Tuesday, January 12, 2021

After the War: The Tales of Catt & Fisher: The Art of the Steal


After The War: The Tales of Catt and Fisher: The Art of the Steal is a shared world anthology. It’s set in Adrian Tchaikovsky’s “After the War” universe, which is focused on a world where the great conflict between good and evil is over, but that resolution has left its own issues behind. What, after all, happens to a world once it has defeated its arch villain? What costs have been borne, what trauma created? The reconstruction of a broken world, the collapse or recreation of old power structures, the change - it’s narratively intriguing. There have been several novels set in this world, from several authors - and they were all cracking reads, with interesting things to say. 


That pattern continues here. The focal point of each of these stories are Catt and Fisher, nominally antiquarians, but also veteran meddlers. The pair live together in their battered, comfortable shop. The shop is filled with every magical device and desire one might require. In a world where magic is on the wane, these artifacts of power are immensely desirable - and Catt and Fisher try their best to get their hands on as many as possible. Partly that’s to keep dangerous bits and bobs away from various power hungry madmen and wannabe dictators, and partly it’s just acquisitiveness. The two of them work well together; the relationship feels almost Holmesian, albeit less lopsided. Doctor Catt is gregarious, cheerful, occasionally ruthless, but has a soft-hearted streak running through him. Doctor Fisher is quieter, taciturn, with a presence that quietly fills the rooms he’s in. Gruff but humane, Fisher is an excellent foil to Catt’s mor mercurial nature. Both characters turned up in the novels as minor characters, but you don’t need their history to enjoy their role in this book. Just delight in their banter, the gentle needling and comfortable arguments of two people who have been together for a long time. There’s a warmth and obvious bond between the two, and the strength of that relationship radiates out throughout the text. They’re a pair who tend to solve their problems with quick wits and fast talking rather than swords and boards - though the occasional application of an explosively magical item isn’t out of the question. In any event, they’re a delightfully gentle, bickering pair of semi-geriatric Indiana Jones-types, who only occasionally incinerate things which get in their way. 


The stories, from a set of delightfully talented writers, are pure, unadulterated fun. They’re full of magic and high adventure. There’s smart-arsed chat, and what one might call outright hijinkery. Moments of poignant sorrow that wrenched at the heart, and revelations that pulled the gut raw. And then, bits of pure joy. I spent a lot of the time reading this book smiling, occasionally chuckling wryly, and, more often than I expected, laughing out loud. I don’t want to talk about the tales themselves, to avoid giving things away. But there’s some genuinely imaginative stuff here, scintillating and clever ideas that combine delightfully human moments with the magic and wonder of an intriguing world to make stories which you won’t want to put down. 

 

 Most of all, these stories are fun. They’re adventures, they’re snappy, they don’t outstay their welcome - but they use their time to say interesting things and also keep you so entertained that you can’t stop turning pages. This is another excellent addition to the After The War canon, and if you’re looking for something to give you a dash of excitement, a laugh, and perhaps shed a tear in the space of a few pages, in between shape changers and fireballs - this is the collection for you. 


Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Bear Head - Adrian Tchaikovsky


Bear Head, by Adrian Tchaikovsky, is a sequel to his absolutely fantastic Dogs of War. In a future where genetically engineered bioforms have achieved sentience, where distributed AI is fighting for rights, and where Mars is the subject of ongoing colonisation efforts, Jimmy Martin, part of the Martian terraforming effort, just wants to get paid, settle his debts, and maybe score some drugs. And in order to realise that very small dream, he’s going to make some very, very bad choices.

