I haven’t been doing book reviews on this site; I’ve been posting them on GoodReads and I’ve generally reviewed favorite books. There is always room for change, though, and this is a little different because (a) it’s a review of Urban Fantasy, and (b) it’s a book by someone I’ve met.
The meeting is a story in itself. Back in 2009 when Sixty-One Nails was first published I was working in London quite close to Covent Garden. The first book in the Courts of the Feyre series features that area quite strongly, partly because I knew it well. I have paced along many of the paths traced in the book, though it has changed somewhat since that time. Given that the main character in the book practically walked past the door of Waterstones Bookshop on New Row, I felt it was appropriate that they should stock the book, especially for those readers wanting something local but also something different from the usual ghost tours and old London books. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
So being the brazen self-promoter that I am, I went in and introduced myself to the staff, explaining that I wanted to speak to the person responsible for SF and Fantasy. I was politely told that he wasn’t in that day but that if I called in another day I should ask for Ben. A couple of days later I returned and was introduced to a large guy who met my enquiries with a strangely bemused look – yes, he knew what urban fantasy was, no he didn’t know about my book, yes he would accept a copy from me. It was a short meeting, but I pressed the book into his hand and felt that my work was done.
What I didn’t know was that the guy in Waterstones had just started work on his own urban fantasy, and was ten thousand words into his opener, Rivers of London. The other side of that story is here, at Ben’s website: The Folly. I have been asked on numerous occasions if I knew of Ben’s work, and had to admit guiltily that I had not read it, but having finally finished The Courts of the Feyre, I was determined to catch up on some reading and this was top of my list.
It’s a good read. If you haven’t caught up with Ben’s work by now, then you probably should. Certainly if you are here and reading this article and like the mix of history and fiction in my work, then you will not be disappointed by Ben’s story.
Like me, Ben writes in the real world, but his is the world of policemen and crime scenes, mixed with wizardry and genius loci – the spirits of place that come to embody a sense of belonging. His characters are strong and likeable – his hero, Peter Grant is someone you would be glad to meet and get to know. The character’s humour is infectious and his indefatigable optimism becomes a driving force in the story – you just can’t keep a good guy down. Contrast this with Mike Carey’s Felix Castor (another favorite) and you see two sides to the same coin – one darkly sardonic, the other an irrepressible optimist. Both work, but for entirely different reasons.
I liked the initial motivation to become involved in supernatural crime – it’s that or the case progression unit (the desk job) – this sets the rookie police officer Peter on a path that is only partly revealed in this book. There is so much left unexplained, which for me is an attraction. It left me wanting to know more about this character and the world he is only beginning to know. In this sense there is a parallel with my own work, in that you discover the world through Peter’s eyes and it is revealed as he finds it, as we do with Niall in Sixty-One Nails. We benefit from his knowledge and suffer with his mistakes. It’s a great way to expose magic in the real world and it works well.
There are now three other books in the series – Moon Over Soho, Whispers Underground and, released at the end of July 2013, Broken Homes, and while I have not caught up with the full series yet I think it’s safe to say that they will be well worth reading – I look forward to it.
A final word – thanks to Ben for being okay about the strange man who pressed a novel into his hand that day. It was good to meet you and I hope we’ll get the opportunity to renew our acquaintance soon.