Sunday, August 18, 2013

Broken Homes isn't Broken At All

Ben Aaronovich
Reviewed by Carol
Recommended for: fans of urban fantasy police procedural
★  ★  ★  ★  ★

If you've read any other Broken Homes reviews or checked out the range of ratings, you'll know that opinion on this book runs the gamut. For me, Aaronovich is starting to feel like he is coming into his own. It's mature, developed writing with rich characters and a thoughtfully developed magic and supernatural system. Without doubt, pacing is a little off from a traditional detective story, but I found that for me, it reflected the inconsistent nature of real-life police work; one does not work a case to the exclusivity of all others, and sometimes the pieces are slow to fit into place. The result is a plot that is a little more "day in the life" until it gestalts together at the end, but was an enjoyable tour on the way. If you want nicely sophisticated characters, sly humor and an insider's view to England, this is an excellent installment in a quality urban fantasy detective series.

The summary: Peter and Leslie are at the Folly, developing their magic skills and researching an Oxford University dining club group that was learning magic a couple of decades ago. Research is interrupted when they're called to an unusual car accident that resulted in one of the driver's deaths. Blood in the back seat leads them to another dead body--strangely missing a face. It sets off vague internal alarms, but with nothing clear to go on, Peter continues on with his mandatory Officer Safety training. As someone who was required to attend annual recertifications every year, I found his asides on the usual dry dust mandatory topics to be snort-worthy:
"The morning lecture was on stop and search with reference to spotting suspicious behavior... he did warn us to make an exception for tourists, because London needed the foreign currency."

There's a sidebar with a River summit and a cameo with the Folly cadet, giving more insight into the complicated nature of supernatural politics. At one point in the case, Peter and Leslie go undercover at an estate (project housing), giving a very unique glimpse from a police perspective into the local human denizens.

"I know trouble when it's below the age of criminal responsibility, and while my first instinct was to arrest his parents on general principles, I gave him a cheery wave instead."

I was really enjoying the mischievous, dry wit until about page 200 or so when Aaronvitch started to become quite serious. The wit was still there, but more sly, less frequent, letting the reader focus on the impact of the story. I found it refreshing; although I love a snarky remark, at a certain point, they become incongruent with the emotion of the story.

Honestly, I can't say enough. I love Aaronvich's tone and style. I love that his dogs are dogs, but are still amusing; that Peter is not an anti-hero, and as wry as he is, still believes in loyalty and justice; that Peter doesn't describe all women in terms of sexability, just the one(s) he wants to have sex with; that magic isn't easy; that magic is part of an ambient system living all around us; that Peter is self-depreciating as much as he chaffs others. Add to it that unlike most UF books, the police are not bumbling idiots or obstructive foils, and you have a UF detective read with a very different flavor.

I think it is also worth noting that these books have high re-read potential. Ilona Andrews recently noted "a writer can teach the readers pretty much anything through the narrative, but the lower is that starting threshold, the wider is the audience." Aaronovich doesn't handhold the reader, resulting in a higher threshold. He uses London slang, British police vocabulary, architectural terms and stories that are heavily influenced by local geography. Yet, I feel so satisfied after reading his works. This ending especially was a gobsmacker. I wouldn't call it a cliff-hanger, exactly, since I'm pretty confident in his characterizations. I think Aaronovich's tv roots are showing, and it's more of a titillating lead-in to the next installment. There's a reason I've made an effort to get the series in hardcover--I want them around for a long time.


"Arts and Antiques, definitely not known by the rest of the Met as the Arts and Crafts squad, occasionally recover an item so valuable that even the evidence storage locker in the middle of New Scotland Yard isn't secure enough."

"I said she could have a look around the fair as long as she didn't talk to any strange people.
'Okay,' she said.
'Or strange things,' I said.
'Whatever,' she said and skipped off.
'Or strange things that are also people,' I called after her."

"'They're probably waiting for one of us to get freeze dried,' said Lesley, whose attitude towards taser deployment was that people with heart conditions, epilepsy and an aversion to electrocution should not embark upon breaches of the peace in the first place."


by Lauren Oliver

Reviewed by Sesana
Three out of five stars

Publisher Summary:

Ninety-five days, and then I’ll be safe.
I wonder whether the procedure will hurt.
I want to get it over with.
It’s hard to be patient.
It’s hard not to be afraid while I’m still uncured, though so far the deliria hasn’t touched me yet.
Still, I worry.
They say that in the old days, love drove people to madness.
The deadliest of all deadly things: It kills you both when you have it and when you don’t.

My Review:

I have to start by saying that I really do like the way that Lauren Oliver writes. She constructs nice sentences, and has a gift for describing scenes and characters vividly, but without getting too purple. I still didn't love this book, and I'll spend the rest of the review trying to say why I didn't. But Oliver is a good writer, and Delirium is more than just a decent book.

When you read this book, the very first thing you need to do is break out a crane to help you suspend your disbelief. The thing is, Oliver's dystopian world, where love is an illness with a failsafe, and mandatory, cure, is fairly well thought out, except for one major thing: how did we get here? Because it seems like she's thought about nearly every detail but that. I have such a hard time believing that this would ever come to pass. Imagine how much of the world today would react to being told that a scientist has decided that he has the cure to love. Maybe some people would take him up on it, but I think that far more would be horrified. And the government that made the cure mandatory... Well, let's just say that I doubt that government would last for long. But you have to ignore all of that and just take it as given that this did happen, and the vast majority of the population were thrilled at the change. I had a really hard time buying in that far, which did affect how much I enjoyed the book.

And it is, indeed, a romance. As far as YA romances go, it wasn't a terrible one. Alex might not have been the most exciting of love interests, but he was a nice enough guy and I felt like Oliver did a good job of making me believe that Lena was truly falling in love with him. Her emotions felt real enough for me to sympathize with her, even if I didn't feel much for Alex myself. As a romance, it was neither exciting nor infuriating, so I guess I'll take that.

I couldn't help but compare this book to Matched, which I also felt lukewarm towards. They are both YA dystopias where the evil in society is basically arranged marriage. Delirium does raise the bar quite a bit, and I don't remember anything in Matched being as chilling as Lena's visit to the Crypt. Oliver also gets bonus points for acknowledging that gay and lesbian people would exist in this world (Here, it's called Unnaturalism, and the cure will fix them! Doesn't that sound like a great idea for a book in its own right?) which I don't recall Matched doing at all. Unless you're really attached to the premise, there probably isn't any point in reading two YA dystopias that revolve around a lack of romantic freedom. Of the two, I would say that Delirium is better written and has higher stakes.

Also reviewed on Goodreads.