WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE SERIES.

Rivers of LondonMidnight Riot

I read (and loved) Rivers of London/Midnight Riot (Gollancz (UK)/Del Rey (US), 2011, 400 pages) the first book in Ben Aaronovitch’s UF series in early 2011 and have been meaning to carry on with the series ever since. With the release of book 4 Broken Homes just around the corner I decided it was time to catch up. After reading Moon Over Soho (didn’t like) and Whispers Under Ground (enjoyed), I realised that I had more thoughts about the series overall rather than each book. Hence this post.

The Peter Grant series is a curious animal for me. In a very elementary way it is just like any UF I have ever read featuring an eager protagonist learning the ropes of a new reality (in this case, a young constable who is learning that there is an underground supernatural world and that he is a magician who needs to control his power). It features an overarching plot with a Big Bad (the discovery of a “Dark Magician” who is causing havoc in London) and a Monster-of-the-Week per book.

Moon Over Soho UK Moon Over Soho

There are things that make the series distinctive: one of the reasons why I loved the first book so much was its incredible mixture of history and theatre as well as its great sense of location. In Urban Fantasy, the “Urban” part is obviously really important and often the city is as major a character as the protagonist. Peter Grant’s London is amazing and each book shows a different side of the city. And because our narrator himself has a passion for architecture and history, that knowledge seeps into the narrative and is often very engaging and interesting. Another wining aspect of these books is Peter’s funny and (occasionally) charming geeky voice and how he often dwells on the rules of being a copper as well as how he tries to understand the magic he does from a scientific approach.

I also love that Peter is a PoC and that the books address systemic and direct racism. I love that his London is just like the London I know: full of people from all walks of life.

That said, I was extremely disappointed with Moon Over Soho (Gollancz (UK)/Del Rey (US), 2011, 288 pages) . It is a book full of illogical developments (there is someone targeting Jazz players and Peter tells his father to go and join a Jazz band and start doing gigs!) and questionable character development (especially with regards to Leslie and how Peter just dismisses her questions about magic). Plus, one of the downsides of so much interesting data and history being talked about by the narrator is that often they become cumbersome and info-dumpy. Many times those history lessons and asides happen right bang in the middle of an action scene. So for example, in Moon Over Soho, our hero is running after a suspect and then this completely irrelevant piece of information cuts abruptly into the narrative:

The Trocadero was a five-story bastard child of a building built in the Baroque style in 1896 and sorely used over the centuries as everything from a music hall to a restaurant and a waxworks. In the mid-1980s the interior was completely gutted and replaced with the sets of Logan’s Run – or that might be just the way I remember it. It’s got a cinema and a multilevel amusement arcade that I remember well because my mum used to clean it.

This happens far too often in all three books. I noted that when I reviewed the first book but because the first book has a specific plot that I personally cared for this was less pronounced than say, in Moon Over Soho, which had a lot of Jazz history and it just didn’t personally appeal to me at all. So the question of clumsy info-dumping became much more noticeable in book 2. Not only that, but another negative factor that became more prominent for me in book 2 was the overall treatment of female characters. And this is twofold: there is the way that PETER thinks about women and the way that the NARRATIVE treats them. Admittedly I am conflicted about it because although I don’t think these are extremely offensive, they are also not as good as they could be.

There is one prime example of what I am trying to say in Moon Over Soho. There is one scene when Peter as a police officer is about to tell Simone, a woman he just met that her boyfriend is dead. She opens the door:

She was unfashionably curved, plump and sexy in a baggy sky blue Shetland sweater. She had a pale pretty face and a mess of brown hair that would have fallen down her back if it hadn’t been tied up in a crude bundle at the back of her head. Her eyes were chocolate brown and her mouth was big, full-lipped, and turned down at the corners.

This makes me really uncomfortable for its male gaze and for the fact that as a police officer, he is checking a woman out as he is about to inform her of a murder and for someone who is so worried about correct procedure I thought there was little self-awareness.

On the other hand, one could say that there is a reason why he is so attracted to her like this and that is due to her background and history. Is this because he is a flawed character or is this internalised sexism in the narative? Because it DOES just fits with the way that the narrative treats female characters, especially the ones that have a private, personal relationship with Peter. Most of these female characters end up dead, hurt or deprived of their freedom and I have the feeling those are there in the interest of man-pain. DO NOT WANT.

Whispers Under Ground UK Whispers Underground

And this is where I go back to being conflicted, the books do feature interesting, well-written female characters who are independent from Peter’s storylines (those include the Rivers and Stephanopoulis, one of Peter’s superior officers). And things improve considerably in Whispers Under Ground (Gollancz (UK)/Del Rey (US), 2012, 412 pages) as Leslie comes back full-time into the narrative. The book is a thousand times better than Moon Over Soho because of Leslie’s return (and as a magician’s apprentice too). I love the (late) introduction of Abigail, another female character who will also be a magician’s apprentice as it has so much potential.

All that said, Peter himself is an interesting conundrum as a character. I find him extremely superficial in terms of his emotional make-up. It is very rare me to see Peter react to anything and because of that there is an unfortunate sense of disconnect between these books and I. In book 3, it is soon after his girlfriend has died and there is not a single reference to that tragedy. Leslie tries to snog him and it’s like it never happened (ETA:the question here is that he does seem to have feelings for her or at least be attracted to her so it feels strange that he never goes back to that). I am torn between interpreting this as a mixture of typical British stoicism and the characters own youth (he is still learning after all) written on purpose like that or just inadequate character writing. In any case, I always feel I just want more reaction of any kind from Peter and I never get it.

