Moon Over Soho
January 22, 2019 4:50 AM - by Ben Aaronovitch - Subscribe

The song. That’s what London constable and sorcerer’s apprentice Peter Grant first notices when he examines the corpse of Cyrus Wilkins, part-time jazz drummer and full-time accountant, who dropped dead of a heart attack while playing a gig at Soho’s 606 Club. The notes of the old jazz standard are rising from the body—a sure sign that something about the man’s death was not at all natural but instead supernatural.

This is the second novel in the Peter Grant Series. Original discussion of posting schedule and order is here. One thing I've changed is I put a place to discuss the shorter stories that are available online for free (Rare Book of Cunning Device, Home Crowd Advantage, and the moments) between Lies Sleeping and the novels.
posted by dinty_moore (30 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
So, okay. Peter mostly gets better after this book. (There are Watsonian reasons why he's a bit of a dink in this book, but that doesn't really excuse the fact that the readers are still stuck with two different types of Femme Fatale plots - and the scene where Peter walks in on Ashe sleeping with a trans woman is possibly the worst in all of the books).

*Also, there's like three pages between Peter explaining Vestigia and Peter meeting Simone and smelling honeysuckle (which, I'd have to check, but I think gets passively mentioned in Midnight Riot/Rivers of London as a smell that happens around glamours). Peter.

*Point involving Peter being a bit of a dink that I love - Peter sleeps with Simone, flooding is mention on the Thames that started around that time, Peter thinks 'GEE, I'M GLAD THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH ME'. I just want to smashcut to what Beverly was doing at that moment.

*With Ambrose House (Casterbrook?) and that backstory - the thing that strikes me there is the idea that the Wizards just sat out World War I. Which makes me wonder how integrated they were in society before they died off - because I always got the impression that nobody in Britain really sat out World War I.

*I absolutely love DS Stephanopolous in this, in that it's clear that she does have a sense of humor and decides to spend it fucking with Peter.

*Peter gets a lot more points for treating the non-human folk in here as people that should have due process. Both with asking after Molly and getting her backstory and at the end.
posted by dinty_moore at 6:51 AM on January 22 [2 favorites]


I'm looking forward to re-reading this one. I just re-read Midnight Riot because I want to read the most recent book and realized I don't remember a lot of what happens in the earlier books. It's perfect that they are being discussed on here!
posted by apricot at 7:30 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


I think the part of this book that really resonated was the idea that the sisters didn't know they were killing people. They weren't trying to dupe men and eat their souls, they were just existing and feeding. There's something to be said about mindless hashtag capitalism, but I'm not smart enough to say it.
They were completely painted into a corner though and had to exit the story they way they did because once they knew they were monsters, there was no other option. I did love how Peter had the hope that they could be reformed. He always hopes. Even when it's just not possible.
posted by teleri025 at 7:35 AM on January 22 [2 favorites]


I’ve been re-listening to these due to the book club, so, yay!

Unsurprisingly, this is where the formal structure of the series gets established: the way there is an A and B plot that usually (but not always) converge, plus assorted side plots meant to flesh out characters and the world.

It’s a little weird that the Leslie and Beverly plots are just sort of abandoned for a book; it makes Peter seem pretty feckless.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:32 AM on January 22


I was confused by Peter's seeming obtuseness re:Simone but once I re-read it I think it's actually well set up how he's sort of slowly glamoured into it, in a subtler way than when Tyburn tried to force her will on him in the first book. When a usually reliable first-person narrator is being enspelled into making poor decisions it is tricky to convey that well on the page, and I think Aaronovitch does a good job.

Also yesssss I love the little side note about the flooding, like, DUH Peter come on. I cackled. And yes, DS Stephanopolous is great. "I am the murder team!"

I wonder if anyone else had this experience - the first time I read this book, right on the heels of reading the first one, I started to get a heavy "Nightingale is a bad guy" vibe that slowly intensified up to when Peter makes his big break at the end to try and save the sisters. How was the club able to operate under Nightingale's nose in the 70s? Was his refusal to let Peter deeper into the club more than just protecting him? Why is he so unhelpful to Leslie when we know from Ashe that at least some form of magical healing is plausible? His lack of concern for his longevity sure seems unusually cavalier for someone portrayed as cautious. Hmm, he sure is uncompromising about running his little "paramilitary death squad" as Peter terms it. Questions on questions.

