Odd title, that. Who lies sleeping, exactly? It’s the latest Peter Grant / Rivers of London novel, and I gobbled it up over three evenings. But though I enjoyed it, and it had (at the beginning) the potential to be one of the really rock-solid, hard-hitting novels in the series, like Broken Homes, for instance, I have questions. (The following no-spoiler discussion will make little sense to anyone who hasn’t read the earlier Rivers of London stories: sorry.)
But first, the good bits. Lesley May is back, and she’s as insouciant, efficient, and sharp as ever. But she’s conflicted, and we’re seeing a few more of the reasons why she turned to the dark side, and what she thinks about coming back. Or not. Peter is now the second most powerful wizard in the Folly, and in the Met, and proves it, with customary self-deprecation and willingness to get on with the paperwork. There’s a really excellent new character, a trafficked Fae called Foxglove who draws like an angel, and knows Molly very, very well. Nightingale is again doing seriously powerful and precise magic, and Peter’s awed explanations make us understand exactly how powerful, and how big his magic is. Twentieth-order spells are demonstrated in very smart suiting. Beverley and the other river gods and goddesses lounge about in and out of the water, and fill in the world-building very satisfactorily.
One problem with Lies Sleeping (apart from the title, which still bugs me) is that a lot of the material from the comics series is incorporated in the plot and background, yet newcomers to the series, and anyone who hasn’t heard of the comics, will have trouble working out where those bits came in. Ben Aaronovitch came to speak about the book in my town, and sitting in the audience listening to the pre-talk chatter around me, it was fairly obvious that nobody in my vicinity at least had any idea that the comics existed, and many had only read the first novel. So his audience has grown from the original fandom, and is far broader than his publishers expect (he did speak about his publishers being surprised about where the sales were coming from, like Germany, and from little old ladies who like gory crime fiction). You’d think that they’d make an effort to direct new readers to the rest of the Peter Grant world, and to the comics, just to help clear things up. Maybe they will in the paperback, where they can correct the hardback’s proof-reading errors too. I think this might have been a rushed edition.
But the main problem I have with the plot of Lies Sleeping is that – world-building development and new characters excepted – is that it resembles a good piece of knitting spoiled by the cat. Much is beautfully done: there are some really thoughtful moments that consider PTSD in the context of working with wizards in central London. Actions have consequences, people have feelings, no-one is perfect or rock-solid, and even Peter feels better after having a good talk to a psychiatrist. Loose ends of plot are fine, but the plot tangle that brings us a plethora of haunted magical bells, and pointless red herrings and tangential incarcerations and stakeouts that lead nowhere, is just unsatisfying, and should have been reknitted. Lesley May’s motivation is good and strong and wholly believable, but the back story that we are presented with as her motivation’s motivation is weak, a bit self-indulgent and annoying. A strange time-travelling episode at the end recalls Peter’s near-death burial moment in Whispers Underground, but it doesn’t give us the same fear, or push the plot forward with action. It just exposites, which feels limp.
But nothing is gone forever when magic is involved, and I am lining up for the next Rivers of London novel, and its three further novellas (after The Furthest Station), still to be published, as they’re needed for filling in the plot of Lies Sleeping too. Good lord it’s complicated.