Having made an effort to catch up in order to read the new instalment I realise that even though I am quite fond of the series – Leslie! History! Geeky References! PoC characters! – I am not sure I care for it enough to carry on reading.

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51 Responses to Smugglers’ Ponderings: On the Peter Grant Series by Ben Aaronovitch

  1. Maili says:

    Whoa. It’s as if you had a tour in my mind where this series is concerned. You sum it up perfectly. Enjoyed the first, loathe the second book (but forgave because I’d noticed while ago that debut authors’ second books tend to be the weakest), enjoyed the third but not as much as I did with the first, and the fourth will be my make-or-break book. To be honest, I’ll be relieved if it’s break as I’ve never been a fan of a long book series, which I think will happen with this series.

  2. Ana says:

    Oh COOL, phew. I only see rave reviews for these books so it’s a relief to hear I am not the only one. I think the make-or-break book was book 3 for me though.

  3. Elaine says:

    I’m a fan of the series but I skipped over book two, probably a wise choice.

    Interesting point about Peter’s lack of emotional reaction. I came into the series expecting a Holmes-type character only to find Peter a remarkably likable person. But you’re right, his lack of emotional maturity would be problematic in the long run.

    I haven’t had good experience with UF, especially those with male protagonists so this is one of the few good ones I’ve come across. I’m really, really hoping it continues being good and will avoid, at all costs, pigeonholing Leslie or other female characters into love interests which would definitely be a deal-breaker for me.

  4. I went through much of Moon Over Soho thinking, “Peter is an idiot.” And he is. He has a LOT to learn. His mentor has been operating under the delusion that magic is waning. This is their wake-up call.

    I also spent the book thinking, “Peter needs Leslie.” He absolutely can’t do this by himself. He has a Dumbledore, but no Ron & Hermione. The last lines of the book made me want to read book 3.

    I like that he has a lot of learning to do. He is so far from perfect, but I did feel some progression, defintely enough that I want to continue reading. I still have to get to book 3.

    I also love the many PoC characters. There is a short passage that I read just as all of the SFWA mess hit twitter that did resonate:

    “‘Just to satisfy my curiosity, you understand,’ said Nightingale, ‘given that the only people ever likely to hear us say the words black magician are you, me, and Dr. Walid, why is changing them so important?’

    ‘Because I don’t think the old world’s coming back anytime soon,’ I said. ‘In fact, I think the new world might be arriving.'” – Moon Over Soho, Ben Aaronovitch

  5. Andrea K says:

    Book 2 brought the series down for me a good jolt. Particularly the question of Leslie’s injuries. She asks if there’s anything magic can do and he says: “No”. And that’s it. No promise of – “I’m told healing magic is a bad idea but I’ll keep looking, I’ll tell you if I find anything.” Just that absolute “No” and a little internal monologue abrogating him of guilt.

    And yet this is a world of catgirls and former humans recovering from iron poles through hearts. Totally annoyed me.

  6. Ana says:

    @ Elaine: I do like Peter , it is just that after three books he remains so superficial and although we could say that that is because he is young, I still think he is not THAT young you know?

    @ kindle-holic –

    “I also spent the book thinking, “Peter needs Leslie.” He absolutely can’t do this by himself. He has a Dumbledore, but no Ron & Hermione. The last lines of the book made me want to read book 3.”

    I love this and it’s completely true and maybe why I didn’t like book 2 as much, as it was all Peter all the time.And U love that quote too.

  7. Ana says:

    @ Andrea: OMG YES. That pissed me off SO MUCH. SO MUCH. So you have immortals, river people, cat girls etc and there is no way they could TRY and find a solution for Leslie? I mean, I do HATE magical-cures and that’s not what I wanted it to happen. But it was the way that he approached/dismissed it like it was not a big deal + the way he talked about his lack of guilt that kind of make me uneasy about him. It is not that he is young and immature but also that he is not that good of a person? I don’t know.

  8. Lizzie B says:

    I have the exact opposite reactions – I loved Book 2 and thought Book 3 was a bit meh. I wasn’t a fan of mole people who made pottery.

    I loved that he shut down the magical resetting of Leslie’s face, which shows the audience that magic isn’t a get-out clause and characters are going to suffer, which I think are important points to make. And it means that we don’t spend time on a magical quest to heal Leslie – she has to deal, Peter has to deal and the reader has to deal with a favourite character suffering pain and disfigurement. It means that Peter has to grow as a character and it adds another element to Leslie’s attitude to magic that I’m sure will play out in future books. I think it was a bold and completely understandable choice where hope could have prevented her from learning to live in the world again.

  9. Ana says:

    Lizzie – I agree with the principle of what you are saying and I think in THEORY it does make the books better. I hate magical cures.

    That said, it is the way that books deal with it that doesn’t make sense to me, it is the EXCUSE given for them not using magic that doesn’t make sense to me.

    And ha! I loved the mole people! : )

  10. Anonymous says:

    Yes, I can understand how the lack of agency this gives Leslie is problematic (he could have at least given her the choice) but I also think that his actions stem from his guilt and over-protectiveness of Leslie. He doesn’t want to mislead her and send her on a quest for something that may not help, and he also wants to save her from pain, black magic and other issues that might go along with wanting a magical cure. I think it’s a human decision and while one that is flawed, is justifiable in the context of the character.

