Broken Homes is the fourth installment in Ben Aaronovitch’s romping fantasy series centred around the antics of London cop turned trainee wizard, Peter Grant. In what is looking to be quite an extensive saga not unlike old Harry Potter, to whom Aaronovitch pays mocking homage to with sarky references throughout, Broken Homes gives the reader another chance to enjoy the magical antics of Peter Grant, as it also seems to be setting some larger foundations into place for the series’s over arcing story.
Opening with not one but three crimes all strangely connected, Broken Homes starts out a bit haphazardly and perhaps a bit incomprehensible even to those who are fans of the previous three books. If you are, but haven’t had time to remind yourself of the backstory from the previous books before starting on this one, the opening can be a bit bewildering. For me anyway. For this reason, I would say its unlikely that newcomers to the Peter Grant series will get huge enjoyment by picking up this book first, although they should all be firmly encouraged to buy the first book, Rivers of London, and get stuck right in.
From it’s tumultuous start, Broken Homes then hones in on its principal setting, the fictional Skygarden estate, which is inspired and set in the same location as the entirely non fictional Heygate Estate in Southwark. As was also true for Heygate, in Broken Homes the local council are looking to shut down the run down and crime ridden estate, but when Grant finds some connections between the estate and an ambitious German architect/magician, its time for him to take a closer look, before its residents are kicked out.
What Aaronovitch does best in this series is his rolling together of the boring paperwork filled, bureaucratic reality of the London Met, and the anarchic quality of the magical crimes that open every book, whilst being narrated by the dry, weary humour of Grant. This style is not lost at all in the fourth book, although upon finishing the story does feel slightly disappointing. Perhaps this is because in this book and the last, Aaronovitch has changed gear from making strong, punchy, self-contained stories and is instead focussing on the larger arc which revolves around the Big Bad of the series, The Faceless Man. As a result, the story just doesn’t hit as hard, and you’re left feeling a bit unsatisfied. With luck, this slightly dragging middle will lead up to an all-out, crime capering, spell wielding finale, and hopefully the Faceless Man will become a bit more scary and a bit less vague, which is understandably hard for a guy with no face.
Quibbles aside, Broken Homes still delivers the same humour and mischief of the previous books, even if the story doesn’t quite pack the same punch. Its creative juxtapositions of the supernatural and magical and real grit London echoes books such as Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and China Mieville’s Kraken. Fans of those authors should check out Aaronovitch straight away.