More on that in a minute. But first things first. Tchaikovsky shows us two worlds here, one surprisingly alien, the other startlingly familiar. Mars is, as you might expect, the former. An installation initially spun up by a distributed intelligence, now maintained by people who have been genetically augmented to survive on the Martian surface, this is a world filled with oddity. There’s the pylons helping to maintain the atmosphere, with sweeping dust storms clogging every surface. There’s the subterranean cubby holes where the workforce lives, one-room claustrophobic pods, cheek by jowl with slowly failing maintenance equipment. There’s the Sheriff, an augmented canine bioform, complete with a tin star and a bad attitude. And there's the black market, smuggling things up the well or building its own contraband to help make things a little more bearable. There’s the empty luxury suites for the eventual colonists, who will live the life of luxury that the workers will never see. And there’s the workers themselves, filtering dust out of their lungs with every breath, walking the surface without suits, but still tired, cranky, overworked - looking for a purpose and finding that they’re making rich people ever so slightly richer. The alien texture of Mars is dovetailed with the banal cruelty of its human institutions. Even as the transhuman workers build a paradise, they’re just building someone else's bank balance, losing their ideals, and hoping to go home. Its this blend that makes the Martian environment feel at once wonderfully alien and wryly familiar. A transhuman dream, with too much paperwork. And somewhere outside this decrepit construction town lurks something alien, something far worse than dust and low level criminality.

Then there’s Earth. A place where sweeping reforms gave bioforms the right to self determination. And where ,like clockwork, those rights are in danger of being taken away. This future earth carries about it familiar notes of the present, as institutions and norms are in danger of being swept away in an atmosphere poisoned by bigotry and populism. You can feel the slow curdling of truth in the air, the way words corrode the atmosphere as they’re spoken, feel the centre beginning to collapse, touch the slightly oily sheen that seems to have infiltrated everything on the page. Earth is not what it was; it was never a shining beacon on the hill, but now, the hard fought progress of the previous era must be struggled with again. Tchaikovsky captures the mood beautifully, and left me by turns delighted in the strangeness of a world where humanity and bioforms and distributed intelligences could exist, and despair that they might not be able to exist together. This is Earth on the brink of a civil rights battle, and if it feels strange, with its talking dogs, its bears that go to conferences, and its people that take it all in stride, it also feels deliriously, awfully familiar, in its facile acceptance of bigotry, of its taking the easy answer, and its efforts to substitute control for compassion. Here there be monsters.

And one of them is monstrous indeed. The avatar of the slow corrosion of humanity into selfishness and spite strides through them, his charisma a cloak for something far darker. A candidate for the world senate stands against the tide of progress, a rock of spite and hate, a tide of selfishness with the ability to mirror and project what people want, what they need him to be. An id given form, and letting others know that they can let their own horrors loose under his banner. I won’t say that there are contemporary similarities, but I suspect many a reader will draw their own conclusions. In any event, that banal, personal, selfish villainy is familiar, but also masterfully creepy. There’s a slow burning horror to this person, this creature, and the way they live in service to themselves, the way they twist others, control them, drive them. And thats leaving aside some of the truly awful things that they do, which I shan’t get into (for the sake of spoilers), but they are chillingly, shiveringly appalling.

By contrast, there’s poor old Jimmy Martin. Not actually a bad person, but definitely someone on a downward spiral to a bad place. Someone who can’t bring themselves to care any more, trying to find the fastest way down and out on Martian soil. It is not, we think, going to end well for Jimmy. But he’sa fantastic narrator. There’s a self aware dryness to his inner monologue, which strips bare his own pretensions, examines his own failings and, although it doesn’t care to fix them, perhaps acknowledges that they exist. At the same time, Jimmy’s head gives us observations on everyone he knows on Mars as we go through it - and he’s both observant and rather funny. I was often left cracking a smile at a particularly pithy character note, then burying my head in my hands as he once again makes the Worst Choice. Jimmy isn’t a hero. He’s just this guy, you know? Someone on the lower rungs of society, and sliding - but a person, whole and entire, trying to do something with his life, and reacting to it not being what he thought it would be. Some people have greatness thrust upon them; Jimmy...Jimmy is trying hard not to have anything thrust upon him, often while running away and creatively insulting it, and that makes him a joy to read. In honesty though, he’;s also a painful portrait of a man on his last nerve, one mistake away from falling down a dark hole; the humour can be a little dark, but it’s got honesty in it to make it so. I despair of Jimmy, and cheer his victories, and will him to succeed. An augmented Martian workman, an everyman who sort of isn’t, he’s the voice I think I enjoyed hearing from most.