    Peter is one of my fave characters in Urban Fantasy and it’s his reactions to both weird and human issues that really sell the world in the books. I’m so looking forward to reading the fourth in the series – and I very much adore Ben Aaronovitch for not giving in and allowing TV companies to buy the books and make Peter white.

  11. Lizzie B says:

    Ahem. That above comment was me, obvs. I’m just a little Post Comment Button happy.

  12. Ben Aaronovitch says:

    Authors commenting on reviews is usually a mistake but…

    First a couple of points of fact (or fictional fact)…
    I don’t think Lesley has ever kissed Peter.
    Peter didn’t know about the various hybrids when he talked to Lesley in Moon Over Soho.

    I ask you to look beyond the META – ie: who is and who isn’t a love interest and consider Peter and Lesley as characters.

    At the start of Rivers of London Peter has known Lesley for two and a half years, is it really conceivable that he hasn’t noticed that it’s not recipricated?

    Does Lesley strike you as the kind of person who would put up with constant unwanted sexual advances from a colleague let alone a friend?

    Lesley has seen enough of Peter’s love life to have formed an opinion so obviously Peter has had girlfriends during that period.

    Is it really so far fetched that both of them know that they’re always going friends and work colleagues and not have a sexual relationship. She doesn’t fancy him, he knows that, he’s had two and a half years to get used to the idea.

    Back in the mists of time when this was TV series pitch Peter was a black woman and Lesley was her white female counterpart. Her role in the story was that of rival, the friend who makes it look all so easy.

    When, for a number of reasons, I changed Peter to a guy I left Lesley as a woman because otherwise there would be too many guys (I already had Nightingale, Dr Walid and Seawoll by that point).

    Now in hindsight throwing in a couple of lines where Peter fancies Lesley was probably where I went wrong but I underestimated the power of the UST partner trope.

    I also miscalculated in that I believe now that had Peter remained a woman Lesley would have been less popular as a character.

    Still those who are broken and dissapointed all I can say is I’m sorry. To all of those who are sticking with Peter I hope you enjoy the next book.

    Yours: Ben Aaronovitch

  13. Ana says:

    Are you really the author? Or someone impersonating him?

    Because if you are the author, I don’t even know where to start.

    There is a factual mistake in the review, you are correct. Lesley never kissed Peter but I was referring to Whispers Under Ground, Chapter 13 (page 11, Kobo) when she tried to snog him (when she was drunk). I have edited the review. Thank you for pointing it out.

    I still do not appreciate you trying to enforce the “right” way to read the book and to look at the META (capital letters, in case I am too stupid to understand, right?) I do not appreciate being told that I am not supposed to look at people as love interests, even if I HAVE NOT DONE THAT, because it is entirely my prerogative to do so. You yourself just said that you did write a couple of lines (there is more than a couple by the way, he is constantly checking her out) where he fancies her so I find it REALLY disingenuous that you just show up to call people out on their shipping of the two. REALLY.

    In any case, WHERE in my review did I say that there were unwanted sexual advances from Peter? WHERE?

    And seriously, everything you just said about the origin story just makes it all worse and reinforces my decision to not carry on reading.

  14. Ben Aaronovitch says:

    I’m sorry you feel I was trying to enforce anything on you the META was because in small caps it looked like a typo.

    I wasn’t critiquing you review particularly, apart from the snogging obviouslym I was using it as a spring board for a discussion.

    The bit about ‘unwanted sexual advances’ was me talking about how their relationship must have, after 2 and half years, reached an equilibtrium.

    Yes it is your perogative to read a text however you like and it is my perogative to talk about what my intentions were. I’m sorry you think I was trying to impose myself and I’m sorry to lose you as a reader.

  15. Ben Aaronovitch says:

    ‘Ben – No, just no, stop now before it’s too late.’

    So now she tells me. Lesson learnt.

  16. This isn’t Goodreads, but it’s still important, I think.

    http://sean-cummings.ca/2012/08/28/the-12-stages-of-goodreads-review-author-meltdown/

    Best thing to do if one disagrees with a reviewer is to do nothing. Shouting in mailboxes is an option as well.

  17. Emily says:

    Not for nothing, but it really is a shame if an author can’t post any sort of response to a review without getting attacked. Yes, some authors do go mental on negative reviews. But this was hardly some huge rant. He wasn’t rude or condescending, it seemed like he was simply trying to explain his own intentions.

  18. Vivienne says:

    I, too, thought it was a bit of an overreaction to the author’s comments. Perhaps this is the difference between a book club discussion (such as goes on in Sword and Laser)where authorial comments are welcome) and a blog.

    And I love this series, as does my 17 year old daughter who has just read the first three books. I like the setting, I like the humour and I like the strong characters both male and female. May well be gender stereotyping but it doesn’t seem unreasonable to have a young straight male scoping out women even where the circumstances are not quite appropriate.

  19. Ana says:

    To those who think I am overreacting:

    A male author steps into a female space to specifically ask her to rethink about the romantic relationship between characters even though the original post has nothing of the sort. This is problematic for two main reasons:

    1) he feels that this post is too concerned about romance (even though it isn’t) and tries to completely dismiss this idea. The problem here is that female readers and female reviewers are constantly dismissed because a lot of us read romance. As though that is a bad thing. So there is HISTORY to consider here, especially when the tone of the comment (unintentional as it might have been) IS condescending at best.

