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.

What Abigail Did That Summer by Ben Aaronovitch

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

Author Information: Website | Twitter

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.

22 Comments on “Novella Review: What Abigail Did That Summer by Ben Aaronovitch”

  1. For a long while I’ve been hesitant to read urban fantasy because of some real flops I read early on and perhaps because I’ve always been more comfortable in epic fantasy. But I recently read and enjoyed Ink & Sigil and there were a couple others I read and enjoyed before that, so this series is beginning to sound more appealing. Do you think a novella like this would be decent entry point to the world/series?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, yes Ink and Sigil was a fun one and I actually enjoyed that one more than the author’s Iron Druid! With regards to The Rivers of London, this probably wouldn’t be a good entry point since the character has ties to the main series and you’d need to know some of her history and the series story to fully appreciate it. I would try the main series if you’re really curious, especially if you enjoy British humor – though I do have to warn you, as much as I love these books, it did take a few volumes before things picked up! But now the Rivers of London is one of my favorite UF series!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I never really figured out if The Rivers of London series is something that would interest me or not. I seem to see reviews from all kinds of people either saying how awesome or how bad it is. I’m glad to read that this story features a character you like though! It sounds like it succeeds in the end, despite the author’s inability to properly right convincingly-different voices! Great review! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, the reaction to the first book was definitely mixed! I guess it would depend on how much you enjoy the UF genre and how much you like British humor, because it’s definitely very British and the author used to write for Doctor Who so that definitely shows too! I didn’t really feel the series took off until after books 3-4 so I guess it’s one of those cases where you had to give it a chance! 😀

      Liked by 2 people

  3. My curiosity about Aaronovitch’s River of London series keeps growing with each positive comment I read online, and my only regret is that I’ve been unable – so far – to start it. Given that even the… sideline stories are this good, I must not wait much longer before taking the proverbial plunge! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I totally understand! There have been so many series I’ve not gotten the chance to start, and those pesky UF series all tend to be in their double digits or close to it now! If you do get a chance to start this series though, be sure to give it a few books for it to get into a rhythm – that seems to be the case with a lot of UF series!

      Liked by 2 people

    • Exactly! And glad I wasn’t the only one who felt that way about The October Man. Guess it wouldn’t have been so obvious had the character himself not been TOTALLY different from Peter Grant in terms of nationality, language, background etc. and all!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I enjoyed the series at the beginning, but around Foxglove Summer I just lost patience – to me it seemed Aaronovitch didn’t know what to do with his characters, who seemed frozen in time, not developing, and just treading the same old ground. Glad to see you enjoyed this one, though!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I know a lot of people felt that the Faceless Man story arc dragged on for too long, myself included! Ironically though, it was Foxglove Summer that actually re-energized me, since it was something different for a change and it took Peter out of London to work on something else. I guess for me it helped cleanse the palate for a second round 😀

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Pingback: Bookshelf Roundup: 03/27/21: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

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