REVIEW: Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch (2013)
SPOILERS are included in this review.
Ratings:Broken Homes: ***** (5 Stars)
Brief reasons for ratings: The latest in the Peter Grant series (now comprising four titles, starting at
Rivers of London (UK title), Moon Over Soho, Whispers Under Ground and now continuing with Broken Homes) carries on the narrative flow smoothly from the previous novels. The new addition brings new detail about familiar characters and wends its way through a beautifully shaped plot to a rather surprising end. I was carried through on a wave of excitement, and really didn't want to set the book down until the final page had been turned- and even then rather excessively enjoyed the Author's note ('mine, mine I tell you!')... Personable, unpretentiously intelligent and humorous in a particularly British/Londoner style, this book is as magical and intricate as London itself.
Recommended for:YA readers, those who like fantasy fiction with 'many levels' and lots of fun vocab/language and all Londoners in general. Particularly recommended for fans of Terry Pratchett-esque blends of magic and realism, who like a good mix of crime, magic, 'headology' and plot twists, as they will love this book (and the series). Also recommended is that once you've purchased a copy, you set aside some time, some tea and some hobnobs, because you won't want to leave the sofa for a good while....
The wonder of the magic within this series is that it is treated much like an undiscovered, under-budgeted science. This is continued in the same way, as the magical task force that the main characters belong to are a tiny, under-budgeted branch of the Metropolitan police. Both evoke a strong sense of solid (British) government/beaureaucracy and realism that serves as a fantastic and atmospheric backdrop for the more surreal moments in the story.
As well as including Nightingale as a more 'Gandalf' type traditional wizard (come on- Shadowfax would have definitely been a Jaguar if he was around these days) mentor figure, Peter Grant's modernity serves as a very grounded and real update to the stereotypical 'young apprentice' character. Peter's ability to adapt the world around him to include both modern conveniences (electricity, computers etc) and magic (Latin, spells etc) is very Steve Jobs and communicates his intelligence as well as his witticisms and smart decisions do throughout the book.
Aaronovitch's fascination with nature, the unnatural and human construction is very present within the book. This is even mirrored in the positioning of the magical folk/anthropomorphized and symbolic nature deities as both part of and opposite to the city of London itself. Taking multiculturalism a step further forward, the characters in this book are of varied personality, ethnicity, background and class, and it only serves to further a very strong sense of culture- Londoner first, everything else, second- and a sort of direct honesty that may, upon occasion, make the mild mannered cringe.
The nature/construction theme very much applies also to the architecture featured within the novel, and I particularly enjoyed the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and Terry's Chocolate Orange attributes of the council block that features as a main plot device (to find out more, read the book!) The inclusion of an architect and a variety of architectural description to set the scene and encourage mood is interestingly done in a subtle and yet consistent fashion that is surprisingly satisfying for even those with minimal architectural interest.
Setting aside the more traditional 'detective story' themes allows the author an extra degree of freedom to take his characters to places that really define both them and the authors style. For example, the fight in the Goblin Market takes place in a way that is more reminiscent of Jason Bourne in extreme domestic violence than a wizards duel. The narrative is freely but well shaped, and flows naturally downstream, carrying the reader with it- with only a few accidental dunks under the surface. For me, the betrayal at the end was more serious than it seemed to Peter Grant, and that reminded me of one of his greatest skills- being able to adapt to whatever life throws at him. Whether that is Faceless men, wizards, the King of the Fairies or simply his mother after some money, Peter Grant's endearing sturdiness and adaptability is one of him most redeeming strengths.