I’d been looking forward to Whispers Under Ground in much the same way someone on a strict diet looks forward to a massive pizza with extra cheese. Ben Aaronovitch‘s apprentice magician/London Copper Peter Grant hit all the right notes, and the first two books in the series, Rivers of London (Midnight Riot in the USA) and Moon Over Soho were superb pieces of Urban Fantasy I’d recommend to anyone who likes reading.
Which makes it a shame that Whispers Under Ground didn’t hit the same high mark.
It feels like half a book. Plot points from the previous two novels are expanded on, but aren’t paid off. I wanted to know who the ethically challenged magician actually was, or at the very least have Peter come across him again. Instead the real antagonist stays firmly in the background, alluded to rather than confronted.
On top of this new plot points are introduced in Whispers Under Ground but don’t tie properly to the main narrative, which makes them feel flat despite the fact that they’re really interesting. A entire new race is introduced and they’re absolutely seamlessly created as part of the world, but their story feels like a distraction rather than a driving force despite frenetic underground chases in flooded sewer systems.
With that said Aaronovitch does do some excellent character work that makes the plot frustrations worth it, especially with Lesley May, Peter’s love interest and fellow police officer. Lesley is my favorite character by far as she adds some real depth to the relationships between characters and is a hero in her own right.
Peter Grant himself still strikes the right balance between deadpan snarker and good cop. His voice lends the series a lot of its appeal and I love the way the underground world of London unfolds through his eyes. I also like the way Aaronovitch uses Peter to explain the finer points of the magic system. His scientific approach lends the magic an air of credibility that permeates the entire series but never crosses the line into taking itself too seriously.
There is another book coming in the series called Broken Homes that may well be the second half of this book. As it stands though this is a great first half of a novel that fails to deliver as a whole package. I would still buy it again though, and I’m still going to buy the next one so it’s not a deal breaker. I just hope broken Homes delivers on the promise of the first two books and doesn’t leave us hanging at the end.
Whispers Under Ground
Peter Grant (Book 3)
Del Rey Books
When the son of a wealthy, politically powerful family is found dead, London constable and sorcerer's apprentice Peter Grant investigates this case, which is linked to a rogue magician known as the Faceless Man--and which takes him deep within the deadliest subway system in the world. Original. 50,000 first printing.
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Andrew Jack lives with his wife in Christchurch New Zealand and has been misusing the written word for most of his life. He even got his first rejection letter from Random House at the age of four, who kindly suggested he learn to read and write before resubmitting. A life long martial arts enthusiast, Andrew spends his time getting beaten up by his friends, writing like he’ll starve if he doesn’t and trying to stop his cats from destroying his house.