More magic in London: Ben Aaronovitch’s The Hanging Tree

rol-3The Hanging Tree is the sixth in the Peter Grant Rivers of London series – about a wizard’s apprentice in a special department of London’s Metropolitan Police, dedicated to sorting out the ‘weird bollocks’ that the regular Met don’t wish to have anything to do with. I think the best way to update other fans, and to introduce new readers, is to go through the characters. These novels are so attractive in their world building and their characters, it’s hard to detect which elements are driving the plot hardest, and which parts are given the serious development attention.

Peter Grant: not much development in his character, since he’s pretty fully realised as the police officer son of a ex-heroin addict jazz trumpeter and a fearsome mother from Sierra Leone. He’s improved his spell-casting (well up to Third Level now), and still drools over fast cars with more numbers than letters in their names. He’s got really good at spouting meaningless Met jargon to angry Inspectors as a defensive measure. Spends a lot of time with:

Beverly Brook: a south London river goddess who has other business during the duration of this novel, but she’s on hand to relay messages, and keep things calm back at Mama Thames’ headquarters, because there is Big Trouble with her big sister:

rol-1Lady Tyburn: she’s the leading river goddess in this novel, as arrogant and frightening as ever, but we find out about her children, her husband, the trouble they cause her, and the trouble she will cause Thames Water if Peter doesn’t repay the favour she did him by rescuing him from being buried underneath the city by malignant fae, by getting her girl out of police custody like she told him to. What Lady Ty tells Peter when she loosens up and stops glaring is truly fascinating. Whoever knew that islands took university sabbaticals?

Nightingale: Britain’s top wizard, still dapper, still mischievous, still devastatingly attractive, still into Jags. Possibly the only wizard who can control Lady Ty.

Varvara: the Russian night witch is not in this plot, but we hear some bad words being said about her past duplicity by:

Lady Helena: a new character, an earth- and nature-oriented witch / wizard / practitioner who thought she’d killed the first Faceless Man, but now finds that Varvara was lying. She has some loose ethical approaches when it comes to medical and biological experimentation, last seen in Moon Over Soho. Her arrival clears up some old loose ends, and frays more.

Caroline: Lady Helena’s daughter, trainee witch, desperate to learn to fly and getting pretty good at trying. Very interested in swopping spells with Peter, but not in that way.

rol-5Guleed: Peter’s new sidekick, a ninja-hijabi with zero magical powers and no wish to learn any either. Much the better police officer in interrogations and polite questionings. Unfazed by weird bollocks, currently appearing in series three of the Rivers of London comic, Black Mould.

Lesley May: OMG she’s back. Well, if you’ve been reading the Rivers of London comics you’ll know that she’s back properly, and The Hanging Tree brings us up to date with quite how dangerous, powerful and focused she is. And we learn a little bit more about her relationship with The Faceless Man Mk II.

Toby the dog: has a sugar and fat issue, because:

Molly the demon maid: stayed up all night to bake a Victorian-standard high tea for Lady Helena’s visit to the Folly. She gives all leftover food to homeless meals charities, which is why there is never anything left in the kitchen for midnight snacks.

rol-2What I really liked about The Hanging Tree are the background details of the world-building, that show that it isn’t static. Things are changing, in the demi-monde and in Peter’s mundane world, as the two universes come closer together. Zachary is helping the Quiet People acclimatise their children to daylight. The Folly is bringing in mundane specialists to work on thaumaturgical blowout with Dr Walid, and to do the time-consuming analysis. The Chestnut Tree (site of the original last pub before the hanging tree at Tyburn) is staffed by people who might or might not be partly fae. But how do you spot a partly-magical person in a crowd of goths? The Hanging Tree also delivers the expected amount of police procedural operations in crowded, built-up areas in central London. The joy of blowing up well-known and much-hated landmarks must be part of the joy of writing these novels.

In summary, The Hanging Tree is not as heartbreaking as Broken Homes, nor as joyous as Foxglove Summer, but it’s as excellent as Peter’s first appearance, in Rivers of London (or Midnight Riot, as I believe it’s called in the USA).

 

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