The story is...well, it’s something. A fast paced techno thriller, expertly blending high concept transhumanism, old secrets, new lies, and high-velocity gunfire. I’ll say this: I tore through the text, basically couldn’t put it down. This is a book which asks questions, big questions, about what humanity is, what intelligence is, and how we see ourselves and our place in the world. But also it has some fantastic snark, snappy dialogue, and the sort of high-tension chases, and high octane consequences that will leave you turning pages well into the night.

At this point, it’s presumably no surprise to anyone, but I’d recommend this book without hesitation. You can probably even read it as a standalone, though I suspect the context from Dogs of War adds something to the narrative. In any case, it’s another must-read from Tchaikovsky. So get out there and read it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Back in 2021

 It’s been a heck of a year. We’re taking a few weeks off, and will see you all after the Christmas/New Year season has passed.

If you’re celebrating Christmas, or if you’re not: have a lovely few weeks. Be excellent to each other. It’s been a tough one all around. Let’s all be the good people we want to have around us.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Hollow Empire - Sam Hawke

 


Hollow Empire is the follow up to Sam Hawke’s excellent City of Lies. And, not to give the game away, but it has all the cool stuff that made me like that book so much, but also manages to bring in a whole bunch of new cool stuff, to make it better. 


Yes, I’m gushing a bit. But you know what, this book is worth it. It’s focused on politics, on reading people, on small scale actions. On poisonings and looking for the twitch at the corner of someone's eye that says they know more than they’re telling. On struggling within political institutions, and redefining those institutions. On the conflict between the rural and the urban, and on assassinations in the dark. On what people will do when they limit themselves, and what they can do when they refuse to accept those limitations. And, as ever, on the cost of past secrets in the future.


It’s...well, it’s a big book, alright? And there is just so, so much going on. It’s one part political thriller, one part epic fantasy, one part family drama, all parts awesome.


The story opens shortly after City of Lies, and once again centres on Kalina and Jovan. Siblings, one a diplomat and consummate politician, one a proofer, secret protector of the Chancellor from poisons, they form the heart of the book. Their relationship is warm, loving, and occasionally fraught. They work hard at being more one with each other, but secrets move behind everyones eyes. They love each other deeply, and that affection is visible and convincing on the page. Its a relationship of shared history, some of it filled with poison and blades in the dark. The banter is as witty and charming as ever, and both of them, in their interleaved viewpoint chapters, serve as smart, incisive commentators on each other. They’re a wonderful pair really, given agency and intelligence to see the threats before them, and working through them with skill and talent - even as they struggle to uncover the mysteries around them, the reader is walking beside them, knowing what they know, struggling to piece things together, as they do, before it is too late. 


Incidentally, I want to talk about voice. Both Kalina and Jovan have utterly unique styles of thinking, and of talking. The prose given to each is distinct, memorable, and helps shape our view of each of them, and the world they inhabit. Even though they can be in the same room as each other, their perspectives, their lived experiences, can be very different, and that comes out clearly in the text. Both of them read like individuals. Kalina is fierce, ambitious, hopeful, and has a determination borne of injury and a struggle with long term illness - a topic, incidentally, which was approached sympathetically and with deft hands in City of Lies, and continues to be so here. Kalina suffers her pain as the price of her existence, but is not defined by it, and her struggles and vulnerability are very human. Jovan is more paranoid (which, given his occupation is understandable), given to obsessing over details, and falling into spirals of emotional harm alongside insight; but while this is a facet of his character, it is, again, not the only one, and he’s given the room to breathe, to shape and define himself which helps keep him real. Both, both siblings are realised with an emotional depth and intellectual ferocity which makes them come off as heroes. They do have their flaws; underestimating adversaries, trusting where they maybe shouldn’t, or not where they should, impulsiveness, caginess; but those flaws highlight their strengths, too. They highlight a loyalty to friends, a love of city and country, a willingness to do the right thing, sharp minds, and a capacity for love and affection, which mix with their flaws to give us complex protagonists whom we might recognise if we saw them in the street - or, indeed, in the mirror. 


