Book Review: Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch

Second book of the year! I’m always delighted when I start reading an established series. I’m an impatient little snot, and I already have a few series that have me waiting for new installments. When I find something that I enjoy and learn that there are already multiple volumes available? Happiness abounds. What, I’m a simple creature, and it doesn’t take a whole lot to make me genuinely happy.

I started reading the series at the start of 2019 in hopes of something distracting and engaging, while not giving me emotional scarring (*cough* Robin Hobb). So far, I’m enjoying my jaunt through the magical alterna-London with my new pal, Peter Grant. The second volume in a series is often a tricky one to master. The first book draws the audience and sets certain expectations. When you pick up the next in the series, whether you like it or not, you  have preconceived notions of what you’re going to be reading. Occasionally, this is a disappointing experience. I almost quit one of my now-favorite series because the second book was such a confusing mess to me at the time (and no, I’m not going to tell you what it is). I gave that series a final shot when the third book appeared, and it ended up saving the day quite heartily.

Here, with the second book in the whatever-this-series is called these days (I’ve seen it listed under at least two different names), I wasn’t terribly worried about what I might find. I had already made the perhaps-foolish decision to invest in the first six or seven volumes during a Book Depository sale, so I was, by god, going to read these books. I’m trying to buy fewer physical books, partially because shelf space is at such a premium for me, and partly because I feel more than a little guilty about the number of unread books that I have hanging around my house already. So, it was with a slight amount of trepidation that I decided to dive into Moon Over Soho. I am pleased to say that it wasn’t disappointing at all.

Cut for mild spoilers. You’re welcome.

The plot here was a little more scattered than in Rivers of London. It seemed as if there were a few too many things going on at once, almost as if Aaronovitch had a whole lot that he wanted to write about, but wasn’t sure whether he’d get more volumes in which to do so. So what we end up with is a bit of a confusing mess. It was (for me) an enjoyable mess, but still, a mess. (Mess. Mess. Say a word enough times and it starts to lose meaning. Mess.) ANYWAY.

It also seemed like Aaronovitch was shoehorn in a Big Bad for the series in the midst of telling what was an engaging enough story as it was. I understand that the Faceless Man is an ongoing thing, now that I’m more than halfway through Whispers Underground (book 3), but during my reading of Moon Over Soho, I wasn’t quite getting why the plot kept wandering from the dead jazz musicians case and over to the chimeras and what has come to be known as The Strip Club of Doctor Moreau.

Also, that scene, where Nightingale goes in and deactivates the demon trap in the strip club, then comes out and tells Peter that he doesn’t Peter seeing what else was in that room? Creeped me out. I’ve read other novels where nasty things are happening in dark rooms, and I can only imagine the horrors that Nightingale encountered. Which, I believe, was the point.

Circling back around to the “jazz vampires,” I’m a little irritated at the way Aaronovitch handled Peggy, Cherie, and Simone at the end of the novel. Did they really need to commit suicide? I feel like this was a wasted opportunity. Yes, these three women were (perhaps inadvertently) killing men, but I don’t believe that they were altogether malevolent. I feel as if there had to be some other way of resolving their story without simply killing them off. I’ll be keeping a close eye on this series and the way that it continues to treat women. I have neither the patience nor the inclination to deal with fiction that feels the need to fridge women that it doesn’t know what else to do with. It’s bad enough that we have Lesley dealing with the nasty aftermath of Pulcinella’s possession (essentially) and Beverly’s banishment from Rivers of London. I don’t want to see the interesting women killed, maimed, or sent off to live in the country.

I do give Aaronovitch credit for Detective Guleed, the “Muslim ninja” as she playfully calls herself. She appears in book 3, and is a delight almost every time she’s on the page. But more about her when I actually finish the book and get that review written.

All in all, Moon Over Soho wasn’t the worst “second book” that I’ve ever read, despite the scattered plot, and it was good enough that I started the next volume moments after finishing it. I’m sure that I’ll be finished with Whispers Underground soon enough. I have a feeling that if things continue to go the way that they are with my reading experience here, I’ll have trouble pacing myself. Then I’ll just end up with yet another series that leaves me waiting anxiously for the next part of the story to be published.

There are worse fates.

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