The actual plot of course turns out differently and we later get a fuller picture of who Thomas is and what his motivations are. Still, it's interesting and I am curious to what extent it was intentional on the author's part.
posted by Wretch729 at 8:48 AM on January 22 [3 favorites]


I also think teleri025's point about Peter's belief in redemption is so important. It continues as a core part of the character throughout the series. He spars with Tyburn, especially in book 3, but the reason I side with him is that he is genuinely working to address some of the legitimate concerns behind her power-grab. The Folly obviously isn't prepared to deal with the issues confronting it, but Peter doesn't just want to put the boot in and stomp the nascent magical revival (which as we go on looks less and less like a revival and more and more like just what was sputtering along making do without anyone noticing). Neither does he want to just abdicate responsibility to someone ostensibly more prepared to take control; not only would it be letting down the side, but Tyburn isn't any more accountable than Nightingale, in fact less so.

From small things like not backing down on the "black magician" thing to larger things like the climax of this book and how he persuades Nightingale to rethink his views on things like the summary execution strategy. Okay so maybe his bureaucratic reforms often start out as ass-covering to the Met higher-ups, but he follows through. He is trying to make it all work in a way that is accountable and just. We've already see comparisons to Potter and Tolkien made in the previous thread, but the other series whose influence is obvious (and sometimes explicit in the text as jokes or asides) is Pratchett's City Watch books. Peter knows Vimes, and is cut from similar cloth.
posted by Wretch729 at 11:53 AM on January 22 [4 favorites]


Part of it was the voice acting but Peter's grief over Simone and his awareness dawning for his dad and the implications possible there - it was a terribly sad book. I like that about the series, that the books don't wrap up neatly or happily, but instead have a sense of consequences staggering out.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 3:08 PM on January 22 [2 favorites]


I think Pratchett is a profound influence on the books not for any similarities of genre per se, but because, as you say Wretch729, Pratchett (and by extension Vimes) is a profound influence on Peter's morality and ethics. What Would Vimes Do is not a half bad way to live your life, especially if you're a copper.

Ankh Morpork is already basically a kind of Fantasy London, so it's not surprising that when faced with his own real life form of "fantasy" London, with magic and magical beings, Peter, whether consciously or not, decides to model his response and his policing approach on the Ankh Morpork City Watch. How much of that is due to Aaronovitch being influenced by Pratchett himself, and how much of it is specifically a character choice for Peter's POV is probably hard to define, but either way, it's a lovely homage to Pratchett.
posted by yasaman at 3:12 PM on January 22 [2 favorites]


This really was a sad book, and it really hit me at the end how dismal Peter must feel when he finds the sisters. BA has a good way of writing things in the past and how you might feel things ebbing and flowing between now and then which must be even more evident in a place like London. He uses jazz as the slipstream between the time periods which really adds to the mood of the book. I love how despite Peter says he can't follow his dad when his dad slips into a solo, he's still paid attention and even goes back to his dad to ask for questions.

Poor Simone, cheerful and sexy and flirty, but existing in a sort of void of memory.

The nightclub did, and still does, give me the full-on heebie jeebies. I never thought Thomas was going to be a villain, though, even though it would be a logical path for this kind of story - either the mentor dies or is evil. I'm glad, because I like Thomas and how Peter is pulling him not just back into this century, but back into life.
posted by PussKillian at 6:10 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


I think the part of this book that really resonated was the idea that the sisters didn't know they were killing people. They weren't trying to dupe men and eat their souls, they were just existing and feeding. There's something to be said about mindless hashtag capitalism, but I'm not smart enough to say it.

What really got me is that there was the immediate denial by one of them - Cherie? - that they even did anything wrong, because it hasn't sunk in yet. It's entirely possible that could have solidified into a full-blown justification of their actions, but not yet. It seemed so human.

It’s a little weird that the Leslie and Beverly plots are just sort of abandoned for a book; it makes Peter seem pretty feckless.

Beverly's missing, sure (and it does make him seem feckless), but there was a good amount of Lesley in here, I think. Peter's kind of failing at being supportive, but he is trying, and his interactions with her bookend the book. She's just very much away from the action and stuck doing her own thing.

I did like that the consequences from the first book didn't just disappear and there are a bunch of people still out of commission - Seawoll, Nightingale, Lesley. People don't just recover from gunshot wounds or elephant tranquilizer or anything right away.

