REVIEW: Amongst Our Weapons by Ben Aaronovitch
The ninth novel of the bestselling Rivers of London urban fantasy series returns to the adventures of Peter Grant, detective and apprentice wizard, as he solves magical crimes in the city of London.
There is a world hidden underneath this great city.
The London Silver Vaults—for well over a century, the largest collection of silver for sale in the world. It has more locks than the Bank of England and more cameras than a paparazzi convention.
Not somewhere you can murder someone and vanish without a trace—only that’s what happened.
The disappearing act, the reports of a blinding flash of light, and memory loss amongst the witnesses all make this a case for Detective Constable Peter Grant and the Special Assessment Unit.
Alongside their boss DCI Thomas Nightingale, the SAU find themselves embroiled in a mystery that encompasses London’s tangled history, foreign lands and, most terrifying of all, the North!
And Peter must solve this case soon, because back home his partner Beverley is expecting twins any day now. But what he doesn’t know is that he’s about to encounter something—and somebody—that nobody ever expects…
Dear Mr. Aaronovitch,
The mystery at the center of Amongst Our Weapons, your latest urban fantasy novel, begins with a murder at the London Silver Vaults. Peter Grant, the hero of the series and a police detective specializing in investigating paranormal crimes, is called to the scene along with his counterpart, Sahra Guleed, and his boss, Thomas Nightingale (Peter also brings with him his trainee/apprentice, Danni, whom he and Nightingale have recently recruited).
The murder took place at one of the underground stores. The victim, David Moore, had leveled a pistol at the shopkeeper, silver dealer Phillip Arnold, and demanded a ring that he’d once given to his ex-wife and that she told him she had left at Phillip’s shop. The ring sounded like a puzzle ring, and it bore alchemical or mystical symbols. Phillip had been unable to help; the shop had no record of such a ring and he could not find it anywhere.
The robbery, says Phillip, was interrupted by a flash of blinding light. A moment later David Moore was lying on the floor, a huge hole carved out of his chest.
An autopsy reveals that whatever blasted the cavernous hole in David Moore’s chest also shot a metal cylinder into his body, and the cylinder had the magical signature known as vestigia, which is made up of faint sensory impressions. Clearly the murder was paranormal in some way, but the type of magic it involved is not one that Peter and Nightingale are familiar with.
Upon questioning the David’s ex-wife, Althea Synon, Peter and Guleed learn that she lied to David and held on to the ring. Althea is very attached to the ring and wears it on a chain around her neck, hidden under her clothes. She was given the ring by David when they were married, and she won’t let the police have it as evidence, even though she and David were no longer close at the time of his death. She does agree to come in to the station for an interview where Nightingale confirms that the ring is magical. It’s a platinum puzzle ring carved with symbols, but ones that even Nightingale doesn’t recognize.
Shortly after this, Althea’s ring is stolen in the night, an event she doesn’t notice until after the fact; it seems that she was put under a trance by the thief. David Moore’s apartment, Peter and Danni discover, was also broken into. Strange symbols were left on his wall, as was also the case in Althea’s apartment, and the child of one of his neighbors says she saw alien that day.
When they follow a lead from David’s cell phone’s, the police find a second victim. Preston Carmichael, a man David called multiple times in his last few days, was older than David. A search for photos that both David and Preston appear in turns up a 1990s group photograph of six people, including two women and two other men. The photo seems to have been taken inside a church.
Guleed identifies one of the women as Dame Jocasta Hamilton, the owner of a chain of shops that sell organic makeup and other body products. Like Althea, Jocasta also has a ring, as did the other people in the photo. Jocasta tells Peter and Guleed more about them when they questions her, but she’s cagey. Still, Sahra and Peter learn that Jocasta and the others were students at Manchester University in the 1990s and they made a small religious group. Preston, the group’s leader, gave the other five their rings and had one of his own. Much like Althea, Jocasta is very protective of her ring. Before the interview ends, an attempt is made on her life.
