Whispers Underground: Urban fantasy at its best

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsWhispers Underground by Ben AaronovitchWhispers Underground by Ben Aaronovitch

For a policeman, Peter Grant is a terrible policeman. This might have something to do with the fact that he practices a method of policing known fondly amongst his co-workers as weird bollocks. Or that he recently hijacked an ambulance and crashed it into the River Thames. Or that the latest recruit to The Folly (the magical branch of the London Metropolitan Police) is already way better at magic than him.

Whispers Underground is the latest instalment of Ben Aaronovitch’s RIVERS OF LONDON series. Peter Grant is back (after crashing said ambulance at the end of Moon Over Soho) and on the trail of a killer. Art student James Gallagher has been found dead in a London Underground station and the London Met have determined there is some kind of magical foul play afoot, aka weird bollocks. What’s more, James Gallagher is the son of an American diplomat, so the FBI has sent a special agent over to oversee the investigation. Cue Agent Kimberley Reynolds, who sounds like she’s jumped right off the set of NYPD Blue.

PC Lesley May is the newest addition to The Folly. There’s a weird chemistry between her and Peter, made weirder by the fact that her face has been left disfigured after it fell off in Rivers of London. It’s an interesting undercurrent to have between the characters, especially after Peter’s love interest in the previous book (I was not a fan of the jazz vampires). There is also a return of the characteristic info-dumps about London, which are explained by the revelation that Peter is a failed architect.

The highlight of the book by far is the humour. Aaronovitch writes some of the funniest prose in modern fantasy. Peter Grant’s voice is distinctively wry and droll, a Gaimanesque-Pratchetty-Douglas Adamsy hybrid. There is much less of an immediate sense of danger with this novel, which means Peter Grant’s dry outlook on life takes centre stage. Even if the mystery is more vanilla than the previous books (and it was always going to be hard to top the terrifying dungeon of cat-women from Moon Over Soho, wasn’t it?), the book doesn’t need garish basement monsters. Grant carries it all on his lonesome.

One slight quip I’d make (if pushed) would be that Inspector Nightingale is still no closer to being a more fleshed out character than in books I and II. I have this gripe every time. Peter Grant is the only character with any real depth in this series (although Lesley is getting there) and the enigmatic Nightingale would be first on my list to get to know a little deeper.

I rated the two previous books at 4.5 and 4.0 stars. I haven’t really left myself much wriggle space… But Whispers Underground is definitely up there with the opening novel, Rivers of London. One of the best series I’ve read in recent years and still going strong. Bring on the next book.


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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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2 comments

  1. With both you and Terry recommending these, I have to start reading them!

  2. This sounds like a fascinating series!

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