    2) BUT even IF I HAD talked about NOTHING BUT Lesley-Peter in terms of a potential romance this is still my prerogative as the reader. Even if the author did not intend for that relationship to exist for any reason. And especially considering how THERE IS in the book enough dynamics to make it so.

    He also suggests that I am not looking at those as “characters” but am simply relegating them as “love interests” as though I did that. As a reviewer, this bothers me.

    He also says: “Does Lesley strike you as the kind of person who would put up with constant unwanted sexual advances from a colleague let alone a friend?”

    Because what: there IS a kind of person who does that? That women who who receive unwanted sexual advances just “let it happen”?

  20. Ana says:

    @ Ben: I saw your comments on Twitter about reader-author relationships.

    I just wanted to say (and this my opinion alone and I am not speaking for Thea as well): I do appreciate when authors comment on the blog. Heck, Andrea K above is an author. I have friendly relationships with authors, we host authors here on guest posts and talk to them on twitter.

    The thing becomes more complicated when an author comments on a review/essay about their books especially when addressing the more critical/negative issues. I do not know if there should be “rules” but there is a question of whether you are imposing your intentions into a reader’s interpretation/reaction. It might not be what you wanted to do, it might not be what you wanted to come across as but I think it is an inevitable reaction.

    There is also a question of tone and again, this might not have been your intention at all and I appreciate that, but the tone of your comment sounded condescending at best and dismissive at worst. I know you said you weren’t critiquing my review/post but my review/post is where you posted your comment at.

  21. Susan says:

    Ana, I’ve read the whole exchange between everyone and even tweets outside your blog. I’m compelled to side with readers who would welcome interaction of reviewer and author. Both add to the insight to a book I’m about to read or have read. Dialogue is the name of the game. I’ve read your blog and have taken your advice on books to read. If you don’t want interaction I suggest you adjust your settings accordingly or post a big red STOP sign for authors. An author might find it prudent NOT to answer to criticism and that’s fine. In your case, I found the author wanting to open a dialogue as compliment to your hard work. Your rebuff was too quick. I can relate to this. We often become defensive when our work is questioned and an author understands this well.
    In my opinion, it is sad to cut dialogue off at the knees in an avenue where the written/spoken word is king. Without an author, book reviews wouldn’t be needed and without book reviewer, readers might miss an interesting book by a new/old author. Both should exist in this Internet world with respect.
    Yes, it’s only my opinion.
    Keep on reading!

  22. Sarah N. says:

    I’m glad the author commented – but that’s only because now I have a solid reason never to purchase or read his books. I’m petty like that, but hey, I always have too many books I want to read. Any reason to weed some out works for me – so thanks Mr. Aaronovitch!

    In terms of the general idea of whether authors should comment or not, I think it depends. This is a case where I say absolutely not. Privileged authors shouldn’t expect their comments to be welcomed if they can’t check their privileges at the door. Acting like Ana saying that she doesn’t want privileged voices running rampant on the site means she’s trying to censor all authors is ridiculous and immature.

    Plus when authors comment, they need to stop with the whole what-I-meant/intention thing. They need to not try to force or even guide interpretation outside of the text. They need to acknowledge other interpretations openly and carefully, because authors have literally screamed for decades about how their book was interpreted wrong (looking at you, Bradbury) and reviewers, readers, and professors have given no shits about their whining. Accept that we give no shits, authors. Move on with your lives.

  23. Jason says:

    I don’t think it was wrong for Peter to not give Leslie false hope that her injuries can be fixed. He’s a complete novice, so it’s probably for the best that he doesn’t talk about things he knows very little about. Nightingale, the expert, hasn’t yet attempted to heal Leslie’s face, or even mentioned the possibility, so I think we can assume that A) it can’t be done, or B) it’s too advanced for Nightingale, and by extension, way too advanced for Peter.

    Personally, I like the descriptions of the various locations in the series, as I’m familiar, it makes the story feel more…real in my mind (yes, I do realise they’re fantasy). Given his age, and where he grew up, Peter Grant could almost be someone I know. His old school is literally across the road from one of my former teenage hangouts.

    RE the whole “male gaze” thing, it didn’t really bother me. Cop or not, Peter is still a guy. He’s constantly being told by other characters that he’s too easily distracted, so it fits.

  24. Jason says:

    I don’t think it was wrong for Peter to not give Leslie false hope that her injuries can be fixed. He’s a complete novice, so it’s probably for the best that he doesn’t talk about things he knows very little about. Nightingale, the expert, hasn’t yet attempted to heal Leslie’s face, or even mentioned the possibility, so I think we can assume that A) it can’t be done, or B) it’s too advanced for Nightingale, and by extension, way too advanced for Peter.

    Personally, I like the descriptions of the various locations in the series, as I’m familiar with man of them, it makes the story feel more…real in my mind (yes, I do realise they’re fantasy). Given his age, and where he grew up, Peter Grant could almost be someone I know. His old school is literally across the road from one of my former teenage hangouts.

    RE the whole “male gaze” thing, it didn’t really bother me. Cop or not, Peter is still a guy. He’s constantly being told by other characters that he’s too easily distracted, so it fits.

