Thursday, August 25, 2016

REVIEW | Whispers Underground and Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch

Whispers Underground and Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch
Publication Year: 2012/2014
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Peter Grant/Rivers of London #3 and 4
Format: Audio 
Narrator: Kobna Holdbrook-Smith

WHY?: This series is super duper awesome and just keeps getting better.

SYNOPSES:  First of all while each book has its own plot it is a series that pretty heavily builds on itself so if you haven't read books 1 and 2 It's probably a good idea to do so before diving into these gems.  Whispers Underground - An American student artist mysteriously dies in a London Underground station.  Peter, the newly recruited Leslie and Nightingale team up with the subway police and a young FBI agent to catch a very bizarre killer.  Broken Homes - A couple of grisly murders which on the surface seem unconnected, have Peter, Leslie and Nightingale suspecting the involvement of The Faceless Man.  

WARNING: SPOILERS AHOY!  Definitely for books 1 and 2 and I may partially spoil some things for book 4.  I'll try not to get too specific, but if you like to go into a book completely cold you'll want to beware.  Just know that I adore this series and both these books. Highly recommend!


In one way I am mad at myself for not putting down my thoughts about Whispers Underground right after reading it so that I could have given each of these books their due attention. However, it does actually makes sense to talk about the two books together because they represent a very interesting character arc for Leslie, Peter's partner.  She returns, in book three, to join the spook squad as Peter's partner even though her face, which was horribly maimed in book one, is still so disfigured she chooses to wear a mask in public.  

And that's the thing.  It is the characters and relationships that make me love this series so hard. To be honest, I frequently find the plots a little hard to follow but it is incredible just how much that doesn't matter to me.  In Broken Homes there is some very specific descriptions of how some shifty architect had some possibly nefarious plans when he designed what is now a council estate.  I didn't understand the details nor how it really connected to the murders they're investigating but it doesn't really matter.  I understood that there is something hinky with the building and that it necessitates Peter and Leslie to move in undercover to figure out what's going on.  I don't know if my confusion is because I listen to the books which sometimes makes following a complicated plot point harder, or if I'm just too dense to figure it out but I can't emphasize enough, how little it matters to my enjoyment of the books.  That should tell you just how awesome they are!  I was still completely sucked into both books and found it hard to stop listening. Aaronovitch keeps things moving and the overall plot of the books and the series is solid and engaging even when I'm sometimes a little fuzzy on the details.

As I alluded to, part of the reason why I don't get too bothered by any confusions about plot details is that I'm too busy loving on the characters and their relationships.  Peter Grant has to be one of my favorite characters of recent years.  I love the mix he has of street-wise Londoner and science/data nerd.  He is also, absolutely hilarious which makes it a complete delight that, as the reader, we live inside his head.  He'd definitely go on any list of book crushes.

I also really appreciate how Aaronovitch handles his relationships.  Peter and Leslie's relationship is particularly lovely.  They were partners and good friends, with a little bit of sexual tension thrown in but then Leslie was almost killed and her beautiful face was utterly destroyed. Getting Leslie back in Whispers Underground is fantastic  - she and Peter's camaraderie and how they work together is so great.  It's clear that Peter really cares about her  - that he might even love her and he avoids getting involved with anyone else, even the enticing Beverly Brook, which becomes an issue in Broken Homes.  He struggles with his natural revulsion to Leslie's ruined face and she is also disgusted by herself and is not ready to let Peter in. It is the fact that Aaronovitch takes his time building this complicated but super tight relationship between them that makes the bomb he drops at the end of Broken Homes so totally heartbreaking and shocking.  I didn't see it coming at all.

I love the secondary characters very much too.  I especially liked spending more time with the other law enforcement characters in Whispers Underground - Stephanopolous, Seawoll, the subway policeman whose name I can't remember - they are all great characters that add color.  I'm also fascinated by Molly, the otherworldly housekeeper at The Folly.   My one complaint about the characters/relationships is Nightingale, who I really like but don't think we get enough of.  He remains rather mysterious and there seem to be a lot of unplumbed depths there.

Another really fantastic part of this series is how incredibly evocative the setting is.  London is practically another character.  Aaronovitch imbues it with so much life and it is fun to explore it through Peter's affectionate gaze.  

Finally, I have to once again gush about the narrator, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith.  He gets Peter's unique voice and character spot on and is the absolute perfect narrator for this series.

FINAL VERDICT:  This is a delightfully funny and unique urban fantasy series with particularly strong characters.  I adore it and think it continues to get better and better.  4.45 stars out of 5.

Other Opinions are Available: | Fantasy Book Review

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