Book Review: Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch

Genre: Crime, Fantasy
Publishing Info: 2014 by Gollancz
Pages: 374
Publisher’s Summary:
When two young girls go missing in rural Hertfordshire PC Peter Grant is sent out of London to check that nothing supernatural is involved. It’s purely routine, Nightingale thinks he’ll be done in less than a day.

But Peter’s never been one to walk away from someone in trouble, so when nothing overtly magical turns up he volunteers his services to the local police who need all the help they can get.

But because the universe likes a joke as much as the next sadistic megalomaniac, Peter soon comes to realise that dark secrets underlay the picturesque fields and villages of the countryside and there might just be work for Britain’s most junior wizard after all.

Soon he’s in a vicious race against time in a world where the boundaries between reality and fairy have never been less clear!

Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch (Gollancz, 2014)

Two missing girls in the countryside take PC Grant away from London and into a race against time against rural magic and fae in this return to form for the Rivers of London series.

After the middling previous book in this series, the author’s choice to relocate Peter Grant to the countryside for this investigation was a sensible one. Much of the magical mythology that Ben Aaronovitch has introduced to this world has been mentioned but not looked into – since the majority of this are suited to a rural setting rather than the city streets of London. Not since the first book in this series has a lot of time been spent in this location. Foxglove Summer stands out in two major ways: the setting and subsequent magical activity, and also the fact that it is quite comfortable to not wade in much to the series arc of the Faceless Man. This is also the first to not actively be centered on a central part of London culture, such as the theatre, music industry or Underground railway. Whilst those foci tended to be an interesting feature of Aaronovitch’s writing, it allows the readers to have a break from it, in the same way that Peter can have a break from the city, especially considering the devastating betrayal at the end of Broken Homes. This is not to say that he gets a break from dangerous magical activities, having to face off against fae creatures, changelings and, in one great sequence, a charging unicorn. The differences between Foxglove Summer and its predecessors that are evident are strengths of this book, and Peter is still funny, sarcastic and a fish-out-of-water, so the shift doesn’t make this book feel out of place.

The individual narrative of this book is one of the stronger in this series. A large police investigation gets under way in the Hertfordshire countryside for two missing girls, who seemed to leave their houses at the same time in the dead of night, and no trace has been seen since. There are two aspects of this narrative that are particularly noteworthy. The first links into the setting established above, and that is the focus on the human effect of disappearances, caused by magic or natural means. The small village where the girls went missing from becomes a hotbed of suspicion, fingers being pointed towards certain individuals, but also a sense of community spirit. Guest characters for this book are fleshed out quite well, with the majority of them not saints in terms of their thoughts and behaviours but feeling like real people nonetheless. The second aspect of this narrative that seems especially strong is the way in which one revelation can cause characters and readers alike to see the case in a completely different light, only for this to turn out to be a red herring. The twisting nature of a police investigation has been present in earlier books but that does not take away the ability of the author to make the reader question everything in the case frequently, which speaks to how well written it is.

Even though this book is a reprieve from the Faceless Man investigation, it is good writing from Ben Aaronovitch to not lose sight of what has happened before, and more importantly how it impacts on Peter. PC Grant is a great audience surrogate as he is always developing and changing, as he becomes more experienced in using and investigating magic and also what he learns about himself from his and others’ actions in the past. Linking to this, Lesley makes an appearance in small sections throughout, as she first texts and then has a call with Peter, suggesting that the consequences of the last book still haven’t fully materialised. The rural setting also allows Peter’s on-off love interest Beverley Brook to take over from Lesley as the secondary protagonist – so much lore continues to be dropped for all of the Orisa that they remain intriguing rather than tiresome. Here, there is an encounter between Peter and Beverley that may have lasting implications further down the line, plus the latter always seem to light up the scenes with her straight to the point dialogue. DC Dominic Croft is introduced here as a likeable sidekick to PC Grant; hopefully he can travel to London for a future instalment in this series. As has been the case throughout the series, the distinct characterisation of the protagonists make for an enjoyable read, in spite of the sometimes horrendous criminal activities they have been assigned to.

Foxglove Summer is the fifth book in Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series, yet this feels more like a return to form than a laboured sequel. The decision to have the central investigation take place in the countryside of Hertfordshire, far from the cities of London PC Grant and the readers have come to expect, allows more rural forms of magic to be looked into for the first time, as well as allowing the book to feature community spirit and how crimes can affect whole families and villages. This book has been a great read – and suggests that the future of Aaronovitch’s series looks bright indeed.

Star Rating: 4.5/5

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