Incidentally, the City is as delightful as ever. Thronged with a population scarred by war, it;s nevertheless bursting with vitality. You can feel the cultural fusion, the slow mixing of an intra-society gumbo, coming together. There are those appearing from outside the city now, stepping into its streets with caution and optimism both, looking for opportunity, looking to help shape the path of their nation. And then there are the old embedded interests, looking to do not just what’s right for their world, but what’s right for them. And old grudges between aristocratic families of privilege are as liable to flair up lethally as newer ones between the city and the country; and, indeed, one can find odd allies all over. The city though, is the beating heart of the setting - and oh my, does it feel alive. 


We do see a bit more of the setting this time too; in part that’s an exploration of rural villages, more isolated areas with communities and mores different to those we’re used to. But there’s also other nations entirely, come to see what all the fuss is about in this newly reshaped city state, From towering, expansionist Empires to more sparsely settled lands dependent on co-operation and with a penchant for river sports and log tossing, everyone has sent some observers to see what happens next - and their contrasts with the folk we’re used to, themselves a pretty diverse bunch, are exciting and shocking in equal measure. There’s a growing sense of a larger world, which has its eye on the city, andis making itself more known for the first time. You can almost feel the map unrolling, as the political perspective grows ever wider. 


The story; I can’t talk about the story without spoiling it, because it’s so good. It’s a delicately woven mesh of moving parts. Character motivations, old secrets, new grudges. Quiet affections and slow poisons. There’s a whole heck of a lot going on. But you’ll walk with the characters every step of the way, trying to work out what’s going on. And I can promise that it’s worth it. There’s murders, and tragedies. Quiet triumphs and some truly epic moments of magic. Reversals, betrayals and unexpected loves. The politics is byzantine, the intrigue compelling, the whole edifice of the story ticking over like a well crafted clock. But it’s the human elements that make the story. You’ll be turning the pages at 2AM like I was, to see what happens to your favourite characters, to see how (or if!) they get out of their mess this time, wanting to see what will happen next, to unmask the villain(s) and cheer on our champions. This really is a thriller, a slow, simmering burn of tension slowly ratcheting up until you’re biting nails at every turn of the page, gasping at every revelation, wanting to see how the story ends, and not wanting it to end. 


I really enjoyed City of Lies, but Hollow Empire is better, and that’s probably the highest praise I can bring to bear. If you were wondering if this sequel was worth picking up, I can only say this: yes, yes it is. Go and get a copy, right now!


Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Escape Pod - Mur Lafferty & S.B. Divya (eds.)

 


Escape Pod is an anthology of science fiction stories, written to celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of the influential Escape Pod podcast, focused on sci-fi and fantasy.. The contributors include top notch writers, who have produced a lot of scintillating, thought provoking work for this anthology. I’ve been a big fan of some of these folks for years, but some of them were new to me. Fortunately, though the tales ran the gamut from laugh out loud humour to transcendental, to grim looks at the best and worst of humanity, the quality level remained pretty consistent throughout. Though I enjoyed some more than others, I had to appreciate the sheer quality of craft on display throughout this collection. 


The first piece, “Citizens of Elsewhen”, came from Kameron Hurley, whose work I’ve always enjoyed. It’s centred around a team of operatives going through time, bringing their technology and assistance to different times and places, in order to bring about a better future. This is thoughtful, and asks tricky, moral questions, and certainly kept my attention throughout. It’s a little less grim (I think!) than her other work, but it’s still got the uncompromising fire in the prose that keeps you turning pages.


