I have thoroughly enjoyed the Rivers of London series as a fresh urban fantasy – and all the freedoms and inventiveness which comes with that – merged with the familiar structures and language of a police procedural.
In the previous book, The Hanging Tree, Aaronovitch finally reveals the identity of The Faceless Man, the antagonist around whom (the newly qualified) Detective Peter Grant has been dancing since Moon Over Soho. Inevitably, now that the identity has been revealed, the new novel focuses on the Police’s attempts to trace, trap and thwart his plans and we see Peter Grant embedded within the full – albeit onerous and unwieldy – support of the Metropolitan Police as well as Nightingale and The Folly.
The cast is wide and has spiralled almost exponentially with each novel until it did become a little testing to keep track of who was whom and a lot of the secondary characters become mere ciphers and plot devices. Even Beverley – and I love Beverley Brooke – seemed distinctly relegated in this novel, having shined previously. Whilst Beverley may have slipped a little out of sight, Molly had a moment in the spotlight (almost literally in an ethereal and moonlit spot at least) with a new character, the high fae Foxglove who may have been her sister and had been imprisoned with and had helped imprison Peter for a spell during this novel before helping him to escape.
Even the magic seemed very familiar here too: it was the same formae and vestigia and spells as we had seen before and the hints of Nightingale’s vast power and control, alas, never seemed to materialise. This was a guy who destroyed a tank and brought down planes and buildings, and through all seven books, that force has never really been seen. Not even in the finale with the most dangerous man in London and the most ruthless and powerful magician known about.
This book had been set up as a finale and climax to the series, and there was one small part of me that wondered whether Aaronovitch was going to draw it out to another book. The novel is a continual cat-and-mouse game where Grant and Nightingale nearly capture The Faceless Man, but he escapes, only for another clue to lead to another attempt; and another and another. A magical bell was crafted, which was apparently a macguffin crucial to The Faceless Man’s ultimate plan to create a new world order through the powers of Merlin, and captured and destroyed; a second replacement bell was captured and destroyed; it started to become a little silly when a quick phone call revealed that there was in fact actually a third bell too!
The finale could easily have been revealed to be yet another distraction and set up another book. Which would have been a disappointment. And I think a disappointment perhaps for Aaronovitch as well as for the reader. There’s something – not quite lazy – not quite tired – in the concept of this book but some passion missing. I wonder how much pressure was put on Aaronovitch and how much his originally exciting fresh take on urban fantasy became a little bit of a chore… His stand-out novel in the series, for me at least, was Foxglove Summer, the novel where he took Peter Grant out of London, away from the primary Antagonist, The Faceless Man, and pared the character list down massively.
Lies Sleeping, doesn’t, however shirk from the final confrontation, although it leaves enough loose threads at the end which suggest that further novels, or perhaps more likely novellas, in the world of The Folly may well continue to appear. That confrontation, however, was a little anti-climactic for me. The breakout scene in fact, for me at least, was a few pages before the final confrontation when an old and familiar character: Mr Punch, or Puncinella, the spirit of misrule and chaos and mob anarchy who had been the antagonist in the very first Rivers of London novel. His presence having haunted Peter throughout, especially with the damage caused to the enigmatic Lesley May and her eventual betrayal of Peter, it was nice to see his story fleshed out a little – if that is not an entirely inappropriate word!
I am aware, re-reading what I have written now, that this is coming across as quite negative. Please don’t take it that way! This was a greatly enjoyable read, albeit one with some issues which many series encounter. Compared to The Dresden Files, I much prefer it as Peter Grant is much fresher and more engaging that Harry Dresden, and much less inclined to snark and lingering male gazes over female forms; and I prefer the more procedural approach here. In fact, the detail in the policing side of the novel strikes me as very authentic and detailed with Peter Grant’s use of HOLMES2 and AirWaves etc.
I don’t know whether it was my copy of the novel – which was electronic and could have been corrupted somehow – but I did notice in a couple of places actual grammatical errors in the text: words missing from sentences and repeated phrases within a sentence. Almost as if the copy I had had not yet been proof-read. Not enough to take me out of the book wholly but enough to interrupt the flow… It was a little strange because my edition was not an ARC; I don’t know whether those issues appear in anyone else’s editions.
Plot / Pace: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Date: 15th November 2018