  25. As someone who marched with thousands in New York last night, only to return home tired to have my opinions on the George Zimmerman verdict misperceived by a few readers, I’m no stranger to being annoyed by other people’s opinions. However, I was grateful for the challenge, which caused me to clarify my opinion on “stand your ground” cases and continue a dialogue.

    I haven’t read Ben Aaronovitch’s books. I’m only familiar with his work on old school Doctor Who. But I am appalled by the entitlement and hostility that has followed his appearance. Yes, it is true that you have the right to your reading interpretation. But if you’re not mature enough to have a conversation with someone you disagree with, then why on earth are you bothering to communicate with other people? The world doesn’t revolve around your opinions. Real thinkers disagree, listen, clarify, and adjust their viewpoints in response to what others have to say. This is what’s known as having a dialogue, something which the commenters in this thread appear to be largely incapable of.

  26. Ana says:

    @Edward Champion: I admit I am very puzzled by your comment. You decry the entitlement, hostility, and immaturity in this thread, and yet you are the only one in this discussion that has resorted to name-calling by denigrating the people that have expressed their varied opinions here. Ben Aaronovitch expressed his opinion, I expressed mine, so did a lot of other readers, on one side or the other of the discussion. All comments are approved and nothing has been edited or deleted. In other words, this is an ongoing conversation. A dialogue, as you define it in your comment.

    Conversely, your comment doesn’t actually address the real topic of the conversation, which is having an author trying to direct the reading of his books. If having a dialogue is so important to you, perhaps you’d like to share your opinion instead of derailing the conversation?

  27. Emily says:

    Of course authors should post their opinions on reviews/essays of their books. I totally agree with that. And I think that it’s fine for authors to post on even negative reviews/essays. If you’re talking about interpretations, the author, “while you may have interpreted it this way, I had written it so readers can interpret it THIS way.” Now that is fine. What is NOT fine is when an author says, “You HAVE to interpret it this way and that is that.” When reading, a reader can interpret something the way they want to.
    As for the whole romance thing…
    I have not read the series, so I didn’t really read the post detailed in case of spoilers. HOWEVER, if there are references to a slight romance with the two protagonists, then by all means readers can ship that couple. But arguing about romance–which will somehow make you “right” and the reader “wrong”–is not going to advocate your statement when the post has nothing to do with romance. But even if the post DID, if the author’s intention is different from the reader’s interpretation, then SO BE IT!! The reader reads and understands as the reader reads and understands. Wow, that sentence gave me a headache. Sorry ’bout that ;)
    Anyway, all in all, you can’t force the “right” way to read a book because there simply isn’t. Every reader in this world is different, and you can’t force them to all think the same.

  28. Where in my previous comment did I call anyone names? I’m wondering, Ana, if belligerence is the emotion you summon when your viewpoints are challenged. If that is the case, and I am merely positing the question because that’s what I’m getting from you right now, then I repeat my unanswered question: If you’re not mature enough to have a conversation with someone you disagree with, then why on earth are you bothering to communicate with other people?

  29. Stephen Deas says:

    I found your review quite hysterical…

    Stop right there, reader of this comment! Do it! What assumption have you jumped to? Do I mean “really really funny” or do I mean “emotionally overblown”?

    That’s a fictional example, a random statement not related to anything that’s been said here, designed entirely to trick you into jumping through a hoop for me. Had it been a real comment, the only person who really would have known what I meant is me but most people who read it would jump to an assumption one way or another. We are horribly ambiguous when we talk to each other face to face but we get away with it because we have intonation and body language to help us.

    I personally think authors should interact on-line with reviewers but that both sides are well advised to tread carefully. Someone who runs a blog will naturally tend to think of their blog as “home turf” and an author coming to comment on a review might do well to imagine themselves as a guest in the blogger’s home. Bloggers who run public review sites would do well to remember that a blog is generally *not* see as their front room by everyone else but a public place.

    It’s probably not possible to say anything at all lengthy and meaningful without leaving oneself open to interpretation. To have any sort of useful debate on the internet, it seems, one must be aware that one may both be misinterpreted and misinterpret, that people may be offended by something one thought innocuous because they read it a different way or vice versa. You have to (one has to – I don’t mean a specific you) constantly challenge the assumptions your making about what people say.

    I didn’t read Ben’s response, for example, as telling you, Ana, that you were wrong, but I do personally read an edge of frustration there (“Is it really so far fetched…” just those few words) and I can see how that might colour my own reaction if I was in your shoes. But that’s just me; and how I (or anyone else) interprets what he said has no bearing whatsoever on the validity of how you felt or feel about it. All it does is shows there’s more than one interpretation of the words. One thing struck me though: Ben says “I ask you to…” Ana’s response (“…trying to enforce…”, “…being told…”) does not strike me the response of someone who *feels* they have been politely asked to consider something, even if that was the original intent (which I don’t know, of course).

    And I’d suggest maybe you should challenge your assumptions about what he meant but then we’re in the place where a man is telling a woman “have you considered that maybe you’re wrong” so let’s not go there. I’ll challenge mine for a bit longer.

    Which all just goes to show what a minefield it is when an author starts commenting on a reviewer’s blog…

    Edward, I agree with you that conversations are about listening to opinions, seeking clarification, challenging ones own assumptions and those of others and I’ll throw in being polite. If you don’t see the name-calling: your first comment, par 2, line 5 – to my eyes you basically called her immature.