Then there’s another piece featuring midwives, “Report of Dr. Hollowmas on the Incident at Jackrabbit Five”, from T. Kingfisher, who I’d never read anything by before. It’s quirky, it’s funny, it’s acerbic, and it made me laugh out loud at least once. There’s a few surprises, and it’s a lovely contrast to Hurley’s tale. Kingfisher gives her protagonist a real sense of personality and a voice that really comes through as something special, and you really got a sense of character and world from the narration. Great fun. 


Tim Pratt’s “A Princess of Nigh Space” is next, and it’s mostly contemporary, with a splash of strangeness, and a dark iron streak running through the middle of the tale. I won’t spoil it, but I will say that it hits like an iron bar. This is a fairy tale where the fairies have fangs, and a twist like a knife at the end. 


Ken Liu’s “An Advanced Reader’s Picture Book of Comparative Cognition” shows off different types of alien life, and their methods of thought and communication. It’s startlingly inventive, gently lyrical, and it’ll make you think about the way you view the world. 


Sarah Gailey’s “Tiger Lawyer Gets It Right” is next; it’s innovative, bloody, brutal stuff, which slides a message in there under the blood and guts, so quietly that you might not notice until it’s living in your head. It does, just to be clear, feature an actual tiger, and centres on a courtroom drama of corporate malfeasance, which ends rather unexpectedly - and lets you know that there are ways to bring truth to power, but that you might get your hands dirty. 


“Fourth Nail” from Mur Lafferty is a mystery of sorts on a space station circling a ruined earth, populated by the super rich and those who serve them in return for escaping from the hell of the gravity well. It’s smoothly flowing sci fi, with a snappy story that always had me wanting to see what happens next. Though the ending was a little abrupt, it left me wanting more - and I’ll be off to find Lafferty’s other work as a result. It’s a fun story with some interesting social undertones and solid characterisation of people making hard choices in difficult, deeply strange circumstances. 

John Scalzi brings us “Alien Animal Encounters”. This explores various different creatures that humanity has run afoul of, with occasionally unpleasant, but always hilarious results. It’s a comforting read, which made me chuckle whilst admiring the breadth of imagination on display, and I hope it’ll do the same for you. 


Beth Cato’s “A Consideration of Trees” has a murde mystery at its heart, as a xeno-arbitrator attempts to work out how someone has been killed, why, and works that discovery through their own unique lens. The mystery  is rather clever, builds tension nicely, and feels fair to the reader - they’re always one step behind, but the revelations by the narrator always feel within reach. The conclusion is at once unexpected and rather fun. As a blend of science fiction and something else entirely, this is a story you may want to read more than once.


By contrast, Broaddus’ “City of Refuge” feels horrifyingly grounded in the contemporary. It centres on issues of structural racism, and the way society is weighted against those already fallen the furthest. It’s also a meditation on the stories we tell ourselves, what happens when we try to rise up, and the many forms of resistance available to those willing to pay the price. This is affecting, painful stuff, which also has a ring of truth and a raw pain about it. 


Then there’s Mary Robinette Kowal’s story, “Jaiden’s Weaver” about a young girl and her relationship with her very own teddy-bear spider, on a planet at the edge of nowhere. This is actually rather sweet, and the creature itself is vividly painted and its relationship with its human both affecting and believable. 


Tobias Buckell brings in “The Machine that would Rewild Humanity”, about an AI seeding programme to resurrect the human species. It’s a fascinating study of a different perspective, an effort to portray non-human intelligences, and their priorities. That this takes place in a thriving world, whose context includes the demise of humanity, is a bonus.


Cory Doctorow’s “Clockwork Fagin” is, as the title implies, reminiscent of a steampunk version of Oliver Twist, where orphaned children from the computing looms try to better their lot, and succeed perhaps a little too well. This one is a straightforward tale, which cracks along nicely, and has some fun beats. I was smiling all the way through!


Full disclosure, I’d never heard of Greg Van Eekhout before I read the story “Starship October”, but I’ll absolutely be looking out for more of their work. An exploration of power dynamics on a generation ship, whose inequalities are sometimes obvious and sometimes less so, it has powerful things to say about the necessity for change. About the process of that change. And about the fierceness required to see it through. Couldn’t stop turning the pages, and really wanted to see more of the creaking starship and its desperate dreams, even as the story came to a close. More please!