The would-be killer looks like an avenging angel, with wings of fire, a halo, and a spear or a staff. She can also teleport. Now Peter and his fellow investigators have to find the other people who owned these rings before the Angel of Death, as Peter nicknames her, does. In addition, Peter’s former police partner turned mercenary, Lesley May, sends a warning to Peter that the people he’s investigating are very dangerous, which means that she may be involved as well.
Is the angel after all six of the group members / ring bearers (Peter jokingly calls them that), and if so, why? The investigation into it is complicated not only by Peter and Nightingale’s unfamiliarity with killer angels, but also by the approaching birth of Peter and Beverley’s twins. His partner, river goddess Beverley Brook, has made it clear that Peter has to wrap up his investigation before she goes into labor so he can be there for the birth and take paternity leave.
Amongst Our Weapons had a few flaws but also a number of strengths. I’ll start with the flaws.
While Peter’s narration was still snarky and ironic in this book, I felt that it was less witty than it often has been in the past, and the same goes for the dialogue. The pacing slowed down in the middle, and I’m getting a little tired of Lesley. I recognize that she had to come back into the story at some point, but I had hoped that that could wait another book.
I am also concerned that Beverly is turning into a supportive romantic partner to Peter rather than a budding power in her own right, as she was earlier in the series. I miss the Beverley who flooded Covent Garden to save lives and I hope it’s only her pregnancy that has sidelined her and that now that the kids are born, she’ll start using her powers more again.
The birth, which I had was keenly anticipating, turned out not to be my favorite part of the book. The way it took place made sense and fit the world, but I still didn’t care for it (my reasons are spoilery, so I won’t go into them).
Speaking of side characters, I would have liked a bit more of Nightingale and his relationship with Peter, too (I really liked what I did see of it, though). Peter’s maturation arc means that he doesn’t need to depend on Nightingale as much as he used to, but Nightingale is a great character and I would love more of him.
(I happened to see on Aaronovitch’s website that he is writing a novella about Nightingale that may be set in 1930s Harlem, and I can’t wait.)
But the pluses of the book were many. It was different to see Peter training someone, instead of being the newbie himself, and it highlights his growth and maturation. Nightingale is giving him more responsibilities, and Peter is also trying to be more adult now that he is going to be a dad. And just when I started thinking that Danni wasn’t very interesting, something amusing and intriguing was done with her.
There is a lot of police chief Alexander Seawoll in this book. The extent of his involvement is a bit improbable, given his leadership role, but he’s always had charisma as a character and I enjoyed him here. It was cool to learn a bit more about him and his family, too.
A new river is introduced in Amongst Our Weapons, the Glossop (near Manchester). As of right now, the Glossop is one of my favorite rivers in the series, and that’s saying a lot. I love Guleed and while I wanted more of her, she still played an important role and her conversations with Peter were interesting (she’s like a better version of Leslie, except one of the good guys).
We also learned more about the Sons of Wayland, once the Folly’s smiths, and the reasons for their disappearance. And some interesting stuff is happening with Professor Harold Postmartin, the Folly’s archivist.
The Goblin Market, which I love to bits, features in this book and we find out more about the who owns it and runs it. There are some cryptic remarks alluding to “the Starling” (Peter) and I can’t wait to find out more about what they mean.
The nature of “the Angel of Death” involved some really different and interesting magic. The angel was certainly something we haven’t seen before, and the backstory for how the conflict between her and the people she killed developed is complicated and engaging and I loved it.
The mystery at the center of Amongst Our Weapons was intricate and fresh, possibly the best in the series (the other that’s in contention with that for me is the one from Foxglove Summer). I wasn’t expecting this mystery’s twists and turns, and the resolution to how to stop the angel from killing again was creative, surprising, and engaging. Some far-reaching consequences and culminations took place late in the book, too. I wouldn’t quite call Amongst Our Weapons a gamechanger but it came close.
Overall, this wasn’t the strongest entry in the Rivers of London series (mainly because of the pacing issues, for me), but it was still good. B.