By Ben Aaronovitch
Ben Aaronovitch’s Moon Over Soho, sequel to Rivers of London, is an urban fantasy novel ultimately defined by its intense and overwhelming affection for life. Ripe with loving descriptions and detailed knowledge of every facet of London life; of jazz, mythology, history, science, Aaronovitch’s interests are all-encompassing and deeply passionate.
The dialogue and musings of the characters brings Moon Over Soho to life. The protagonist and narrator, Peter Grant, is modern, witty, and well-read; he insists on calling his mentor’s old magic school ‘Hogwarts’ and points out the problems with his mentor using the term “black magic” to refer to evil magic, eventually dubbing it “ethically-challenged magic”. His quips and observations are easily one of the most entertaining parts of the novel.
The novel is fast paced, but suffers from mid-series lack of resolution–having introduced the setting and characters in the first book, Aaronovitch now begins to build up an overarching plot that will presumably be expanded on as the series progresses. But without giving too much away, a major part of the plot is left unresolved. It’s an obvious sequel hook which renders the novel’s climax fairly underwhelming.
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The one major issue that I had with Rivers of London has still not been resolved in Moon Over Soho. While Aaronovitch’s characters are never flat, there is a certain unreal quality to their emotions, something slightly off in the way they react to the world around them. The most egregious example of this is that no one seems to care that magic exists–when people are first informed that the main character is a wizard, or if they see something magical for themselves, they usually make a witty quip about Harry Potter or whatever, and perhaps experience a moment of disbelief, then just kind of go back to whatever they were doing.
It’s a novel diversion from the usual “characters are awed by wonderful new world” which has been done absolutely to death, but overall the effect is that characters in Moon Over Soho seem to be the most incurious and jaded beings in fiction. “You can summon a fireball? Who cares? I’m going to talk about jazz and be all witty over here. Enjoy your magic, weirdo.” It makes the characters feel a little like characters in a video game; almost real but not quite there yet. Still, the book’s charm and wit kept drawing me back, and kept me excited for Whispers Under Ground, which is coming out later this month.