I wonder if anyone else had this experience - the first time I read this book, right on the heels of reading the first one, I started to get a heavy "Nightingale is a bad guy" vibe that slowly intensified up to when Peter makes his big break at the end to try and save the sisters. How was the club able to operate under Nightingale's nose in the 70s? Was his refusal to let Peter deeper into the club more than just protecting him? Why is he so unhelpful to Leslie when we know from Ashe that at least some form of magical healing is plausible? His lack of concern for his longevity sure seems unusually cavalier for someone portrayed as cautious. Hmm, he sure is uncompromising about running his little "paramilitary death squad" as Peter terms it. Questions on questions.

It's not so much that I got a morally dubious vibe from him, but that he was acting as the fantasy detective novel standard. Both crime novels and fantasy tend to use killable bodies a lot - that there are the sort of sentient creatures we care about, and then there's the rest and they're obviously evil, so it's okay if they don't get their civil liberties. Orcs don't have souls and warrants are a waste of time for the obviously guilty. And you just sort of get used to the idea that cops are justified using extralegal means and we're not supposed to think that much about the sheer number of deaths that happen.

Meanwhile, Peter is really disturbed and horrified that he killed the Pale Lady and is (rightfully) worried about repercussions. And, like, using force against the Pale Lady was as justified as it is ever going to get. He asks about Molly*, and his concern isn't considered ridiculous the way that SPEW is in Harry Potter. And yeah, at the end, he argues that even Jazz Vampires need to go to trial. (I don't know how I feel about Peter using 'what did all of your friends die for if not for a basic competent level of policing' against Nightingale. Considering how little Peter knows about Ettersburg, he's extremely lucky it works).

Also, specifically, one of the major themes is that caring about community policing means that Peter is the better cop. Nightingale listens, which is a point in his favor.

Honestly, I'm trying to think of that many books or shows that show career detectives emphasizing community policing and being methodical over ignoring the rules and 'trusting your gut', and the Night Watch novels might be some of the few.

*So, more on Molly's backstory - I asked Mr. Dinty (who knows a lot more about the history of vaudeville and stage magic than I do) if Manchu the Magnificent was supposed to be anyone in particular, because it sounded kind of familiar to me. He said it didn't sound like it was anyone specifically, but with a lot of Chung Ling Soo, a man who kept up the yellowface act to the point where nobody apparently knew he was a British man until he was shot on stage and died, with some Okito and general Charlie Chan movies thrown in. Lots of early 20th century sources of extreme Yellowface in vaudeville to choose from, apparently.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:05 PM on January 22 [4 favorites]


She's just very much away from the action and stuck doing her own thing.

Yeah, I think that’s a problem. Given how much of a driver Lesley’s face is in the series, I would’ve liked to have seen scenes with her and/or Peter talking with experts about why the obvious solutions won’t help. The secondhand reports just seem a little emotionally unsatisfying? I marked up to Aaronovitch not being entirely sure where the series was going at this stage — the scene with Ashe’s trans friend Would read very differently if she was a recurring character and there was some building in that initial, extremely awkward meeting, but Ashe and any related stuff seems to have been dropped completely.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:38 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


I thought that Nightengale's disengagement was retconned quite nicely (or planned) by Aaronovitch as essentially a longe PTSD-fugue state after World War II. Magic had died for him compared to what it had been and after what he'd been through and what he'd been taught, he barely saw other people - magical or human. There's "Molly, and Wahlid and maybe a few people at Oxford" and no-one else has any real substance. There are nudges later on that he was emphatic and interested in people to a much greater degree than his usual generation (Molly, his travels, the way he talks about people in the past) and how much he shut down, but in this book it really is driven in how removed he is to Peter's point of view, that the idea of modern policing and simply talking to people rather than overwhelming with force is new. He's moving from a war footing to peacetime, but Peter has no idea.

It's really a lovely bit of writing in hindsight. I was listening to the book by coincidence after listening to a documentary series about refugees dealing with human rights abuses, and it was quite brutal because the book is light, but the material it deals with is always grim underneath. The lightness comes from Peter's sense of hope.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 6:37 AM on January 23 [7 favorites]


The lightness comes from Peter's sense of hope.

