Novella Review: What Abigail Did That Summer by Ben Aaronovitch
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Book 5.3 of Peter Grant/Rivers of London
Publisher: Subterranean Press (March 18, 2021)
Length: 232 pages
The Rivers of London series has been graced with many incredible supporting characters, but none have been as compelling as Abigail Kamara, Peter Grant’s feisty teenage cousin who has been making a name for herself as a young practitioner-in-training and doing some of her own detective work on the side. So you can imagine how excited I was when I found out she was getting her own story in What Abigail Did That Summer, a novella set concurrently to the fifth book in the main series, Foxglove Summer, in which Peter finds himself in Herefordshire investigating the disappearance of some local kids and getting himself entangled in whacky unicorn magic. Meanwhile though, Abigail was back in London, working on a different sort of missing children case…
It is the summer of 2013 and school has just been let out, leaving Abigail with too much time and freedom on her hands. As it happens, an old friend of hers named Natali had suddenly reappeared in her life with an invitation to a “happening”, but when it came time to meet, the other girl is nowhere to be found. Instead, while waiting in the park, she chances upon a boy around her age named Simon, who had come to the same place because he too had been invited by a girl named Jessica, also a no-show. Before long, both Natali and Jessica are appearing on missing posters and the police are asking Abigail and Simon some uncomfortable questions. Though the girls eventually turned up safe and sound and the police investigation was dropped, Abigail senses magical involvement and isn’t content to put it all behind her just yet.
In the meantime, she and Simon have struck up a comfortable friendship, and when he decides to tag along on some of her reconnaissance work, she could hardly say no. Of course, that meant having to introduce him to her other helpers, a troop of clever talking foxes who have come to take a keen interest in our protagonist and her activities.
While What Abigail Did That Summer is technically a novella, it is a hefty one at more than two hundred pages, allowing for plenty of character and story development. As such, while I typically shy away from short fiction, this one was long enough to satisfy my addiction to the Rivers of London books, even though Peter Grant is not in it at all. Still, that’s a good thing—this is Abigail’s story and hers alone, and I loved that we got to be in her head the entire time, experiencing her life, seeing her world through her eyes. In fact, there is hardly any influence from anyone from the main series at all, save for Thomas Nightingale, and that’s only for a few scenes at the end, as well as fleeting comments from the Folly archivist in the form of footnotes explaining some of Abigail’s more slangish vernacular.
But for all that it takes us away from what we’re used to, there’s a lot here that also feels familiar, leaving no doubt this is part of the Rivers of London universe and under the scope of the Folly. It’s true however that we see things through a “younger” lens, Abigail’s POV being limited to what she knows, the people and places she can access. While important side characters are mainly limited to other teens and foxes, I wouldn’t really classify this as strictly YA either, as I imagine it has tons of crossover appeal. We get to learn a lot more about Abigail’s home life, which isn’t exactly hunky-dory, but simply knowing what goes on behind the scenes makes her feel more real to us, defining her character as more than just “Peter’s cousin.” I also adored the talking foxes, especially Indigo, and I’m glad they played such a significant role in the story.
I don’t have any major criticisms, but thought I’d mention this because I found I experienced something similar with The October Man, another Rivers of London novella written from the POV of someone other than Peter, yet whose voice still sounds a lot like Peter. All of Ben Aaronovitch’s protagonists just seem to sound the same to me. To be fair, Abigail’s voice left no doubt we were following a teenage girl, but many of her descriptive patterns and her overall narrative style fit Peter’s to a tee. The author probably isn’t used to writing from another, non-Peter Grant character’s perspective, and it definitely shows.
Still, overall, What Abigail Did That Summer was an entertaining novella, and I had a blast. I’m also intrigued with the way it ended, leaving things wide open for possibly more adventures starring Abigail and her foxy friends. Hopefully, Aaronovitch will explore this avenue, because as much as I enjoy the Rivers of London novels, I’m also having a lot of fun with these “side jaunts” with other characters. They certainly add a bit of fascination and variety to the world of the Folly, and if you’re a fan of the main series, you’ll not want to miss this.