“Lions and Tigers and Girlfriends”, from Tina Connolly, is a delightfully wholesome tale of queer teen romance, on a starship on its way to colonise another world. It, um, also features a space mutiny. And a play. The voice is intelligent, wry and thoroughly teen, and the whole story just made me smile. My heart grew three sizes that day! It’s fairly light, told through diary recordings, and really just great fun.


N.K. Jemisin’s “Give me Cornbread or Give Me Death” is another story of revolution against a cabal of wealth and power. Cornbread does feature, but what kept me turning pages was the anger, the exploration of racism and the reaction against it, and, to be fair, the dragons. It’s a story that wears its heart on its sleeve, and it’s also a damn fine story.


Overall, this is a collection which, not to belabour the point, has something for everyone. There’s humour, pathos, tragedy, full on sci-fi, time travel, dragons, a goat. It’s a set of diverse voices, bringing their best, and providing us with wildly imaginative and utterly delightful stories. It’s totally worth a look - I, for one, found a few authors that were new to me, and now need to go read the rest of their work.This is a marvellous collection, and one I wholeheartedly recommend.


Tuesday, November 24, 2020

The Burning God - R.F. Kuang


So, The Burning God. It’s the end of a series which has a reputation for being packed with bloody, brutal action. For its precision crafted plots, filled with tension, crosses, double crosses, sudden revelations and emotional catharsis. And for the characters, which have a humanity to them;  sadness, rage and joy, bundled together in the clothes of heroes and monsters. Sometimes not even the same person. This is the conclusion to a trilogy which did more than pull no punches - it punched right through your sternum, grabbed your heart and made you feel things. Often while everything exploded. 

And this book, the concluding chapter, ramps it all up to eleven.

Rin remains our protagonist, and is now living life in a whirlwind of rage, self-hatred and resentment. But she’s also self aware enough to realise what she’s doing, and what she’s becoming. She’s been betrayed by almost everyone and everything she’s dealt with. The Imperial system trained her, used her up, and then tried to cast her aside. The Republic that fought in the shattered remnants of the Empire...also wanted to use her, then trade her away. External actors just wanted to cut her open and see how she worked. Friends died almost at random. Others because of her decisions. Others fell into madness. Basically, what I’m saying is, Rin has had a hard time recently. It’s definitely shaped who she is, scarred her, left her fighting not just the forces arrayed against her, but her own demons. You can feel Rin’s pain, and the way it fuels her rage - and the way that rage rolls out in waves of flame and incinerates her enemies. Gaining strength from her trauma is one thing, but Rin is defined by it too; and part of that is embracing her pain, and the choices she makes because of it. In some ways she feels cooler, more ruthless - whilst living in her own head with a vulnerability, and a focus that drives her forward relentlessly. You can cheer for RIn as she fights back against oppressors - I certainly did. But the costs are there, visible, raw and real. Physically and mentally, Rin is a woman dancing on the brink of the flame and the void. That the balancing act is so wrenching, so emotionally honest and painful,is a genuine triumph. That her struggle to decide who she wants to be, what she wants to achieve, and what she’s willing to do it feels genuine, even as she slips the leash of monstrosity and reels back in. You can sympathise with Rin, empathise with Rin, be absolutely horrified by Rin, and find yourself laughing at some of her banter or crying at her loss and the way her and others choices have taken her to this point. And that can happen in the space of a couple of pages!

I’ve been going on about Rin because this is, really, her story. Don’t worry though, sports fans - she’s surrounded by faces old and new. There’s that quiet love that sustains, driven to the kind of highs and lows that shape loyalty, devotion, and abuse. There’s the poisonous hatred that comes twinned with genuine but curdled affection. And there’s the whole gamut of betrayal, revelation, revenge, betrayal...catastrophic, cathartic violence, release, murder, love again...too much. I can’t talk about what really goes on without spoiling it. So I’m going to just say that it’s intense. We can feel the political, physical and spiritual geography shifting, seismic ripples driving out from Rin, her relationships, her choices and her consequences.

