Moon Over Soho  - Ben Aaronovitch image
Following the resounding success of my Locus Quest, I faced a dilemma: which reading list to follow it up with? Variety is the spice of life, so I’ve decided to diversify and pursue six different lists simultaneously. This book falls into my FINISHING THE SERIES! list.

I loves me a good series! But I'm terrible for starting a new series before finishing my last - so this reading list is all about trying to close out those series I've got on the go.

Normally I’m pretty good at reviewing a book, if not immediately after finishing it, than within the next two or three books I read. But sometimes there’s a lot going on in life – work, wives and babies do not rate my book reviews especially highly on their priorities matrix – and sometimes one slips by. Also, the faster I read a book, the sooner I’m entering the ‘review phase’, and if I’ve not written the previous review yet this creates a backlog. Finally, the issue is compounded if the book is a sequel, and I’ve not yet reviewed the first in the series (because surely I should start there?). Such are the woes that have beset my best efforts to get this review written, but I have persevered and kept the faith. I look around now and I’ve just gotten home from work, my wife is going to the supermarket before she comes back from hers, the baby has passed-out early because it’s too damn hot to play... I have free time! Amazing! Let’s get this review written, eh?

Somehow I’ve written nearly two hundred words and haven’t said a single one about the book. Forgive me. It’s too damn hot to think straight.

I remember when my wife spotted Rivers of London in Cardiff’s Waterstones. I asked if she’d found anything good and she just thrust it at me like a bouquet of flowers, making big puppy-dog eyes. We were broke, but I still bought it for her. She got Moon Over Soho and Whispers Under Ground as soon as they came out. She kept telling me to read them, and I knew that I would enjoy them, but I kept putting them off. I read a lot of sci-fi and my wife reads a lot of fantasy – modern urban-fantasy series are one the cross-hatched patches on the Venn diagram of our book-love. When first we met, we bonded over the Fix Castor series and as we fell in love she got me hooked on the Dresden Files.

It’s easy to over-hype something good.
It’s easy to be disappointed when something doesn’t live up the hype.
It’s important to keep your expectations realistic.

The writer, Ben Aaranovitch, doesn’t feel compelled to pull his punches, just because he’s writing genre-fic for a commercial sweet-spot. Rivers ends with a suckerpunch to one of the supporting cast that sets a deep emotional hook to drag the reader over the gap to book two. We were all desperate to know, is she gonna be OK?

Moon Over Soho sees our lad, Peter Grant, the Met Police’s modern magician (in training), settling into his new world. As I mentioned in my review of Rivers, it’s really refreshing to read a UF where the magic doesn’t scuttle in the shadows – this sh!t is going down in broad daylight. There are some great scenes here with Peter turning the spotlight of a modern scientific mind on the mechanics of magic. OK, so Pete’s no scientific genius, but he’s thinking in experiments and clear, straight lines.

Whatever the UF trappings, this is at heart a detective story. The big case in this instalment revolves around promising Jazz musicians turning up dead. Something about the premise reminded me of Douglas Adam’s Dirk Gently mysteries. Hmm... saying that makes me want to read the Holistic Detective Agency again. The supernatural ‘baddies’ behind it all, while not earth-shatteringly imaginative are a clever and emotive spin on a classic – how often does the big-bad takedown scene give you heartache on the killer's behalf?

The sub-plot, The Stip-Club of Dr Moreau, is awesome – obviously it helps that The Island of Dr Moreau is one my favourite old-school sci-fi tales – and personally I’d have a liked a bit more down that line. Larry the talking head is genuinely creepy for an otherwise light-hearted book. And the work done here on the series-thread antagonist (‘the little crocodiles’) lays a solid foundation of weird and nasty to build from going forward (and leaves us with a great cliffhanger).

Ben Aaranovitch’s vision of London is familiar and realistic, for all its otherworldly adventure. This is a man who knows his city inside-out, and his love for the every-day bustle shines through. As the name suggests, Soho takes centre stage for this outing and it’s crisp and vivid and rang true.

For anyone who hasn’t heard – there’s a TV series of Peter Grant’s adventures in the works! It was confirmed recently by the publishers, but I heard rumours about meetings through the twittervine a few months ago. I can’t say I’m surprised, it’s going to work perfectly.

So why no fifth star? I’m afraid Moon Over Soho is another of those books where it’s hard to put my finger on the problem. I think (maybe?), the main and sub-plot stand too far apart, without really reinforcing each other thematically. The first is a little too obvious, and the second doesn’t resolve in a satisfying fashion. It feels a bit like a bridging book, while the ‘little crocodiles’ thread finds its feet. None of these are big problems – this is still a delightfully breezy book that I tore through every second I had spare – but without that coalescence in the climax it lacks the cohesive punch to make me go “hell yes, now THAT is how you DO IT!”.

After this I read: A Storm of Swords: Steel and Snow