That's a really lovely way of putting it. In fact, I really love your entire comment, dorothyisunderwood. It's super insightful, and I particularly love the idea that Peter is showing Nightingale how to engage with a civilian population from a modern, civilian perspective.
posted by joyceanmachine at 6:51 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I think that’s a problem. Given how much of a driver Lesley’s face is in the series, I would’ve liked to have seen scenes with her and/or Peter talking with experts about why the obvious solutions won’t help. The secondhand reports just seem a little emotionally unsatisfying? I marked up to Aaronovitch not being entirely sure where the series was going at this stage — the scene with Ashe’s trans friend Would read very differently if she was a recurring character and there was some building in that initial, extremely awkward meeting, but Ashe and any related stuff seems to have been dropped completely.

You might have a point there - we meet a lot of secondary characters during this book, some of which end up playing a large part in further novels, some of which are never really heard from again. It might have been that Aaronovitch was throwing a lot at the walls to see what stuck, yeah.

My pet theory with some of the passages in here (there's another one that refers to a sweaty man who insists on calling you Susan, which seems . . . dated, to say the least), is that Aaronovitch had this book finished some time before publication, because that whole scene with the woman that Ashe slept with would have been borderline even for 2011, and now feels incredibly gross.

But I do think Lesley being stuck out in the middle of nowhere stewing and recuperating works for her. I'm trying to keep this nonspoilery, but I do think that the series would have turned out differently if either Peter could have found it in himself to push a little bit more to be there for Lesley or not take Nightingale at his word and overthought it like he overthinks everything else; and probably would have turned out a lot differently if he'd known what Lesley was up to (which at least included practicing magic without oversight) or had a better read on her emotional state, even at this point.

I don't know, of all the ways that Peter makes poor decisions in this book (not realizing something is up with Simone, getting his dad gigs right when he knows that there's something targeting jazz musicians, not being there for Lesley), him not being there for Lesley is probably that makes the most emotional sense for me. He knows he's supposed to be there for her, but doesn't know how to do it, and it's easy for him to concentrate more on what's in front of him.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:06 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]


A few other thoughts about this book:

- The book opens with Peter thinking about Tacitus while driving to see Lesley, which delighted me on multiple levels. I mean, yes, Tacitus is my favorite writer from antiquity, and for years, I kept a copy of an old Penguin translation of his Annals on my desk as style reference. But also, the particular quote that Aaronovitch picks is killer on re-read -- in the moment, you just think of it as some nice little Latin zinger, but thought more of what was agreeable than what was expedient really flows through to the rest of the book, doesn't it? Overwhelming murder-force may be more agreeable and familiar to Nightingale, but is it really the best way?

So yeah, I love that Aaronovitch has this moral dilemma, and I love that he frames it in the VERY FIRST PARAGRAPH of the book by means of showing how Peter is genuinely engaging with a classical education that he is getting to super late, if you're going to the traditional English method of teaching classics.

- dinty-moore commented that: He knows he's supposed to be there for [Lesley], but doesn't know how to do it, and it's easy for him to concentrate more on what's in front of him.

I think this is explicit in the opening bit of the book, where Peter goes out to Brightlingsea, spends a little time with Lesley where her sole focus is finding out whether magic can fix her face, and then her dad asks Peter not to come to the house -- he wants to maintain working class British politeness, where you don't have someone over without offering them a cup of tea, but he can't come in, and the dad wants Peter to know that the rejection isn't coming from him out of racism or whatever, but because Lesley doesn't want him seeing her without the mask on. Lesley is specifically telling Peter that if magic can't fix her face, she doesn't want him in her life right now. And Peter accepts that, even though it's difficult, even though (as we find out) Peter has a lot of old trauma about rejection.

And then Walid calls with a report about the body, and the book specifically has Peter say, "I put my foot down. It was work, and I was grateful to get it."

- There is a fascinating parallel between the choice that Cherie and her sisters make in this book, and the choice that [REDACTED FOR SPOILERS] makes when confronted with a similar pathway. Cherie and her sisters make one choice; [REDACTED FOR SPOILERS] takes the other path. And in light of the way that Aaronovitch ends this book, with that blockbuster reveal, I think it's 10000000000000000000% intentional.

- The basement of horrors at the Soho club is maybe one of my favorite passages in all of Aaronovitch's writing. It's such a classic setup, but the creepiness gets ratcheted up, step by step. I remember being completely gripped the first time I read it, to the point where I wasn't really absorbing what went on, but on the second read, I was super into it, and then when I heard the audiobook, I was frozen on the couch. It's REALLY GOOD, at least to my ear -- a friend of mine who works with fancy types in London likes Kobna Holdbrook-Smith a lot, except for his Nightingale accent, who isn't quite posh enough generally.

