing in his friend Beverley Brook, a genius loci of the rivers.
Out of all the books so far, I feel this one has reads the most like a police procedural and also has the strongest self-contained and cohesive mystery plot yet. A lot of urban fantasies sell themselves as mysteries, but this one actually feels like a mystery, with subtle clues dropped along the course of the investigation that the attentive reader might pick up and use later on to put together the pieces. The story is also light on the magical elements in the beginning, but rest assured no Peter Grant adventure ends without a whole lot of weird stuff going on by the time it’s finished. What sort of weird stuff, you ask? Try a couple of invisible and pissed off carnivorous unicorns on for size.
Why do I love these novels so? Namely because they feel so different from my usual urban fantasy fare. I’ve seen the series described as “very British” in terms of the writing, and definitely when it comes to the humor as well. Indeed, Peter’s most hilarious lines are often laced with strong undertones of sarcasm and self-deprecation, and delivered with the kind of subtlety that contrasts greatly with the in-your-face type of snark that I’m so used to in my mostly American UF heroes and heroines. Oh, but how Peter Grant makes me laugh and laugh and laugh. Reading these books in public is a risk, because I never know when something Aaronovitch writes will make me guffaw out loud, drawing stares from strangers around me who all then think I’ve gone nuts.
It’s hard to believe, considering how much I adored the first and second books in the series, but Foxglove Summer may be my favorite Peter Grant novel so far. It’s true that it’s a bit of a departure from the previous books. For one thing, the city of London has been as much of a character as the people living in it, but now we have a story that takes place almost entirely in a small village in the outskirts. And yet, the beautiful descriptions of the English countryside more than make up for it, not to mention the fascinating information on the geography and history of Herefordshire. Also noticeably absent are the usual supporting characters, including the Rivers (with the exception of Beverley) and most glaringly of all, Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, the mentor and supervisor of Peter Grant – and also my favorite character after Peter. Still, I was more than willing to overlook this, given how tightly the story was told. These days, a lot of urban fantasies are so overwhelming with the sheer amount of things going on in them, it’s nice just to sit back and enjoy a straight-up mystery with a highly focused plot and a clear direction.
I look forward to when we’ll get back to the larger story arc following the Faceless Man, especially after the giant bombshell dropped on us at the end of the last book, Broken Homes. Still, for a brief respite, I couldn’t be happier with the way Foxglove Summer turned out. I sense the events of this book will have some lasting repercussions, possibly extending into the next book since things ended pretty abruptly here with a couple of minor loose ends still unresolved. On the whole, however, this book is a great example of how a series and its main character can grow while still retaining everything that makes the previous novels so great. An extraordinary fun ride that’s not to be missed.
A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to DAW Books!