  30. Stephen Deas says:

    I was trying to be careful with that last comment. Reading back over it, I think I see at least two hand-grenades I accidentally dropped. Maybe it’s just easier if we don’t talk. :-(

  31. Stephen Deas says:

    I was trying to be careful with that last comment. Reading back over it, I think I see at least two grenades I accidentally dropped. Maybe it’s just easier if we don’t talk. :-(

  32. Ana says:

    @Stephen Deas – I really appreciated you taking the time to comment and I know how difficult it is try to word things carefully. That said, one tiny little comment about this because I think it is important (even if your comment is about a lot more than that. Does that mean I am jumping through a hoop?):

    hysterical…

    Stop right there, reader of this comment! Do it! What assumption have you jumped to? Do I mean “really really funny” or do I mean “emotionally overblown”?

    That’s a fictional example, a random statement not related to anything that’s been said here, designed entirely to trick you into jumping through a hoop for me. Had it been a real comment, the only person who really would have known what I meant is me but most people who read it would jump to an assumption one way or another.

    The use of the word “hysterical” when speaking to women has a lot more baggage than simply the commenter’s intention and the reader’s jumping to assumptions because it carries the weight of historical silencing of women. Which I think fits really well with the question of power dynamics, author intention and tone that we have been talking about.

  33. I love this series. Even Moon Over Soho. I did think it was odd for Peter to advise his father to join the jazz band, but a friend of mine has suggested (and I think it’s possible) that Peter was under Simone’s spell and this influenced him to do things he would normally know better than to do.

    With regard to Leslie and magic, that didn’t bother me much because magic poses a special risk to Lesley, since she was exposed to so much of it in Midnight Riot/Rivers of London, and further exposure, unless limited, could endanger her life.

    What you call info-dumps never strike me that way because they are so often witty and or/startling. In fact I love the passage you quote here. I love “five-story bastard child” and “completely gutted and replaced with the set of Logan’s Run.” Both descriptions are funny, unexpected and create images in my head. And Aaronovitch achieves this consistently, something that can’t be said about many writers. To learn about history in such an entertaining is like being given a gift.

    I saw Peter’s description of the “frumpy” Simone as inappropriate too, but I put it down to the author describing a character so readers could have some visual of her, and establishing Peter’s attraction, which will play a role in the story, upfront. It’s pretty standard for writers to do something like this when a major character appears on stage.

    I agree that it’s problematic in this instance — she just lost her boyfriend and Peter is a police officer informing her of his death.

    On the other hand, one could say that there is a reason why he is so attracted to her like this and that is due to her background and history. Is this because he is a flawed character or is this internalised sexism in the narative?

    A little of each, I thought.

    Because it DOES just fits with the way that the narrative treats female characters, especially the ones that have a private, personal relationship with Peter. Most of these female characters end up dead, hurt or deprived of their freedom and I have the feeling those are there in the interest of man-pain.

    You may be on to something there but I’ll play devil’s advocate — don’t several male characters end up dead or injured, too? And that includes Seawoll and Nightingale, which causes Peter man-pain too. And his dad’s life is threatened, too. So while I think it’s possible you’re right, I’m not fully convinced yet.

    For me, the most questionable aspect of these books, sexism wise, was the appearance of the vagina dentata. I really disliked that, but I appreciated that the vagina dentata character was treated as a human being deserving of dignity.

    And this is where I go back to being conflicted, the books do feature interesting, well-written female characters who are independent from Peter’s storylines

    Yes. And you haven’t mentioned that there are a number of PoC characters and characters from other cultures. Aaronovitch’s London truly is diverse.

    I agree that Peter is immature, but I wouldn’t quite say superficial. I was frustated for a good chunk of the first book that we didn’t get more about Peter’s emotions, but by the end of the book, there was more and there has been enough since then to keep me satisfied. I think Peter is a typical guy in that he doesn’t like to talk about his feelings, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have feelings.

    In book 3, it is soon after his girlfriend has died and there is not a single reference to that tragedy.

    I thought there were one or two vague reference to it, but it’s been long enough that I can’t be sure. However, I never saw Simone as Peter’s girlfriend. To me they were both just in it for the sex (and Simone had ulterior motives for that as we later learn). Peter hadn’t known Simone long when she died (didn’t the whole book span a few weeks at most?) and he also realized he hadn’t known who she was at all. He treated her death with solemnity and sorrow that he couldn’t save her, but I never expected him to grieve.

    Lesley trying to snog Peter happened when she was drunk, and she did it because she (understandably) longed to feel attractive and knew Peter had been attracted to her. And Peter knew she would not do it under normal circumstances, and did not want to take advantage of her. It was a very human and humane moment that really touched me. IMO it wasn’t referenced later because neither one wanted to acknowledge it or remember it.

    I am torn between interpreting this as a mixture of typical British stoicism and the characters own youth (he is still learning after all) written on purpose like that or just inadequate character writing.

    I really think it’s the former, not the latter. I adore Peter as a character. I love the way he fumbles, makes human mistakes and is vulnerable unlike the male characters in most of the other books I read.

    In any case, I always feel I just want more reaction of any kind from Peter and I never get it.