If you’re here for Rin and her journey of self destruction and self discovery, you’re going to love this. 

If you’re here for Rin and her amazing array of terrifyingly, terminally fraught relationships, with abused, abusers, and...well, the occasional regular person? You’ll love this too. 

If you’re here to see how it all ends, when the immovable object meets the immovable force, you’ll love this.

If you’re here for explosive, epic battles and magic that terrifies and astounds in equal measure, you’ll love this. 

If you’re here to have your heart torn apart, to feel, then yeah, you’re going to love this, though you might need a while to decompress and think about it afterwards.

Bottom line, this is a worthy end to a series I’ve really enjoyed and talked up for years. It’ll make you think, it’ll make you feel, and it will do both of those while telling a damn fine story. So go get a copy, right now, and get started on the ending you deserve.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Tales From the Folly - Ben Aaronovitch


Tales From the Folly is a short story collection from Ben Aaronovitch. It pulls together short stories from the viewpoint of P.C. Peter Grant, long suffering wizard apprentice and, to be fair, equally long suffering policeman, as well as some stories from the viewpoints of other recurring characters, as well a sequence of vignettes, or “Moments”. 


Most of these stories have turned up in Waterstones special editions, or on Aaronovitch's blog before now. However, there are a couple of new entries.”A Rare Book of Cunning Device”, set in the British Library, was previously only available on audio, and Three Rivers, Two Husbands and a Baby is making its debut appearance in this collection. THe tl;dr is that these are all rather fun tales, extra context and windows into the world of Peter Grant and the myriad of supernatural people (and regular people) he shares a world with - if you’ve not read any of them before, you’re in for a treat. If, on the other hand, you’ve got all the Waterstones editions on a shelf, you might need to think a bit harder - albeit it’s nice to have all of the stories together in a more portable package.


That being said, these stories give us more of what we all want. More Peter Grant. More weird supernatural entities with ties to London. More quirky, charming, terrifying characters. More banter that comes with the kind of sizzle that has you laughing and nodding along, even while it makes a sharp or poignant point. Really, if you’ve been reading the Peter Grant stories, you know what you’re getting here - it’s the good stuff. 


Incidentally, it’s always nice to spend time with Peter. As the tales here stretch over all of his career so far, we get to see his growth over time. Elements remain recognisable - the fierce intelligence, commitment to justice, and willingness to do the unexpected in order to make an arrest. But you can feel his confidence growing between stories, and a more mature individual cohering between his adventures with Nightingale and the others. Other stories include viewpoints from Abigail, and members of the KDA from The October Man, as well as the return of Agent Reynolds. Their voices are all different, though there’s an undercurrent of wry self knowledge that runs through the narratives. Still, they work well together; Reynolds melancholy in an isolated hotel room, for example, contrasts wonderfully with the general Christmas jolly of Abigail’s tale.

 

I’d say that this is a collection which is likely to appeal to existing fans, especially those looking for bite sized story snacks between books. Newcomers might want to start with Rivers of London, as otherwise you might lose context, and as the stories skip around chronologically, run afoul of spoilers.. That said, The stories here are smart, snappy, and self-contained. They’ll keep you turning pages, for sure - they’re full of sizzle. Really, as I may have said already, they’re great fun, and a great way to get to know some of our favourite folks a little better. My only real complaint is that there aren’t enough of them - I would happily have devoured twice as many. 


At the end of the day, this was a joy to read. It hits all the right notes. The humour, the pathos, the intelligence and the wry commentary of Grant are all very welcome. THe new entries into the supernatural lexicon are by turns charming and terrifying. The magic is wondrous and worrying. And London lives and breathes inside these pages. 


This was great fun to read, and if you’re trying to decide if it’s worth it: yes, yes it is.