Foxglove Summer is a strong new entry in Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series.
As Foxglove Summer opens, Peter Grant (London police constable and wizard-in-training) is still reeling from the shocking betrayal at the climax of the prior book. His mentor, Thomas Nightingale, dispatches Peter out to the country, when two young girls go missing in Herefordshire, near the Welsh border. There’s no obvious mystical connection, but with a retired wizard living nearby, Peter is tasked with a quick interview for elimination purposes.
Peter decides to stick around and help the county police with the search for the missing girls. Odd local happenings and talk of the missing girls’ “invisible friend” has Peter’s radar up. As Peter digs deeper into the lives of the two families and the history of the surrounding area (a notorious locale for UFO sightings), he begins to pick up the trail of how the girls may have gone missing.
Beverly Brook (a London river goddess and Peter’s intermittent love interest) arrives on the scene to help out and to score some quality time with Peter. The duo, along with game local constable Dominic, endure a harrowing late night encounter with magical creatures on a Herefordshire hill (no spoilers on the exact species, but readers will never think of them the same way again). That adventure leads the trio to recover the missing girls, but that’s far from the end of the ordeal.
Peter’s further investigations bring him face-to-face with a more powerful mystical threat than he’s previously faced. When one of the returned girls isn’t quite what she seems, Peter makes some disturbing discoveries. He lands in a predicament he’s not sure he can get himself out of, requiring more power than he alone can muster to break free.
Foxglove Summer is a different approach for the Rivers of London series. As the name suggests, previous entries mostly took place in and around London, which Aaronovitch posits as ground zero for English magic. Sending Peter out into the countryside provides readers with an interesting new perspective on the world Aaronovitch has crafted.
Removing Peter from his usual setting, with his regular supporting cast mostly on the sidelines, turns out to be a good move. Peter has some interesting interactions with the locals and Aaronovitch does a nice job showing how the less jaded Herefordshire cops seem to embrace Peter’s specialty a bit more easily than their London counterparts. The rustic setting is a good fit for the mystical threat Peter faces this time out, while being the only “specialist” in the vicinity allows Peter to step up, coming across as more mature and responsible than we’ve seen in past stories.
The disappearance of the girls provides a mystery that Foxglove Summer takes in some twisty, interesting directions. Aaronovitch uses the opportunity to put his spin on some magical concepts not previously seen in the series, at the same time providing a fresh perspective on the intersection of the worlds of magic and modern police work. Aaronovitch does a great job of establishing the kind of media circus that descends on the cases of missing children in the modern, wired 24-hour news cycle world.
Peter is as entertaining a lead character and narrator as ever. His curiosity and adventurousness make him a good stand-in for readers as he explores new frontiers in the world of British magic. Aaronovitch even brings in an unexpected dose of reality in a scene that has mixed-race Peter confront some small town ignorance. It’s one scene, but it adds some unexpected depth to the proceedings. Beverly is a great character who’s been calling out for more of the spotlight. Peter and Beverly make for a delightfully post-modern Nick and Nora as she provides him with some crucial support throughout the case. Their relationship always feels like an enhancement to the narrative, not a distraction from it.
For the most part, the ongoing saga of Peter’s world, including his and Nightingale’s hunt for big bad The Faceless Man, takes a backseat in Foxglove Summer. That’s not really a bad thing. Injecting some variety into the series (now on its fifth book) is a smart move and shows off different aspects of the canvas. Peter mostly continues to deal with the emotional fallout of previous installment Broken Homes. Nightingale is confined to phone calls, though his name comes up a lot in Peter’s conversations. Temporarily relocating the action to the countryside also gives a convenient excuse to develop Peter and Beverly’s relationship and gives Peter the opportunity to make some interesting new acquaintances.
While a new reader really should start at the beginning of the series (Midnight Riot) and work forward, Foxglove Summer is probably the installment that’s most susceptible to being read independently, if one weren’t inclined to dive into the whole series. It’s smart, creative and thoroughly entertaining.
Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on March 23, 2015.