BOOK REVIEW: FOXGLOVE SUMMER / AUTHOR: BEN AARONOVITCH / PUBLISHER: GOLLANCZ / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW (HARDBACK), JULY 9TH (PAPERBACK)
When it comes to the genre of urban fantasy, connoisseurs tend to rate Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London and its sequels quite highly. The adventures of Metropolitan policeman and apprentice wizard Peter Grant have thus far all been based around the city of London (it is, after all, where he works), and the author has drawn from the capital’s rich geography and occult history to create a profound and engaging world filled with the grit and stench of the city, though at the same time celebrating its warmth and wealth of choice. The very setup of the books is both urban and fantastic.
Foxglove Summer breaks this trend by taking place mostly in a small village in Herefordshire. Two small girls have gone missing and it’s all hands on deck for the local police force to find the little angels before it’s too late. Grant is drafted in almost as a matter of course; the disappearance features enough suspicious circumstances to require a routine check-up from a copper who understands magic, and that means that Grant has to leave his beloved city and risk getting his shoes covered in horse manure.
What could have been a dreadful city-slickers-style parody is instead handled with a great deal of respect, bringing the distinctive urban tone to the countryside effortlessly. Aaronovitch is at his mesmerizing best here. He teases us with tiny hints of the greater world, from the recent history of the magic community, to the implication that there are law and rules that are currently beyond the protagonist’s knowledge or purview. The way in which Grants ‘specialism’ is handled is particularly well done, being both all too readily believable and yet extremely practical at the same time. Plotlines and characters from the previous novels are skilfully woven into the narrative, but the main plot is never particularly sidelined. This does mean that the book feels very much part of a larger, ongoing work and at times it is annoying that arc-plot gets in the way of the action.
The main story functions as an interesting thriller, and the additional commentary on the way the UK handles major incidents like the disappearance of children is both thought-provoking and carefully handled. The mystical elements are relatively predictable but that doesn’t make them any less fun, and it’s nice to see certain fantasy tropes handled with the respect and terror they deserve.
Foxglove Summer is evocative, mysterious, engaging, and, mostly, enormous amounts of fun. Fans of the Peter Grant series will not be disappointed, and those new to the books should start with Rivers in London, safe in the knowledge that the sequels are just as good.
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