I love the idea of London as the setting for murder, mayhem, magic and alternative realities. I know the city well enough to understand that there are and always have been, many Londons. Too many for any one person to visit all of them.
All of us who have lived or worked in London carry in our heads a personal map of the city that shares a basic structure with the A-Z street map but has had its scale and topography altered by our experience and impressions. I still see buildings that aren’t there anymore, remember a skyline in which St, Paul’s was dominant, and tube stations where you dropped deep below the surface in antique lifts with metal lattice concertina doors that gave you a view of the lift shaft that was like descending through an archaeological dig. I’ve seen Canary Wharf grow from a single, tall, hard to reach, tower, into a maze of skyscrapers and waterways with tens of thousands of people swarming through it on overground and underground trains, and in shoals of black cabs that dart around the slow-moving double-decker buses.
So, it’s easy for me to imagine that there are magical Londons, overlapping the one I walk through but which I haven’t learnt to see yet. This week, I’m entering two of them via Ben Aaronovitch’s latest Rivers Of London book and the first of V. E, Schwab’s Shades of Magic series.
‘Amongst Our Weapons‘ by Ben Aaronovitch (2022)
I’m curious to see whether this novel works. ‘False Value’, the last Rivers of London book focusing on DC Peter Grant, was a little flat. The next offering, the novella ‘What Abigail Did That Summer’ had all the energy and pace that ‘False Value’ lacked. This made me wonder if Ben Aaronovitch is a bit unsure of what to do with Peter Grant, a man who should be growing up sometime soon. He’s about to be a father. He’s recruiting more staff for The Folly. He should be thinking about becoming a DS. How would the more grown-up Peter sound? I’m hoping that ‘Amongst Our Weapons’ will show me that.
I’m sure it will be an amusing read and that I’ll enjoy listening to Kobna Holdbrook-Smith’s narration. I’d be very pleased if this book also moved Peter and the series forward.
‘A Darker Shade Of Magic’ by V. E. Schwab (2015)
I hesitated to buy ‘A Darker Shade Of Magic’ because the premise felt like a repainted version of Neil Gaiman’s ‘Neverwhere’ which I didn’t think worked as a novel. I also wondered why a writer from Tennessee wanted to set her fantasy novel in London.
Over the past year, I’ve had this series recommended to me by a number of people whose judgement I trust, so I decided to give it a try. If it works out, I have a new trilogy to read and maybe some graphic novels to buy.
I’m hoping for something with an original twist on magic systems, a strong sense of place and a couple of engaging characters.