    As I say, I felt that way for a good chunk of the first book and then I got over it. It no longer bothers me at all; I just think this is who Peter is, and there are just enough emotions to keep me turning the pages.

    I typically read romance and female oriented YA, so I’m used to more emotion than I get from Peter, but I think most guys don’t like to talk about/analyze their feelings so to me Peter feels more like an authentically male character and less like a figment of female fantasy than the male characters I usually encounter.

  34. Lia says:

    Being a creative writing student myself, I often find that my intentions when writing something are misleading or are misinterpreted because I failed in living up to the character´s/story´s potential. My flawed prose creates the conflict and I am obliged to accept that and hopefully learn from the experience. I believe that when it comes to a published book, especially after you heard your publisher speak wonders about it, it´s even harder to accept this criticism because there is nothing you can do about it. And that creates another conflict for the author, but I agree the reader has nothing to do with it whatsoever. A writer should let the work speak for itself, and if it´s speaking in a different language than you originally intended, that´s on you pal!
    PS to Ana. I am a HUGE fan of your blog! BUT I perceived your original answer as juvenile, I´m sorry but I did. I would have already forgotten about this book and this author had it not been for your response and consecutive tweets. I apologize for using caps (I know how much you hate them).

  35. Stephen Deas says:

    Hi Ana,

    Yes, I chose the word because I know it carries that baggage that will generate an extremely hostile mindset in some people and I think (hope) that it’s widely enough known for doing so that to some extent it makes my point for me.

    My aim was to trigger an assumption in whoever read my comment and then to have them realise what they’d done. So I hope you have well and truly jumped through my hoop.

  36. Stephen Deas says:

    Ana, I meant to add – I think you guys kind of gave up on my stuff a while back but you might want to avoid Dragon Queen when it comes out.

  37. Suzanne says:

    “Where in my previous comment did I call anyone names?”

    Well, you did imply that the (largely female) commentariat on this thread were “immature” and not “real thinkers.” I’D call that name-calling, but then again, I’m probably not “mature” and a “real thinker” like you, Edward!
    (Always nice to have a “real thinker” on board)

    “I’m wondering, Ana, if belligerence is the emotion you summon when your viewpoints are challenged.”

    I’m wondering, Edward, if you’re not playing into the misogynistic trope that women who express opinions are automatically “belligerent” and “hysterical” and “angry.” Or that “belligerence” is automatically a reason to disregard someone’s comment (especially a woman’s comment, since men’s anger is warranted and objective, while women’s anger is axiomatically invalidating).

    “If you’re not mature enough to have a conversation with someone you disagree with, then why on earth are you bothering to communicate with other people?”

    See, there’s that name-calling again!
    Also, I’m pretty sure that Ana is having a conversation with you, and with Ben Aarnovitch right now. So your point does not stand.

  38. Zan says:

    First off: apologies for the late comment, and for not reading through all the other comments (I skimmed) to see whether anyone else had brought this up.

    I have no idea whether this is coincidence or not on the author’s part, but Peter’s apparent lack of emotional response rings very true for the semi-adult child of an addict. Everything is very removed from the self, especially emotional connections to people you care about, doubly so if something bad happens to them or your relationship with them.
    I guess I should know, being both the child of two addicts (albeit alcoholics in my case), and having read a lot of literature on the subject.
    Obviously, I’m working entirely off the assumption that you don’t personally have experience with it, if that should be the case I apologise and would leave it here.
    If not, ACoA (Adult Child of an Alcoholic, although patterns generally hold true for most forms of addiction) is the term in use for the phenomenon. Not everything is the same, but I do recognise a lot of the things Peter does or doesn’t do in myself and friends of mine. IF the author did it on purpose it’s pretty well done and engagingly subtle instead of clobbering everyone over the head with it.

    (Obrigado por me deixar divagar! ;) )

  39. David Burton says:

    Hi all, this is my first post …probably my last judging by the undercurrent of hostility that seems to be flowing through this post, but here goes… I personally am extremely pleased that Ben commented on the review and I see it as a huge compliment to a blogger/reviewer whenever an author takes time out to read their work and like the author themselves they have to be open to some critique. Unfortunately I find it very difficult to read this particular discussion as it seems critique is only allowed to flow one way and that a lot of the offence caused seems to be rooted ways away from the book and in some personal and social grievances. A Man is allowed to ask a woman to listen to his opinion without dragging years of oppression and misogyny into the request, it’s how we communicated… In a school if a teacher were to ask a student of a different ethnicity, Faith or nationality to listen and to not talk in class, did that teacher force years of oppression on them and dismiss their right to a voice or just address the situation at hand without having to look to the past and consider if what they are about to say could have an impact on something that happened in the annals of time. Ben asked you/us to consider an opinion, that’s it, if we choose to fine, if we choose not to fine, that’s where it ends, It is just a book and Ben (with all due respect) is just an author, it or he never stopped my mother from voting, never organised slavery or invaded another country or oppressed my right to be a 30 something gay man living in a conservative catholic community… as far as I’m aware. I have probably managed to offend everybody in some way with this post, but the worst part about it is I don’t actually know if I have, which just goes to show that there may not have been any intentions to offend when ben posted his response. it’s just far too easy to sit at a keyboard and never have to look the other person in the eye and see how they are affected by what you say and how they are really feeling and I don’t aim this at anyone on here but it’s so easy to type “fag” it’s just three little letters… didn’t hurt, world hasn’t ended, life goes on but how many people do you think would say that straight to someone’s face and look them in the eye… it’s a whole lot harder. Anyway thank you for the platform allowing me to put out my diatribe and if I have offended you I am very sorry… I just had an hour to kill in work and got carried away :)

  40. David Burton says:

    Just reading through my post to check for mistakes, and just because I’m vain, I now realise the futility of all of this and that we are all doomed to go around in circles… As I re-read the apology at the end, which was actually sincere by the way, I thought to myself “what a sarcastic @&%$”… and I posted it! :?