- Yeah, the bit with the trans lady is really, really jarringly bad, probably even worse than the very bad crack about Stephanopoulos in the first book. I think Aaronovitch realized how bad they both were, and resolved to Do Better in subsequent books.
posted by joyceanmachine at 7:26 AM on January 23 [6 favorites]


The structure of it is still not great, probably Aaronovitch not being quite sure what he wanted to do with it, but one very charitable reading of the way Stephanopoulos is presented is that, in the first book Peter is extremely green and everything he knows about her is her reputation at the constable level. So Peter has soaked up quite a bit of homophobia and toxic police culture which he turns out to be capable of unlearning. Certainly, in later books, Peter interacts with gay characters mostly fine. So you could say there is a shift from presenting Stephanopoulos as a “scary lesbian” Detective Sargent to a Scary lesbian Detective Sargent. Because Stephanopoulos is scary, only because she’s Stephanopoulos, not because she’s lesbian. Well, surviving the Met as an out lesbian probably influenced things, but....

Anyway, I strongly suspect that Aaronovitch was just dropping the ball, but re-reading the series it does kind of feel like Peter is just getting over cis het male attitudes and reacting to Stephanopoulos as a person (a scary-ish person with Standards and Authority, but still).
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:37 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


I'm leafing through the Kindle version at lunch, and a few more thoughts:

- Given what we find out in a later book about the fae children being traded to humans, and what happened to them, and what this book tells us about magical body modification, I'm personally convinced that the Pale Lady was a fae who spent time in the basement of horrors, then took up with the Faceless Man when he made the same offer to her that he made to Simone and her sisters.

- Sort of underlining the threads that other people mentioned about this book maybe having been written some time before publication -- the bit about the fancy, super-popular jazz club is a little ???? I mean, I know that London has a jazz scene, but I really don't know if the Armani-wearing, uber-fancy crowd spends a lot of time there. It seems like a very 90's/early aughts kinda thing. But I do love the bit about Lord Grant.

- I'd forgotten how much you get to see Nightingale and Peter talking in this book. It's a great dynamic -- Peter definitely gives as good as he gets, and Nightingale is ribbing Peter about setting things on fire, and then Peter is pointing out (correctly) both the limitations of Nightingale's conception of magical practice and that magic is coming back in the world.

- The section of the book that I re-read is a reminder of how much of Aaronovitch's writing is in the details, and how good he is at making his books fun on re-read, which isn't the case for a lot of books in this genre.

At Casterbrook, for example, there's a line where Peter ID's the plants on the overgrown lawn -- how does consummate London kid Peter know this, especially since he grew up on a Council estate? But then Aaronovitch drops a thing about how those ID's come later, and when you get to subsequent books about how [REDACTED] spent that time in [REDACTED] and Peter then organized a [REDACTED] at Casterbrook, it makes perfect sense. And then when Ash goes into the water to save him from bleeding out, he makes a comment about how the water is "a bit salty but nice and warm," and it makes perfect sense -- he's an upstream tributary of the Thames, so he is 100% freshwater, but down by London, it's brackish due to the tides.

By the way, I'd also forgotten that Peter sends the hardcopy of the info from Oxford to Lesley for data entry, with the lead about Geoffrey W. having been the last person to check it out.

- I think Aaronovitch missed a step when he had the Virtuous Men being affiliated with UPenn. I mean yes, I can see the common themes between Ben Franklin and Isaac Newton, but if you're going to pick an Ivy to have a secret group of arrogant, exclusionary American magicians who beef even with other American magicians, it's CLEARLY Yale.

Secret societies? Check.

Long-standing association with covert intelligence with foreign involvement? Check, to the point that for decades, Yale drinking songs were the drinking songs of the CIA. The same statue of Nathan Hale appears on both campuses.

Motto that is clearly magical? Check. Penn's is Leges sine moribus vanae, meaning apparently "Laws without morals are useless", which is cool, but has nothing in terms of a magical connection on Yale's, "Lux et Veritas."*

Pioneering genius scientist in the mold of Newton? Check.

Memorial wall with the names of the war dead? Check, though theirs is stone, and not in wood like Casterbrook's.


