To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
From a world more full of weeping than you can understand.
So wrote Yeats in his famous poem The Stolen Child (this version of which by The Waterboys is one of the most beautiful combinations of words and music I’ve ever heard). It’s not a spoiler to say that Foxglove Summer, the fifth book in Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series, centres around two children who may or may not have been stolen by the faeries. The action in the series normally takes place in London, but in this book our boy Peter has to brave the English countryside in his search for the missing girls.
A large part of why Foxglove Summer appealed to me was the subject matter. Anything to do with the world of fairies (or ‘the Fae’ as they’re more properly called) is instantly appealing to me. What Aaronovitch does with them that’s new is look at how people might react to ‘stolen children’ in real life. So, along with the strange and magical happenings, we have press conferences, interfering journalists, distraught parents, volunteer search teams, and burnt-out police officers. The magical aspects are well-realised, and Aaronovitch does a good job of keeping us guessing about what’s going on until all is revealed towards the end.
Setting the story in the countryside gives the overarching series narrative some room to breathe, after a pretty continuity-heavy adventure in Broken Homes. A small English village is a familiar setting for a fantasy story, but Aaronovitch makes it fresh by showing it through the point of view of Peter Grant. His adjustment to rural life is often funny, but Aaronovitch doesn’t skimp on the more sobering details. There’s the distrust and suspicion he faces as a working class black man in a white, middle-class community, and the seamy underbelly beneath the village’s veneer of respectability. As ever, Aaronovitch does this with a light touch, ensuring the right balance between seriousness and comedy throughout.
I thoroughly enjoyed Foxglove Summer, polishing it off in only two and a half days. Ben Aaronovitch is someone who really puts his heart into his work, and his passion for telling great stories makes them a pleasure to read. In the Peter Grant series in total, there are nine novels, including the brand-new Amongst Our Weapons, a slew of novellas and a short story collection, so if you’re a new reader, there’s a lot to get stuck into. I recommend getting started as soon as you can.
Review by Charlie Alcock