Peter Grant: Whispers Underground by Ben Aaronovitch – Book Review [Bane of Kings]
Bane of Kings reviews the third novel in the bestselling Peter Grant series, written by author Ben Aaronovitch, published in the UK by Gollancz.
“An awesome third entry – urban fantasy fans will love a series like this.” ~Bane of Kings
I’ve been a huge fan of the Peter Grant series by Ben Aaronovitch, ever since I picked them both up in a buy one get one half price deal in WHSmith. Whilst Whispers Underground, or indeed the series in general, may not be the fastest thing out there, it does certainly manage to keep you entertained due to several reasons – a good strong cast that Aaronovitch isn’t afraid to make bad stuff happen to – an accuracy in description and a lot of correct research – these are many of the things that make this series and this third novel awesome. Whilst it may not be the best for newcomers – I suggest you pick up Rivers of London – book one in the series first, Whispers Underground is an entry that will keep you entertained if you enjoyed the first two novels.
A WHOLE NEW REASON TO MIND THE GAP
It begins with a dead body at the far end of Baker Street tube station, all that remains of American exchange student James Gallagher—and the victim’s wealthy, politically powerful family is understandably eager to get to the bottom of the gruesome murder. The trouble is, the bottom—if it exists at all—is deeper and more unnatural than anyone suspects . . . except, that is, for London constable and sorcerer’s apprentice Peter Grant. With Inspector Nightingale, the last registered wizard in England, tied up in the hunt for the rogue magician known as “the Faceless Man,” it’s up to Peter to plumb the haunted depths of the oldest, largest, and—as of now—deadliest subway system in the world.
At least he won’t be alone. No, the FBI has sent over a crack agent to help. She’s young, ambitious, beautiful . . . and a born-again Christian apt to view any magic as the work of the devil. Oh yeah—that’s going to go well.
I put Whispers Underground on my Best of 2012 list and for good reason. I really enjoyed this book. Peter Grant is a strong, likable character and doesn’t seem too outlandish or unrealistic. In fact, Aaronovitch manages to create interesting and enjoyable characters all across the book and develop them throughout, Lesley, Molly, Nightingale – even though they don’t get a POV chapter as the whole book is told through Peter’s perspective in first person, in a similar way to the Dresden Files novels by Jim Butcher. First person-only narratives can really suffer if you don’t like the main character, so it’s a good job that Aaronovitch gets it right where other books have failed.
Everything that Aaronovitch describes sounds realistic. We get a real sense of London, the city that I used to live in as a child, and the attention to detail is great. Whilst this means that the pace is going to be slower than normal, Aaronovitch makes up for it with the vivid descriptions and the wonderful exploration of real places in the novel.
The case that Aaronovitch sets Peter Grant on involves the London Underground, which I’ve only really encountered in fiction in the latest James Bond film, Skyfall. There’s a nice line from the novel which amused me a lot when I was reading it that relates to the Underground, when Peter is talking to Kumar:
“‘If you have to walk the tracks with the juice on then you stay off the sleepers. they’re slippery. You slip, you fall, you put your hands out and zap.’
‘Zap,’ I said. ‘That’s the technical term for it, is it? What do you call someone who’s been zapped?’
‘Mr. Crispy,’ said Kumar.”
Ben Aaronovitch is a strong writer and as this sentence above shows, he can manage to keep a book filled with police investigations entertaining. Especially when this is the novel with a bigger focus on the mystery than the last two books, and magic is explored in more depth as opposed to the last two novels. The action scenes are written strongly and Aaronovitch shows that he can pull of a variety of fight scenes without making them feel the same over and over again.
In conclusion, Aaronovitch has really pulled out all of the stops to make Whispers Underground as good as it can be, and for me – it’s the best novel in the series so far – I really enjoyed it – and is a worthy place on my best of 2012 list.