* If you want proof of the asshole element, consider that Yale was founded by a bunch of Puritans who thought Harvard's theological teaching was too liberal and modern and wishy-washy for them, and so when it came time to pick a motto for their new school, they took Harvard's (Lux) and then adding, y'know. "et veritas" to it, because it's just not enough to shed light!!! You have to seek truth, too, you godless Boston heathens!!!!!!!
posted by joyceanmachine at 10:13 AM on January 23 [4 favorites]


Okay, but I'm also totally here for any stories of WIZARD BEN FRANKLIN.
posted by dinty_moore at 10:31 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]


You left out that one of the three (?) colonies that merged to form Connecticut was built around explicitly alchemical principles...
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:35 AM on January 23 [3 favorites]


(look, I still have loving memories of the first two seasons of Sleepy Hollow. I can dream)
posted by dinty_moore at 10:36 AM on January 23 [4 favorites]


By the way, one of my favorite passages in all of Rivers of London:
"What's the biggest thing you've zapped with a fireball?" I asked.

"That would be a tiger," said Nightingale.

"Well, don't tell Greenpeace," I said. 'They're an endangered speies."

"Not that sort of tiger," said Nightingale. "A Panzerkampfwagen sechs Aufs E."

I stared at him. "You knocked out a Tiger tank with a fireball."

"Actually I knocked out two," said Nightingale. "I have to admit the first one took three shots -- one to disable the tracks, one through the driver's eye slot, and one down the commander's hatch -- brewed up rather nicely."
In terms of Nightingale characterization bits, it may be my favorite, with the only serious competition being That Bit from Foxglove Summer. This is definitely funnier.

(This book does have some great Nightingale characterization. I get why there are suggestions of him being set up as a villain, especially with the heavy-handed murder-squad stuff, but I love the part about Nightingale doing the Ettersberg names at Casterbrook by hand, and also the part where he is continuing to pay for someone to clean the floors. And the part where he starts smiling when he tells Peter that if all else fails in the basement, Peter needs to throw some white phosphorus down the steps and bring the ceiling down because Nightingale will be past caring. And where he tells Peter that he took an oath to do right by him, and that's why he doesn't want Peter going down to see the bodies in the Strip Club of Dr. Moreau.

That last is one of the very few times in the early books when you see someone who is emotionally important to Peter taking care of him, and being very explicit about it. It's an interesting contrast to the way that his mother goes after Simone a couple chapters later -- just as protective if not more, but explaining it to Peter is an afterthought. She just does it, and it struck me as a very immigrant parent thing to do, probably because it's a Thing with my equally immigrant parents do too, where they try to protect me by instinctively, emotionally doing things that seem utterly inexplicable to me in the moment, and where the verbal explanation afterwards isn't all that clarifying. And consequently, my reaction to it is Complicated due to that lack of communication, as well as our history with each other.

One of the reasons I love this series so much, for the record, is how good Aaronovitch is at writing from the POV of a second-gen immigrant kid. And there's also a whole separate line of discussion about Nightingale versus Dumbledore versus Merlin from The Once and Future King, as others smartly pointed out in the last book thread.)
posted by joyceanmachine at 2:29 PM on January 23 [7 favorites]


I don't think I shared this previously - an interview with Ben Aaronovitch about writing an intersectional character.
posted by PussKillian at 2:58 PM on January 23 [5 favorites]


Anyway, I strongly suspect that Aaronovitch was just dropping the ball, but re-reading the series it does kind of feel like Peter is just getting over cis het male attitudes and reacting to Stephanopoulos as a person (a scary-ish person with Standards and Authority, but still).

Yeah, I'm with you on that one - in the last discussion, someone asked if I thought that the low-level grossness towards how Peter was interacting with women in RoL/Midnight Riot was maybe because of the general police culture, and if getting out of that helped him mature. And like, there's still some :( moments in Moon Over Soho, but I generally feel like Peter's a little better, and a lot of that is down to his interactions with Stephanopolous. Like, you can tell he's still intimidated by her, but she's allowed to be a lot more of her character in this book. The joint interview is one of my favorite scenes in this book - "power to the people" and chicken runs and all. Also the scene where Peter and Stephanopolous discuss the possible prosthetic (also, the fact that Peter had that conversation with Nightingale first)

It also helps that there are more women that he neither describes in terms of their sexiness nor their scariness - like Guleed and Ms. Ghosh.

