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review 2020-04-21 12:50
"Who Killed Sherlock Holmes? - Shadow Police #3" by Paul Cornell
Who Killed Sherlock Holmes? - Paul Cornell,Damian Lynch

'The Shadow Police' series is a sort of grittier, more working-class, darker version of 'Rivers of London'. Here, magic comes from the weight of London's history, not from river goddesses. The posh folks of The Folly are replaced by a team of London coppers used to bringing down drug dealers and human traffickers and the magic keeps trying to kill them 


I found the second book "The Severed Streets" to be well-written but very depressing and soaked in sadness. The Shadow Police themselves are a major source of grief and depression. They deceive each other, distrust each other, despise themselves for the deceit and bemoan the distrust. They are reckless and desperate and well out of their depth.


I thought the third book might be more whimsical. After all, how serious can a book called 'Who Killed Sherlock Holmes' be?'.


There is a move from total despair towards hope in this book. The main characters are trying to find a way back from the damage that was done to them or that they did to themselves in the last book. I liked that Paul Cornell didn't just have everyone bounce back but recognised that actions have consequences and that dealing with evil always has a price. I also liked that he delivered on the story behind the senior police officer that the Shadow Police report in to. Her story humanised the big reveal and built her into a key character.


In 'The Severed Streets' we learned that something big had changed the way magic worked in Londo, letting loose bad things and tainting the magical community by allowing power to be paid for by money rather than personal sacrifice.


In 'Who Killed Sherlock Holmes' we learn that the change coincided with the destruction of the magical Establishment - the Continuous Projects Committee that imposes civilised control on magical forces. It's clear that, although The Establishment continued to use traditions that have kept London safe for centuries, they had forgotten why and how the protocols they use to do this operate. They'd become complacent and vulnerable to attack.


As a consequence of this::

'The real London was coming back, alongside poverty and tubercolosis and history. The civilised consensus was over.'

Suddenly, I was thinking of Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, ripping apart all the shared assumptions and values that defined the England that the men and women who survived World War II had wanted to create. 


I checked the original publication date for this book. May 2016, one month before the Brexit Referendum.


It makes you wonder, If something evil broke into our world in 2016, wiping away civilised constraint, what would the world look like in 2020?


Actually, I think I know the answer to that question.


I enjoyed the book for the puzzle it solved, for the development of the story arc and for the evolution of the characters. The ending wasn't a cliff-hanger but it contained a solid hook that made me want to read book four.


Then I was told there is no book four. How can this happen? Ask the publishers.

Here's what Paul Cornell had to say about it in 2017: 'The Future Of The Shadow Police'


I hope the series comes back. I think we need a darker view of London and the people running it.

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review 2020-03-11 14:47
"False Value - Rivers Of London #8" by Ben Aaronovitch - a comfortable but not an exciting read
False Value - Ben Aaronovitch,Kobna Holdbrook-Smith

I had fun with this. I'm glad I read it. I hope the next one is better.


I always enjoy "Rivers Of London" books. I love Ben Aaronovitch's imagination and Kobna Holdbrook-Smiths skilled narration, so I was pre-disposed to like this one.

It didn't disappoint. Not really. But it didn't excite me either.


I felt Ben Aaronovitch leant too heavily on "The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy", (which you wouldn't find on a Silicon Valley Geek Must Read list because it was sooooo long ago) to characterise the this-is-definitely-not-Facebook/Google-honest company that our unscrupulous billionaire runs.


True, the tech company was on the Silicon Roundabout in Old Street, London and the billionaire is Australian rather than American, but still, as someone who has worked with tech start-ups in the US and Europe, the tech industry culture parts of this felt a little old-fashioned to me.


The plot plodded a little. Attempts to rescue this by moving backwards and forwards along the timeline like an early-Millenium thriller tended to disrupt my enjoyment without adding any tension.


Kobna Holbrook-Smith did a good job but it sounded like he was having some problems with his voice, recovering from a cold perhaps, so he didn't have his normal high impact.


Still, "False Value" was a fun read. I liked all the stuff about Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage getting mixed up with Rose Jars and other hoodoo. I thought the AI testing part was fun and the security arrangements in the company worked.


It was also good to see Peter approaching his imminent fatherhood without panic. I thought the discussion between Peter and Beverley about the ethics of being worshipped and what it does to the worshippers was classic "Rivers Of London" thinking.


I also enjoyed having American freelance wizards in the mix. It was new and it finally gave Nightingale something fun to do.


So, I had fun with this. I'm glad I read it. I hope the next one is better.

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review 2020-02-26 17:19
"Boundary Haunted - Boundary Magic #5" by Melissa F. Olson
Boundary Haunted - Melissa F. Olson,Kate Rudd

The Boundary Magic series has become my favourite series by Melissa Olson. Reading "Boundary Haunted", the fifth book of the series, was like settling in to watch a new series of a favourite show: I knew it would pull me back into a familiar world, with rules I understood and characters I cared about, and I trusted that it would surprise me with something new that moves all the characters along. It gave me a couple of days of solid entertainment and still left me hungry for more.


Part of the appeal is that I like Lex, the ex-soldier who discovered late in life that she was a Boundary Witch when she kept coming back from the dead, because, apart from being able to wield magic that allows her to press vampires, interact with ghosts, kill with a thought or raise the dead, she's a down-to-earth person, doing the best she can. She's tough but not invulnerable. She carries the scars of her past experiences with her and she tries to do what needs to be done.


