This is part three in my series – Friday at the Folly. The Folly is the name of the home of the magical branch of the Metropolitan police in Ben Aaronovitch’s series Rivers of London. Rivers of London is by far one of my favourite series of all time and when a group of bookish buddies decided to read it together I had to jump at the chance to revisit it. I have decided to note down my thoughts as I re-read it and post them in a discussion type post.
If you are interesting in following along you can find my Introduction to the re-read project as well as the reading order I will be undertaking etc on my Rivers of London Page.
Title: Whispers Under Ground
Author: Ben Aaronovich
Series: Rivers of London #3
A WHOLE NEW REASON TO MIND THE GAP
It begins with a dead body at the far end of Baker Street tube station, all that remains of American exchange student James Gallagher—and the victim’s wealthy, politically powerful family is understandably eager to get to the bottom of the gruesome murder. The trouble is, the bottom—if it exists at all—is deeper and more unnatural than anyone suspects . . . except, that is, for London constable and sorcerer’s apprentice Peter Grant. With Inspector Nightingale, the last registered wizard in England, tied up in the hunt for the rogue magician known as “the Faceless Man,” it’s up to Peter to plumb the haunted depths of the oldest, largest, and—as of now—deadliest subway system in the world.
At least he won’t be alone. No, the FBI has sent over a crack agent to help. She’s young, ambitious, beautiful . . . and a born-again Christian apt to view any magic as the work of the devil. Oh yeah—that’s going to go well.
My Spoiler Free Thoughts
Another favourite for me, This one takes us into the Nottinghill area of London and explores the history of the London Underground. We also get a glimpse into the Art world from the Famous St Martins College to the Tate modern to the old potteries of the city.
This book introduces so many new fun and interesting new side characters as well as the return of some favourites. From FBI agents to members of the British transport police and a troublsome teen Peters network is really expanding in some fun ways. We get a lot more "Proper Police work" from Peter in this book which is really great to see as he tries to keep the exposure of the Folly and the demi-monde under wraps. There is also a huge amount of expanded world-building. We meet out first part Fae, discover London’s Goblin Markets and hunt down nefarious practitioners.
The conversational, friendly tone to Peter’s narration is very much still present with al the usual jokes. I loved the added complication of the FBI agent and how Peter still doesn’t manage to keep himself wholly away from trouble even when lying low. We really find out how much is going on under London’s streets.
My Spoiler filled Thoughts
Lesley’s back and she has joined the Folly. After the Cliff-hanger of Moon over Soho revealing that Lesley could produce a ware light its so awesome to have her back and for her to be part of the Folly. While she is not “officially” back as a member of the MET it is nice to see that she is still as sharp as ever and can still run Circles round Peter when it comes to Police work.
We also get to meet Abigail properly. I love Abigail as a character. You could tell from the brief glimpse we got of her in Moon over Soho that she was going to be trouble and I love the kind of trouble she seems to be. I really like that she is just as fastidious as Peter about the details. The fact the she had to double check her friends facts is awesome. One thing I didn’t notice till this re-read is the sheer number of references to Foxes in this section. This will become relevant later in Abigail’s story but there is such a strong foreshadowing here I am really surprised. Also nice to see that the Ghost talking has returned. Its how Peter got started at the Folly and it s nice to she that the cataloguing of ghosts hasn’t fallen by the wayside. In fact we get so much more info about the Folly’s history and what it is believed that Ghosts might actually be . Peter proposes some really interesting hypotheses.
This book is all centred around the couple of weeks over the Christmas period which I think makes it really interesting. it is slightly faster paced and slightly more methodical than the previous books. It seems to lean slightly more into the procedural elements and I really like that twist. We get to see Peter building relationships with other Police officers a lot more. I really like the dynamic he has established with Stephanopolis, especially after getting that flash of My Little Pony vestigia from her in the first book, they have such a nice level of banter and respect . You get that dynamic with a lot of Peter’s relationships the nice mix of collegiate friendship and respect for their work comes across so easily on the page. For example with his relationship with Guiled there is slightly more sharing Peter knows more about her family and her day to day as she is the same level as him and they have a more personal rapport.
The murder is a really interesting one in this, not because a stabbing in the London underground is all that special but more that it allows us to meet so many more facets of the Met. We meet Javid Kumar who is Peter’s Liaison from the British Transport Police and learn how they operate, we got to observe the Family Liaison officers going about their jobs, How the Murder squad conducts there day to day and the fact that our victim was the son of an American senator we also see how the Met deals with international observation. Which obviously is a big problem for Peter and trying to keep the Folly secret.
Zach is a curious character especially as he has the confidence to give Peter a bit of a run around. I loved his reaction to finding out that that he is half fae and that he finds himself staying as a guest of the Folly. The nick name of the Issacs is fun. I will say the Breakfasts at the folly sound amazing! I bet molly is an amazing cook. We get so much insight into other areas of the demi-monde. Zach being out guide is fun as he really doesn’t come across as reliable.
