Broken Homes: Changes the direction of the story

Reposting to include Marion’s new review.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsBroken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch fantasy book reviewsBroken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch

Peter Grant, mediocre policeman and inferior wizard, is back. Broken Homes (2013) is the fourth instalment of Ben Aaronvitch’s PETER GRANT series, and the detective returns with his love of acronyms and Red Stripe. Once more under the supervision of DCI Thomas Nightingale, Peter, Lesley and (the newly initiated) thirteen-year-old Abigail, must police the supernatural elements of London’s crime scene.

The story opens with a series of seemingly unconnected crimes: a car accident, a body half-buried in some scrubland, a suicide and the theft of a magic book from a home of a famous architect. And the missing link? The Faceless Man, of course, the other recurring character and super-baddy of the series.

London’s ugliest estate, Sky Garden in Elephant & Castle, was designed by the aforementioned famous architect, and seems to be the centre of much supernatural interest. Under the orders of Nightingale, Peter and Lesley take residence in the estate and soon discover, amongst other things, a tree nymph, the spirit of an underground river, and the daughter of Mama Thames, goddess of the River Thames. There is also stash of black-market televisions being stored under the estate, of which Peter purchases one (and you can begin to understand why his credibility as a policeman is somewhat sketchy).

If the plot of Broken Homes sounds complicated, that’s because it is. Aaronovitch weaves many a thread to this story, and not all of them are neatly tied up. The novel feels much more episodic than its predecessors, and it was hard to discern a unifying theme throughout. The plot jumped from case to case so quickly that it was difficult to keep track of which plot threads had been dealt with, and which hadn’t. By the end of the novel I knew I still needed answers, but I’d completely forgotten what the questions were.

Broken Homes did gain purpose and direction around two thirds of the way through, though, when Peter and Lesley moved onto the estate. Suddenly the plot was hurtling towards a climax which came equipped with such a shocking revelation, I almost felt conned. I love a twist at the best of times, but when there has been absolutely no foreshadowing or indication of what might happen, it feels like a bit of a cheap trick.

Criticism aside, there is obviously a reason why Peter Grant is the nation’s favourite rubbish wizard-police-detective. His voice is still one of the most distinctive and hilarious in fantasy today, and regardless of some rather questionable plotting, the PETER GRANT series still remains highly entertaining. Broken Homes is perhaps not the best novel to begin with if you’ve never read the series before — Moon Over Soho and Whispers Under Ground are much more able to stand alone — but if you are an established fan of Peter’s capers, this will not disappoint.

The fifth PETER GRANT book, which I’ll be reviewing soon, is Foxglove Summer.PC Peter Grant Book Series Ben Aaronovitch fantasy book reviews

~Ray McKenzie


Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch fantasy book reviewsI liked Broken Homes a lot, in large part because Aaronson finally put his interest in architecture front and center in one of these books. The story takes place in a strange but totally believable council housing estate that is a (magical) tower. I probably have to pause here and explain that I live in northern coastal California, next door to a county whose county center is a beautiful and completely impractical building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, so it’s possible the tower in Broken Homes resonated a little more for me than it will for other readers. Aaronson has fun poking fun at the myopia of architects, who design buildings that look pretty and are difficult to live in, and housing bureaucracies, who make decisions famed for their unintended consequences.

Broken Homes is not about the foibles of designers, though; it’s partly about the source of magic in this world. Lesley and Peter go undercover in council housing as they try to make sense of three seemingly unrelated cases: a body dump, a strange suicide and the theft of a grimoire. These three unrelated incidents all bear the fingerprints of the Faceless Man.

Unlike Ray, I found the connections among these three cases well-laid out and believable. Similarly, I didn’t feel conned at the ending, although I was shocked. I do believe that the terrible thing that happens at the end of Broken Homes is set up within this book. Without creating spoilers, I will say this: In a conversation Lesley has describing a visit to a bar with their goblin friend Zach, a large clue is given. There is also something a character says in a scene where Peter and Lesley are being held at gunpoint in a barn by a Russian witch and other minions of the Faceless Man that foreshadowed things for me. Although I didn’t know what was going on at the time, I definitely knew something was off.

I think part of what makes the shocking ending feel like the rug was completely pulled out from under us, and maybe even unfairly, is that it happens in the last two pages of the book and there is literally no time for the characters, or us, to process it. Peter is a first-person narrator and our conduit into the emotional life of these books, and Peter has no time to work out what just happened. I also think Aaronson’s good depiction of emotional repression throughout this series (Nightingale, who suffers from survivor guilt and redirects every conversation about what happened at Ettersberg, for example) means that issues haven’t been addressed in previous books. And now, will they ever?

There is a beautiful scene about just that, though, when Peter and Lesley go to the goblin market. Lesley, whose face was disfigured when she was attacked by Mr. Punch in the first book, wears a mask, but masks are forbidden in the goblin market, so she takes it off. When they pursue a suspect, she and Peter end up on the street, Lesley without her mask, and people react with both horror and glee, capturing images of her on their phones. This scene broke my heart. Throughout the series, Lesley and Peter have edged around Lesley’s feelings, usually taking refuge in banter. This one scene is a stark reminder of what Lesley has lost.

I don’t think Broken Homes is the strongest book in the series, but it advances our understanding of magic, and it changes the direction of the story. This story adds baggage to our main characters. I’m waiting to see what they do with it.

~Marion Deeds

Publisher: My name is Peter Grant, and I am a keeper of the secret flame — whatever that is. Truth be told, there’s a lot I still don’t know. My superior Nightingale, previously the last of England’s wizardly governmental force, is trying to teach me proper schooling for a magician’s apprentice. But even he doesn’t have all the answers. Mostly I’m just a constable sworn to enforce the Queen’s Peace, with the occasional help from some unusual friends and a well-placed fire blast. With the new year, I have three main objectives, a) pass the detective exam so I can officially become a DC, b) work out what the hell my relationship with Lesley Mai, an old friend from the force and now fellow apprentice, is supposed to be, and most importantly, c) get through the year without destroying a major landmark. Two out of three isn’t bad, right? A mutilated body in Crawley means another murderer is on the loose. The prime suspect is one Robert Weil, who may either be a common serial killer or an associate of the twisted magician known as the Faceless Man — a man whose previous encounters I’ve barely survived. I’ve also got a case about a town planner going under a tube train and another about a stolen grimoire. But then I get word of something very odd happening in Elephant and Castle, on a housing estate designed by a nutter, built by charlatans, and inhabited by the truly desperate. If there’s a connection to the Crawley case, I’ll be entering some tricky waters of juristiction with the local river spirits. We have a prickly history, to say the least. Just the typical day for a magician constable.

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RACHAEL "RAY" MCKENZIE, with us since December 2014, was weaned onto fantasy from a young age. She grew up watching Studio Ghibli movies and devoured C.S. Lewis’ CHRONICLES OF NARNIA not long after that (it was a great edition as well -- a humongous picture-filled volume). She then moved on to the likes of Pullman’s HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy and adored The Hobbit (this one she had on cassette -- those were the days). A couple of decades on, she is still a firm believer that YA and fantasy for children can be just as relevant and didactic as adult fantasy. Her firm favourites are the British greats: Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams and Neil Gaiman, and she’s recently discovered Ben Aaronovitch too. Her tastes generally lean towards Urban Fantasy but basically anything with compelling characters has her vote.

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MARION DEEDS, with us since March 2011, is retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

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2 comments

  1. I hate completely unbelievable endings! They make me feel cheated. :(

  2. That’s so disappointing, because these sound fun otherwise. Maybe I’ll start with the first one or two.

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