My enjoyment was enhanced by the fact that "Boundary Haunted" takes Lex out of the now-familiar context of Boulder, Colorado and takes her to Atalanta, Georgia, which is pretty much like moving her to another planet. "The Old World" (vampires, witches, werewolves) here is very different from either Boulder or Los Angeles.


Melissa Olson makes very effective use of the huge scale of killing that took place in Atlanta during the Civil War history to get Lex involved with large numbers of a new type of ghost. She also builds a twisty mystery for Lex to solve about who it is who is attacking the ghosts and, via them, the Cardinal Vampire, who is a Confederate veteran. I became engrossed as Lex came to terms with the culture and personalities in the Atlanta Old World and slowly unmasked the threat to them.


As usual, Kate Rudd does a great job as the narrator of the series. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample.




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review 2020-02-16 00:56
"Shadow Of Night - All Souls Trilogy #2" by Deborah Harkness
Shadow of Night - Deborah Harkness

A low-key, gently entertaining read with an uneven pace and very little tension.



"Shadow Of Night" was a slightly disappointing book that I'm hoping will make excellent television (my DVD copy of "A Discovery Of Witches Season 2" arrives next month).


It starts immediately where the cliff-hanger ending of "A Discovery Of Witches" left off and immediately looses all of the tension, urgency and sense of threat that the first book had built up.


Diana and Matthew have walked back in time to the late sixteenth century to avoid the wrath of the Congregation, find Ashmole 782 (the magic manuscript on alchemy that caused all the aggravation in the first book) and find a witch to teach Diana how to use her newly unbound powers. To me, this sounded like the premise for a fast-paced quest, full of tension and threat. It turned out to be the basis for a fairly leisurely meander through Elizabethan London (meeting absolutely everyone you've ever heard of from that time), a trip back to Sept-Tours in France to meet Matthew's father and a visit to the court of Rudolf II, the Holy Roman Emperor, in Prague. 


The historical details were interesting and well presented. They were also a little overwhelming. I felt, at times, that I was reading a "Lonely Planet* tourist guide to sixteenth-century London and Prague. It was often a fascinating guided tour but one that took attention away from why Diana and Matthew were there. The Congregation, although often invoked as a threat, never became one. The search for the book and for a witch to train Diana lost focus as time was spent watching Diana and Matthew go native.


There were moments of tension, mainly when Diana was having to deal with direct physical threats but these moments took up very little of the twenty-four hours I spent listening to this book.


I liked the scenes in Sept-Tour, which built my picture of Matthew's history and were filled with interesting lore and one of the better scenes of physical threat against Diana.


Diana's interaction with the witches teaching her was well done, both in terms of the ideas on how magic worked and the way in which the women worked together.


I didn't like how passive Diana was until almost that last third of the book. She's a successful female academic who has carved a niche for herself in a male-dominated world. We kept being told that she's an exceptionally talented witch, albeit one whose powers have been hidden until recently. In the last book, she killed a vampire and defied powerful witches. Yet, once she walked back five centuries, she seemed to have lost all agency. 


I get that part of that was her adjusting to being in a time where she lacks basic competency while her husband is in familiar territory and being constantly surrounded by absurdly testosterone-charged predatory males but even so, she seemed a bit too soft to survive. She never completely surrenders herself to the will of the men around her but she reacts. she doesn't plan and she doesn't push. She certainly doesn't stay focused on her goals for being in the past. I found this quite frustrating.


In the final part of the book, she finally realises that Matthew's temper and easily-triggered violence are no substitute for a plan. She starts to take charge and to collaborate with other women to achieve her goals.


I also found myself being irritated by the unconscious privilege that Diana exhibits and her Lady Bountiful way of dabbling with rescuing people from poverty and ignorance, only to abandon them when it comes time to leave. I also became increasingly aware of how centuries of brutally used power and wealth combined with a we-know-best approach to all problems have resulted in the De Clairmonts and Matthew in particular, being widely hated. I began to hate them more than a little myself. This made it hard for me to see why, no matter how many terrible things Diana found out about Matthew, she remained so besotted with him.


Overall, I found this to be a low-key, gently entertaining read with an uneven pace and very little tension.

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review 2019-11-14 17:48
"Shattered Bonds - Jane Yellowrock #13" by Faith Hunter - a reboot of the series?
Shattered Bonds - Faith Hunter,Khristine Hvam

"Dark Queen" brought the long story arc of Jane Yellowrock's relationship with Leo Pellissier, Vampire Master of The City of New Orleans to a dramatic close and found Jane putting her affairs in order and slipping away to die on an estate in the Appalachian Mountains where Beast can survive.

If none of that makes sense to you, then head back to the beginning of the series and settle down for a fun ride with strong characters, complex relationships and an ever-evolving world of vampires, witches and weres.

If it does make sense to you, then the good news is that "Shattered Bonds" gives a promising basis for rebooting the series in a slightly different direction.

I was pleased to see that Jane and Beast are centre stage in this novel. I always enjoy Beast's appearances but this storyline develops the relationship between Jane and Beast in a convincing and interesting way.

The ensemble cast that makes up Jane's adopted family, the Younger Brothers and George Dumas plus the extended Yellowrock Clan are all in play plus Molly Trueblood's family (husband, children and all her sisters).

There's another, apparently invincible and extremely nasty, Son Of Darkness to face and Jane is still dying of a magic-related cancer.

This is a novel where the intense scenes that shape the relationships between the characters are the ones that shine; where Jane makes some very unconventional choices, even for Jane and where Faith Hunter once again comes up with a plot that plausibly twists what we thought we knew into a new shape.


Khristine Hvam does her usual splendid job with the narration. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample.

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