We really do get glimpses of the other River sisters in this one not just focusing on Ty or Bev. I think its interesting we got to speak to Fleet a little more especially meeting the captain of her Dogs that is a curious little aspect that will be interesting if we see more of. In fact the whole visit to the Tate Modern was curious. Fleet, then Meeting Madam Teng which opens up the possibility of other Magical cultures and practices and those international relations and then the vestigia off of the artwork is all just a really interesting section. Its really only with hindsight to we see really how important it is.
I do love Aaronovich’s descriptions, particularly when he blends the uncanny into the real. His version of a Goblin Market just sounds so fantastical but then also has such a grounding in London. Again more interaction with the Rivers in Meeting Ephra and Oberon. we really do get more and more of a sense of the Power of the Rivers. One criticism is I really wish we had spent more time within the Market but the way it pivots is just so powerful. You can really feel the power in the silence and the fear as the shockwave from the daemon trap reaches them then the adrenaline and mad dash to get to Nightingale. Its just such a powerful moment in the book. I hold your breathe kind of moment. The deamon traps sond horrifying and i do like that it gives us a further glimpse at what happened at Ettesburg. The Elvish Script is a really geeky yet nice touch. That real sassy sense of humour that finds it’s ways into these books is great it also is a little jibe at the readers which is fun.
IF YOU CAN READ THESE WORDS THEN YOU ARE NOT ONLY A NERD BUT PROBABLY DEAD
We get some proper police work in this section but it is also hectic. Following the Nolan Brothers, finding the secret entrance to the Underground. This is where I find these books so fascinating and they tend to take me off on tangents of other reading. All the information on how the Underground was constructed and the half house facades that were built, all those facts mixed with the fiction is jsut why I love these books as they just feel so real.
Honestly I think Kumar is one of my favourite new characters. Even through all this safety procedures and the journey through the underground and sewers with Peter he has this awesome jovial outlook. Even when finding Agent Reynolds underground, with her suspicion of Peter radiating out, Kumar is still so positive. Aaronovich really knows how to ramp up the action with this section too. The whole section trudging through the tunnels the action just gets faster and faster, these is a real sense of foreboding building and the action gets quicker and quicker. The chase through the sewers and the claustrophobic feeling of the icy snow melt also just make this section so much more tense. Aaronovich is also really great at breaking that tension with daft humour. I honestly don’t know why this section stood out but it does make me giggle.
‘Oh great,’ I screamed. ‘Now we’re a bobsleigh team.’
‘It’s the luge,’ yelled Kumar. ‘It’s only a bobsleigh if you’ve got a bobsleigh.’
‘You two are insane,’ shouted Reynolds. ‘There’s no such thing as a triple luge.’
Between duckings I glimpsed a patch of grey. I opened my mouth to yell ‘Daylight’ and then really wished I hadn’t when I got a mouthful of diluted sewage. It was another intersection. I saw an alcove with a ladder and lunged – only to be swept past, with my fingers centimetres from the metal. My foot hit something underwater hard enough to pitch me over and the world’s first-ever Anglo-American Olympic sewer luge team broke up.
Chapter 22 – End
We get that moment of calm, yet more glimpses of the River’s and their reach before even more action. The scenes with Peter buried underground are even more claustrophobic and close than the sewer scenes. We get so pulled into what is going through Peter’s mind that you can feel is heart rate spike as he begins to panic. Its just so engrossing. I am still unsure as to what I think happened when Peter went back to Medieval London and met the former Lord Tyburn. Did he dream it or is he still connected to that time due to what he did to Punch while Molly was preforming hemomancy? Part of me wants to think the latter just as i think that connection to the spirit of old London, the root of London would really make Peter special. I honestly didn’t realise just how much foreshadowing this section had. There is a cray amount for not just his book but the series in this tiny section yet it just reads so sooth that you wouldn’t realise how much is being hinted at.
I love how this one is solved just through proper police work. Most of the last bits of the mysteries are unfolded in the police interview room and not with magic and Peter getting into trouble. I love that it shows growth in Peter’s character particularly at the proficiency of his job is improving. I really like that it is through Zach that we learn about the Quiet people, instead of plunging straight in and then having to info dump using the interview as a way to get all that information before meeting them. It means that when we do go underground and meet them we get to explore the environment instead of the history and the people and that’s great. This might be some of the coolest descriptions in the series. This underground civilization that is steampunky and historical but also they shop at Tesco. Aaronovich is so good at making these juxtapositions particularly with the magic.
I also really really love how the actual Murder is solved in the interview room as well. It really leans into the police procedural aspects and that just makes this book feel like a distinct story . I love how it all comes together , how the history of the families play out and bring it all including some of the hunt for the Faceless man into it. I just really like this one. ending with Abigail is great too it leave us with so much story to go forward from her talking fox hinting the next instalment takes us south of the river and the creation of the Folly’s mentorship in ghost spotting! Such fun concepts and leave us with so much to look forward to!