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Review: False Value

False Value (Rivers of London, #8) audiobook cover. A map of london in green on a black backdrop, with a towel holder, drone, and computer hardware.False Value by Ben Aaronovitch.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Duration: 11 hrs 3 mins.
Publisher: Orion Publishing Group Limited.

False Value, Rivers of London series, Book 8 by Ben Aaronovitch sends Peter Grant to the Serious Cybernetics Company. Our favourite Starling barely has time to register where his towel is (inexplicably wrapped around his head) before he stumbles upon some more of the 'weird s*it' that seems to follow him around. The geek rapture is coming, and the Americans are already here...

Audible Summary: "Peter Grant is facing fatherhood and an uncertain future with equal amounts of panic and enthusiasm. Rather than sit around, he takes a job with √©migr√© Silicon Valley tech genius Terrence Skinner's brand-new London start-up - the Serious Cybernetics Company. 

Drawn into the orbit of Old Street's famous 'silicon roundabout', Peter must learn how to blend in with people who are both civilians and geekier than he is. Compared to his last job, Peter thinks it should be a doddle. But magic is not finished with Mama Grant's favourite son. 

Because Terrence Skinner has a secret hidden in the bowels of the SCC. A technology that stretches back to Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage and forward to the future of artificial intelligence. A secret that is just as magical as it is technological - and just as dangerous. 

©2019 Ben Aaronovitch (P)2019 Orion Publishing Group Limited."

Having nonchalantly skipped a re-read of the previous book in the Peter Grant arc of the Rivers of London series, Lies Sleeping, I was at a bit of a loss when this audiobook began with Peter starting work at a tech company having been suspended from his job with the Metropolitan Police, and The Folly. I hadn't actually forgotten a whole novel's worth of adventures, for False Value is told in a series of discombobulating flashbacks, identified only by reference to the month at the start of each chapter. Once I realised this (which took far longer than it ought to have done) it became much easier to follow. This swirling inconsistency and feeling of time being stretched, squished, smooshed, and otherwise manipulated, suited the theme very nicely once I stopped feeling like I was grappling with an Infinite Improbability Drive. Starting to feel like there have been too many Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy references in this review already? Well buckle up hoopy froods, because more than any other book in the series so far, False Value is an ode to Douglas Adams (with Terry Pratchett's hat on).

The Serious Cybernetics Company base their entire operating structure around H2G2 references, in that pretentious way kooky tech startups think is cool and ironic, and everyone else stops finding funny after the second or third time they were allowed to call someone a Vogon without being hauled in to HR. It lends an absurdity to the whole situation that makes it harder to spot the things that are really wrong, but it's not long before Peter finds himself tangled up in a web with worldwide implications.

False Value is very much Peter's book, perhaps more than any to date. Though he is supported by Nightingale, Guleed, and Silver, and we see more of the gentle domesticity of his life with Beverly and her growing "bulge", the true bulk of the story has nothing to do with the twins. Peter spends much of the book cut off from the badge and uniform that usually prop up his investigations, and while surrounded by the kind of tech that his magic usually fries, he must rely on old-fashioned detective work to help him catch the 'rat' hiding amongst the mice.

Because the setting for this book is so self-contained in many ways, we see less of the wider magical community than usual, with references to the demi-monde but fewer opportunities to delve into it. We are treated to more information about the Practitioners of the USA and how the various states regulate the use of magic, and the ways this differs from their European counterparts. As we had a full novella devoted to the Folly's German equivalent with last year's October Man, I am hopeful that we will see Stephen and Mrs Chin again for more adventures of their own, especially now that they are on Agent Reynolds' radar.

In the opening moments of this audiobook, there was a touching - albeit fleeting - reference to the public reaction upon learning of David Bowie's death, which helped anchor it in time (though not every dead millionaire came out of it quite so well). This helped remind me that it takes place a few years before the present day, which was especially useful given the time-jumps from one chapter to the next.

This audiobook contains all the signature humour and every-man bluntness we have come to love from Peter Grant, and touches like this made me glad to have him back:
'In her arms was an overwrought toddler in a green romper suit, whose tantrum paused briefly while he eyed me up, suspiciously. The woman followed suit. "No," she said, "I don't want a personal friend in Jesus." I showed her my warrant card, "But have you let the Metropolitan Police into your heart?" I asked.'

In more general terms, Aaronovitch once more, presents a vision of London distilled and celebrated; beautifully multicultural in characters, food, and culture. All the books have had elements of this, but it seemed much more vibrant this time. I don't know if that's Aaronovitch rebelling against the current political climate, or me noticing it because it's an oasis in an increasingly-isolationist age.

My favourite quote from False Value is, I think: 'He'd obviously wanted to tell someone about it for a long time and I was a convenient ear. I get that a lot. Stephanopoulos calls it my secret weapon. "It's that vacant expression," she said, "people just want to fill the empty void".'

The last chapter of the book is this podcast by Orion, which interviews Ben and Kobna about the Rivers of London audiobooks and what lies in store for them, and Peter, next.

I loved hearing that Aaronovitch enjoys listening to the books as a refresher when writing new ones. That he so appreciates the value of the audio editions is wonderful, as a listener, because it all helps combat the snobbishness that still lingers around the format when compared to print.

If you can't wait until your next credit becomes available, can also listen to the first five minutes of the book, here.

As always, the narrator, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, was marvellous. He always brings the books so vividly to life, and somehow copes with the myriad of accents that Aaronovitch tries to trip him up with. He will always be the voice I hear in my head when I think about Peter Grant, and I'm so glad that he enjoys working on the series and is committed to continuing as its narrator as I'd be gutted if they ever had to replace him.

I also enjoyed hearing the trust that Aaronovitch puts in KHS to select the right voice, sometimes for characters that the author himself hasn't "thought through" far enough to have given a voice in his own imagination. Their process is truly collaborative in such a friendly, respectful way, both appreciating the skill of the other and determining to help their process shine. Long may it continue!

Overall False Value is an excellent Peter Grant novel, and - despite being quite a departure from the rest of the series - it felt like it harked back to the earlier novels before they became a little too bogged down in the resolution of the Faceless Man story arc. I would recommend False Value to anyone who enjoyed the earlier books in the series, but would suggest that fans of urban fantasy who have yet to try Rivers of London go back to the beginning, as it is not really a standalone tale.

Ben Aaronovitch's Peter Grant/Rivers of London audiobooks, in order, are:

Book 1 - Rivers of London.
Book 1.5 - The Home Crowd Advantage (not available in audio).
Book 2 - Moon Over Soho.
Book 3 - Whispers Underground.
Book 4 - Broken Homes.
Book 5 - Foxglove Summer.
Book 5.5 - The Furthest Station.
Book 6 - The Hanging Tree.
Book 6.5 - A Rare Book of Cunning Device (audio exclusive).
Book 7 - Lies Sleeping.
Book 7.5 - October Man.
Book 8 - False Value.

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