Again, a London-based magical crime novel. I’m not saying I’m writing to a theme here, but there is definitely a trend in my latest reviews, and I think it says a fair bit about me. While I don’t entirely consider myself a Londoner (I live south of the river where there’s no Tube), I still appreciate the familiar landscape of these books, and feel more immediately engaged because I can visualise where things are happening.
Recommendations for Cambridge-based urban fantasy appreciated, of course.
The Wolves of London drew my attention mainly because the cover was cool and it didn’t cost much on Kindle. I was stocking up on books to read while in Cardiff, and having just reread Rivers of London, figured it would be a good one to go for.
Unfortunately, it was a bit of a let-down. The plot was good, in the sense that it had lots of unpredictable twists and turns and the stakes were constantly rising. However, in places it felt contrived and implausible — exactly how far in advance were these villains planning? The writing felt weak in places, just in terms of sentence structure and style, which is a big turn-off for me.
There were some funny moments of dialogue, though:
“Don’t suppose you can see in the dark, can you, Frank?” I whispered.
“Why would I be able to do that?”
“Well, you have a … unique relationship with darkness. And back at Benny’s house you kind of … glowed. I just wondered.”
He chuckled drily. “Sorry to disappoint you, but I ain’t a bleedin’ owl.”
Unfortunately, I didn’t get particularly invested in the main character, another Alex (this time an Alex Locke, not a Verus, which brings to mind another character I love: Locke Lamora from Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastards series). His daughter is kidnapped early on in the book and he’s trying to save her — I can care about that, because she’s five years old and defenseless and whatnot, but it wasn’t a very personal reaction and it was more about Kate than Alex.
Alex seems to accept the supernatural elements of the book surprisingly fast for someone who didn’t know anything about them beforehand, but then again, once you’ve seen a few impossible things you just have to shut up and accept them. I was a bit surprised by how tame his reaction was.
The book did manage to grip me towards the end, but at that point time travel had got involved and was boggling my mind somewhat. I love time travel, but it’s thoroughly confusing; to be fair, Alex Locke was pretty confused too, which made some things easier. It ended on a dramatic enough cliffhanger that I bought book two despite my misgivings about this one, but I will say that this isn’t rocketing to my favourites list.
Another thing about The Wolves of London is that it’s fairly gruesome, with some nasty and brutal violence here and there. These are spread throughout the book, so every time you think you’ve got past one, there’s another. The violence, sometimes inflicted by monsters and sometimes by humans, isn’t for the fainthearted, so be aware of that.
Oh, and it’s pretty creepy. I did regret starting it at half past twelve at night, because by the time I had to put it down and go to sleep, it had edged into territory where I wasn’t sure I would be able to sleep.
The time travel element and the constant twists and turns mean there aren’t a lot of answers in this book. You need to be prepared not to know what’s happening for quite a lot of it — and not to have those uncertainties resolved at the end. I’m hoping book two can do a decent job of tying up these loose ends without seeming contrived, because otherwise I’ll be annoyed.
On the whole, this was decent enough, but after a while I was lost in the myriad twists and turns of the plot and I also thought it needed some editing to improve the actual writing quality.
The cover’s gorgeous, though. Always an important point. 😉
Where does it fall on my rapidly expanding list of London-based magical crime novels? Well, Peter Grant’s still in the lead, and I’d have to say it doesn’t overtake Alex Verus, either. But who knows? Maybe book two will give it a leg up.