Friday, August 23, 2013

Still on this urban fantasy kick

(cover image from

I'm still on this urban fantasy kick, I guess. I start a book while I'm waiting for my mom (I've been driving her where she needs to go this summer), and when I get home, I don't want to stop reading.

Anyway, both of these books are sequels to series I started a month ago. Cursed (2012) by Benedict Jacka is the second in his Alex Verus series. It was just as fun as the first, Fated, though there's really nothing new to it.

This time, it's not only his friend - and brand-new apprentice - Luna who's in trouble, but also the giant spider, Arachne, one of the few remaining magical creatures in the world. And again, the Light mages in his world prove to be as dangerous, and seemingly as unethical, as the Dark.

There's really nothing new here. Even the minor characters are pretty nearly identical to those in Fated (with a few exceptions, by necessity), and there's really no advancement in the overall situation. Nevertheless, I quite enjoyed it. I still like the main character, and I'm not bored with the setting (yet). But I'm not sure how long that will continue.

That's the problem with series fiction. Even when it's just fantasy, an author needs to have something new to say. The setting, after all, is only fresh in the first book (and when it comes to fantasy, often not even then). I can't read the same book over and over again, yet if the author changes too much, he risks losing what made the idea fun in the first place.

Cursed was great, don't get me wrong. But somehow, I feel like I shouldn't have enjoyed it as much as I did. It's almost too similar to the first book.

Whispers Underground (2012) by Ben Aaronovitch, the third book in his Peter Grant series, does a better job at this. (See my reviews of the first two books here.) Not too much changes - less than between the first two books - but enough.

This time, Constable Grant is helping to investigate a stabbing, and ends up on a long jaunt through the London sewers. Of course, there's magic involved. (The cover of the book says, "The perfect blend of CSI and Harry Potter," which I thought was pretty funny,... and fairly accurate, too.)

Now, we'd seen most of these characters before (except for the suspects, of course), but Aaronovitch seems to be adding new people to the series in every book. And not only are relationships developing, but so is the whole magical situation.

Part of this is undoubtedly that Peter Grant is just an apprentice mage. So the series (so far, at least) has been showing his development both as a police detective and as a magic-wielder. But part of it is also that Grant has a scientific mind. He asks questions and, when he doesn't get an answer, he runs experiments.

At the same time, magic seems to be increasing in the world. No one knows why. So the series seems to progress. I don't know where it's going, but it does seem to be going somewhere.

The plot of this particular book is,... well, unbelievable, even for fantasy. But that doesn't seem very important. The main character, Peter Grant, just gets more likable all the time. And his friends are very appealing, too.

This is the freshest, the most original, fantasy series I've read in awhile. Much as I've been enjoying the previous series by Benedict Jacka, this one really seems special. True, I had some problems with Moon Over Soho, the second book in the series. But I can't say the same with this one. I highly recommend it (but make sure you read the series in order of publication).

PS. Here are a couple of quotes from the book, just showing the humor and the writing style of it:
According to Frank if you evacuate one of the families from a block, all the others will want to know why they weren't evacuated, too. But if you go and evacuate everyone as a precaution, then a good quarter will refuse to leave their flats on principle. Plus, if you evacuate them you become responsible for finding them a safe haven and keeping them fed and watered. (Page 127)
I often forget how good a driver Nightingale is, especially in the Jag. He insinuates himself through traffic like a tiger padding through a jungle, or at least how I imagine a tiger pads through a jungle. For all I know the damned things swagger through the forest like rottweilers at a poodle show. (Page 172)

Note: You can find my other book reviews here.

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