  41. David Burton says:

    …And “fag ” was just a safe example becuase it refered to myself and it was not based on any comment on this blog… I’m done! Oh one more thing, I do really like the site btw.

  42. J.D. Smith says:

    What a bunch of idiotic comments. It is a book, a work of fiction. If it bothers you, don’t follow the series. The female comments confirm my long held decision to not read women authors.

  43. Emily says:

    @J.D. Smith
    What?
    Almost everyone is having a fair conversation. No one is bullying anyone here. And if you really think they are overreacting, you’re NOT GOING TO READ FEMALE AUTHORS? And oh, the FEMALE COMMENTS ARE THE BAD ONES. REALLY. Not any of the male ones? I just cannot process that through my head. It is just so wrong I don’t know where to start.

  44. XtinaS says:

    I am somehow entirely not surprised by a bunch of dudes going “it’s just words! words don’t hurt! it depends on what the author meeeans!”. Astonishing!

    If trying to improve our culture and decrease harm somehow hurts yall, then yall should take yall’s own advice and go elsewhere. You’re not saying anything new or brave or special, you’re just trying to get people to shut up.

  45. Jim Rae says:

    For me, the 2nd was (perhaps) the weakest, in that I agree to a certain extent. However, there is an issue which has been somewhat overlooked. A good author tends to develop their characters (particularly in a series). It’d therefore be rather odd, IMO, if Peter had come out a completely ‘Fully-Rounded’ character from chapter 1?

    I’m not trying to be facetious or insulting, but some of the comments remind me of the difficulty in defining dwarf gender in Pratchett’s ‘Going Postal’ or calling a Golem Gladys so she can clean the toilets in the same book.

    As for the Trocadero reference – I saw this monstrosity for the first time in decades around a year ago and it reminded me of something – Aaronovitch’s description was on the button. Info-Dumping? Naw, i’d call it background…

  46. Jacki says:

    I dont know anything at all about this author or the series being discussed here. To be honest I’m more of a movie fan although I do love reading when something lands in my lap – usually by way of friends passing on their latest read.

    In fact, for reasons which I wont go into, I don’t normally visit sites/blogs/forums dedicated to “fans” discussing” fiction and avoid those “book club” things like the plague.

    I found this post because a friend sent me the link to your other article that sprang from the debate in your comments on this one. She wondered what I felt about it all, given that I develop websites for people and help them interact with visitors to their sites etc.

    I won’t say much about the “author contributing” issue because this doesn’t feel like a very friendly environment so it’s probably best to keep my opinions (even tho they are strong ones) to myself. I’m discussing them with my friend and I’ll leave it at that.

    However, I would like to say that I will now be getting hold of these books and checking out Mr Aaranovitch & his work for myself. Not because of your review, which I only skimmed to get the general idea, but because of Ben’s comments here and the responses he got. Apart from a slightly condescending (but easily addressed) tone in his original comment I thought he handled himself well in these comments and this made me think he might be someone worth investigating. He has earned my attention with his generally cool & polite behaviour, at least to see for myself if I like his work.

    So thanks for that. I have discovered a new writer I might be interested in from a review site for the first time. I wont, however, be changing my overall view of book review blogs/sites etc & will still be giving them all an even wider berth after I post this comment. :) (unless of course I come across a client who wants to set one up!) Anyway – the comments to both articles were a fascinating read & if anyone cares, I tend to side with the anti-censorship crowd myself, but that’s just me. Cheers.

  47. Gerd D. says:

    Re: Info-dumping, I felt like I was reading a review for Dan Brown, because he does much the same.
    Always made me go “Why would you tell me this now…”, which is never a good reaction to a story while you’re reading it.

  48. Reader says:

    Reading these posts I am amazed how much ego people have tied up in their on line identity. A revealing mirror, and quite funny. Personally I read books for enjoyment. In the interests of plot development I understand there will be the requisite character flaws in the protagonists. Plots require motives. All problems will not be tidily resolved by magical means. I don’t do some sort of weird count for ethnic diversity and gender equality, but of course a book populated by people of varied backgrounds and with well rounded characters of both sexes is a more interesting read. As a woman I am a bit embarrassed that some contributors don’t like the treatment of women in this series. I thought Lesley and Miriam, and all those bossy Goddesses had Peter on the back step. And I love stoic Englishmen who can’t express their emotions, a much better read than people who always talk about their feelings. Yuk. That psycho babble is strictly for books with no plot to fill the pages. Obviously reading is a very personal experience- but I loved this series by Ben Aaronovitch. I like science with my magic, and loved the history and architecture. He’d better hurry up and write the next one. I need something to read, with a plot!

  49. Geraldine says:

    Nicely said, Reader! I’ve never read Ben Aaronvitch’s books but that little snippet of what you said compelled me to, even after all this…drama *shudder*

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