In-text, it also makes a lot of sense that the events of this book would make Peter mature a little bit.

I'm personally convinced that the Pale Lady was a fae who spent time in the basement of horrors, then took up with the Faceless Man when he made the same offer to her that he made to Simone and her sisters.

The Pale Lady is also described as looking like Molly, and Molly's responses to Peter after he kills the Pale Lady is telling. I feel for Peter during that sequence, but god, did I want to give Molly a hug.

"That would be a tiger," said Nightingale.

"Well, don't tell Greenpeace," I said. 'They're an endangered speies."

"Not that sort of tiger," said Nightingale. "A Panzerkampfwagen sechs Aufs E."


Nightingale, you fucking ham.

Okay, also going off of the last book - the follow up to the coach house scene where Peter walks in on Nightingale drinking Peter's beer and watching rugby, is great. The progression went from Nightingale suggesting the coach house for electronics and internet, to the awkward checking out what Peter did to the place in the first book, to him using it on the sly now. What I love about this is also - for as much as Peter describes Nightingale as posh (and, well, he is posh), his observed interests seem to be a) cars/driving like a goddamn maniac b) rugby and c) beer. Oxley described him as workmanlike in the first book. He's also definitely the less curious one - not that he's unintelligent, but generally doesn't worry about the whys of such things like 'why am I getting younger', which also means he misses some important things, like terrifying strip clubs and Jazz Vampires.

As characterizations go, he's the opposite of your average wizard mentor. His interests are fairly pedestrian, he answers questions in a straightforward manner (including saying things like 'I don't know'), and he also listens to feedback. He treats Peter like he's an adult. He's also powerful and terrifying and obviously has secrets, but it's definitely a different mode.

Also, on Harry Potter references are a plague upon Nightingale's very essence watch: Nightingale wishes Peter would stop referring to Ambrose House as Hogwarts.
posted by dinty_moore at 6:48 PM on January 23 [4 favorites]


his observed interests seem to be a) cars/driving like a goddamn maniac b) rugby and c) beer. Oxley described him as workmanlike in the first book. He's also definitely the less curious one - not that he's unintelligent

Yeah, I think that's right. There's a part in this book where Peter ends up explaining how the human digestive system works to Nightingale. And Nightingale is kinda like ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ when I was in school, I mostly focused on magic and rugby ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ When he recalls some piece of information from ye olde days, it's not information just floating in his head. It usually comes attached with a memory of the person he learned it from, or the schoolmate or Folly person who was interested in it. Nightingale is really focused on people and practicalities.

Basically, I think Nightingale is the grown up version of the boarding school stock character of the sport-loving, intelligent-but-unintellectual, goodhearted Head Boy overachiever, but with the extra element of his interest in and genuine appreciation of other people isn't restricted to white men of his social class and background. Instead, there's a whole list of dissimilar people that Nightingale met through work, and now correctly think of themselves as being more than that -- Caffrey and his working class ex-paramilitaries! Walid the Scottish convert! Molly with her unearthly gliding and origin story!

Granted, it's a pretty sparse crowd for sixty years since Ettersberg. But when you look at the other people that Nightingale has connected with since then, it makes more sense for his apprentice to be somebody like Peter than, say, one of the fancy posh kids taught by the ex-pianist in the Lord Grant Irregulars at his day job.
posted by joyceanmachine at 7:55 AM on January 24 [7 favorites]


(It's been a couple years since I read these books, so pardon me if I'm fuzzy on some details)

Regarding Nightingale being kind of useless about the club in the 70s, wasn't he actually an old man at that point, and he began growing younger after that? It would make sense if he were a doddering old shell-shocked recluse when that was all going down.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 9:32 AM on January 24


When I first started reading the books, I didn't get any potentially villainous/morally grey vibes from Nightingale. think I more expected Nightingale to be more of a Dumbledore figure who's playing games and keeping secrets, and just in general knowing way more than he should and sharing way less of it than he ought, so it was genuinely very refreshing to see the steady revelations that, no, Nightingale is just a dude. A mentor and teacher to Peter, a guy in strange circumstances given the whole aging backwards thing and Ettersberg, and a powerful guy, but still just a guy. Basically all his choices when it comes to teaching Peter are reasonable enough, there's very little withholding for the sake of withholding. Like as much as Peter, and even the reader, may chafe at the seemingly slow pace of Peter's magical education, Nightingale has very good reasons for it and communicates those reasons to Peter. Peter's no immediate magical badass, he's stuck learning the basics for a good long time, and I think that really grounds the series in a sense of realism. It's also really lovely to see how Nightingale continues to learn from Peter over the course of the books, and how he makes room in his life for Peter in ways both personal (the coach house!) and professional (rolling with Peter's learning style and scientific bent).

