Book Review: Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch

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I like to think of Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant books are what would happen if Neil Gaiman started writing for a CBS procedural drama. You’d get smart, funny writing; a bunch of weird-ass, sometimes creepy fantasy creatures; a layered, complex mythology; some truly gruesome murders; and (for me at least) perhaps just a bit too many details about the art and craft of policing.

Broken Homes was a solid entry in this series. I don’t have much to offer in the way of plot summary–like the other books in the series it’s magic cops investigate magic crimes, magic things ensue. There are a few murders, lots of magic cop work, and a face-off with the “big bad,” a magician known as the Faceless Man.

Honestly, I’m not really here for the plot (though this book effectively delivers a gut-punch of a payoff to all the world- and character-building work Aaronovitch does in the earlier books–I was all FLAILY HANDS when SPOILER). I’m not here for the mechanics of the magic or the policing/mystery solving, neither of which I’ve been able to wrap my mind around.

Well, what AM I here for?

I’m here for the characters (I heart Peter and Nightingale, and Molly! and Toby! and I kind of like Zack now!). I’m here for the humor and wit. I’m here for the world building and the way Aaronovitch mines British history and culture to build his fantasy world. I’m here for all of that. It’s good stuff.

But what am I REALLY here for?

The audiobook performance by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, which is genius. I am hit-or-miss with audiobooks, and so much of what makes an audiobook work for me comes down to the reader. I’ve read one book in the series and listened to all of the others, and without hesitation prefer the audiobooks.

These books are narrated by Peter Grant, smart-ass magic cop. Holdbrook-Smith does a splendid job of bringing Peter to life. His performance is funny, smart, compassionate, and wry.  I laughed out loud at least half a dozen times at his delivery of some of Peter’s lines (including referring to Dr. Walid, the doctor who helps with Peter’s investigations as “gastrointerology’s answer to Cat Stevens” — don’t know why, but that slayed me). Even when I’d lost track of the plot, I was happy to just listen to Peter and hang out in his world. Holdbrook-Smith also does a brilliant job creating voices for a diverse set of characters, both female and male; human and magical; young, old, and immortal. And his accents! The nuance he brings to a whole range of British accents is super impressive. I could listen to his Scottish accents for days. His only kryptonite seems to be American accents, but that seems to be pretty typical for British audiobook performers.

For me, this is a perfect pairing of book and reader. Kobna Holdbrook-Smith elevates these books from a series that I probably would have quit after book one to something I’ll definitely continue to read with excitement.

4/5 stars

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