we pause now for a rave audiobook review
It's Hugo season, and the list of finalists in just about every award category this year is so very promising that I've been using it as a reading assignment in earnest. For reasons that don't need to be listed here (not least because millions of pixels have already been spilled on the subject all over the internet), it's been a few years since I could do that. But there is so very much to read! I'm not sure I'll get through it all.
However, as part of making my best attempt, I've been availing myself liberally of the local bookstores and the library. I had forgotten that you can check out electronic media from the library, not just hard-copy books! Which rediscovery leads to this discovery: Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London series is very, very good--and the audiobooks, narrated by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, are even better.
I've been shotgunning these books, just listening to them at every opportunity. It is taking real discipline to stop the playback long enough to get any writing done (but I have been strong!). I'm not sure they're going to take my personal top vote for the Hugo Award for Best Series (a new category in its pilot phase this year), but if there was an award specifically for series in the urban fantasy genre, it wouldn't be a hard decision. They do so much right. The plots don't necessarily go anywhere unexpected for being more or less police procedurals--but the way they get there is a delight. The dry humor of the main character's observations grabbed me from the beginning.The audiobook narrator delivers his lines in ways that make me guffaw and snicker uncontrollably. He also renders each character unique and recognizable and with believable accents from West Africa to midwestern U.S., all the gradations of the British Isles, and in such precise combinations as "Indian by way of Scotland." (Which also gives you an idea of how multicultural and multihued Aaronovitch's London is. The main character has some wry observations along those lines, too, being himself a man who "range[s] from IC3 to IC6 depending on how much sun [he's] been getting.") And that's before we get into the heartbreakingly realistic voicing of a particular secondary character before, after, and through the progress of recovering from a relevant injury.
Speaking of which--the book that follows the one in which said injury occurs, it wrecked me, just punched me in the heart, just by making the aftermath of that trauma an important part of character and relationship development. I guess I'm used to sequels that sort of reset everyone to zero? Like, "Last book found the hero half-dead after the climactic battle, but he's all better now and ready for his next adventure!" And I was unconsciously expecting these books to follow suit? Maybe?
I kind of hate that I have to appreciate this, but--this is an urban fantasy series with a male protagonist who doesn't describe each and every woman he meets by referring to her score on his personal hotness index. It's like women actually matter beyond whether or not he'd like to have sex with them! (Look, I read the first book in the Iron Druid series. THERE IS NO COMPARISON.) It's not like he never refers to women's sex appeal--there's a long-time friend he's had a long-time crush on, and there are river goddesses who exude sexuality as part of their glamour, sure. But there's also a woman who comes to the police to report her son missing, compassionately described in terms of her fear and her stoicism and her humanity. There's a woman who's in a position of authority over the main character whom the main character doesn't resent for it. (She's also lesbian. He doesn't resent her for that, either. And he has absolutely no sympathy for anyone who does; in fact, there's a little triumphal glee over the presumed fate of the last person who made disparaging remarks about her sexual orientation.) The female characters who exist for reasons other than the main character's boner greatly outnumber the ones who... are at one time or another described as affecting said boner but nevertheless are also described in many other terms and play a much fuller role.
It seems like it should be a low bar: UF series with male protagonist and which unambiguously portrays women as people with full interior lives and agency. It's amazing how few such series I have encountered. So I really do appreciate this series for that.
I will also forever adore these books for taking some of the tired, grim tropes of detective stories, and infusing them with humanity and hope. Like, the main character's parents, and all their dysfunction, aren't just a voiceless part of his backstory. They turn into actual characters with surprising roles to play. Their status isn't fixed. His father isn't just a cautionary tale about how a drug addiction can tank a promising musical career. Dad shows up in the novels, talking about jazz and making new friends and--well, I don't want to spoil anything, but THERE IS HOPE FOR HIM, OK? This warms my heart. And the main character's mom is simultaneously THE BEST and also deeply frightening. I mean, I would read a whole series about her but I'm glad she's not my mom, you know?
Speaking of jazz: The musical interlude that begins each chapter is perfect. Makes me want to revisit my original ambition to write a few bars of my own to bookend the Friday Fictionette audio releases with.
I guess what I'm saying is you should totally get your hands, or your listening device of choice, on these audiobooks. I've been checking them out from the Boulder Public Library via either Overdrive or Hoopla as available. I will probably wind up buying my own copies to keep. Also the hard copy. And I will reread them to bits.
But I won't get to reread them even once until I've finished the rest of my Hugo Award reading.