Given that Nightingale seems like a reasonably attentive teacher and mentor who's doing his best given that he'd never especially expected to be in this position, I wonder why he held off training an apprentice for so long. Blah blah, he thought magic was fading, sure, but it just strikes me as somewhat irresponsible, given that there were still enough magical-adjacent crimes and stuff to keep Nightingale employed, so you'd think he'd want a backup plan in case he got hit by a bus or eaten by a vampire or whatever. Is it Peter himself who broke through to Nightingale, or just the circumstances and the timing?
posted by yasaman at 10:32 AM on January 24 [3 favorites]


I wonder if it's more just his trauma from all his schoolmates dying in the war (or in various mishaps like the one detailed in the Body Work comic). Easier to say magic was fading than to have to face the work and emotional investment of training someone only to potentially lose them again.
posted by Wretch729 at 12:16 PM on January 25 [4 favorites]


The book which really should be called "Peter NO." :)

I just sort of read Nightingale as someone who, faced with the sort of total loss and massive grief that he has, chooses to isolate himself to avoid that happening again - if you do not love, you do not lose. His relationships are, as far as possible, professional only. It's his personality that accidentally make them more than that. The denial of magic I see as part of that - if magic has gone he doesn't have to recruit anyone, he doesn't have to work with a large network of people, and so again he is avoiding the possibility of loss. I'm not even sure if I'd call it as extreme as a fuge state, but a way to avoid his pain.

It's also really interesting that when Nightingale mentions being in hospital he talks about being advised to take up something like woodworking, which made me wonder if it was actually mental, rather than physical issues, which landed him in hospital. (Of course it could have been physical stuff with occupational therapy). The idea of wizards in military group psychotherapy is an interesting one to consider.
posted by Vortisaur at 11:13 AM on January 26 [3 favorites]


Regarding Nightingale being kind of useless about the club in the 70s, wasn't he actually an old man at that point, and he began growing younger after that? It would make sense if he were a doddering old shell-shocked recluse when that was all going down.

IIRC, Nightingale started deaging before the club in Soho, but not much beforehand (or maybe around the same time). On the other hand, he'd still be pretty old around then, plus I can imagine that mysteriously deaging would be distracting.

After that - why didn't he get an apprentice? I do think that PTSD was part of it - as joyceanmachine was talking about, Nightingale's very person-focused and doesn't seem like he'd be a loner under other circumstances. I've got to imagine that the 80's to the 00's included a lot of funerals for Nightingale as anyone else who might have trained as a wizard with him died off.

There's the conversation with Postmartin where he says that he thinks it should have happened sooner, but Postmartin doesn't really give a reason why he didn't think it happened (that entire conversation seemed a little weird in retrospect, with Postmartin going out of his way to say he wanted to talk to Peter alone, and then not really saying much of anything? Maybe I missed something)

Also, in the first book there's some inferences that bureaucratic restraints might have kept Nightingale at a department of one for a while. He has to get permission from the commissioner to take on an apprentice, and most of the people who are in the know aren't happy about the idea that there might be two practitioners around instead of one.

Plus, there's the budgetary concerns with doubling the size of a department* - it's easy enough to convince anyone to cut or not fund a department, so evidence that there might have been something magical afoot was probably easily discounted by Nightingale saying that magic was dying. Convincing anyone that funds were needed seems like it would be much harder - especially if you have someone like Tyburn probably discounting the need. So, why did Nightingale choose to look for an apprentice when he did? What changed his mind? And how much about Peter did he know before running into him in Convent Garden? One of the things I wonder about the most is what the six months before the beginning of the first book was like for Nightingale.

*Though really, I assume that most of the department's budget has to do with the Folly itself. Even if Molly does most of the upkeep for free, there still have to be taxes involved on the thing, plus older buildings take a lot of funds to maintain.
posted by dinty_moore at 2:50 PM on January 26 [2 favorites]




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