In the second part of Foxglove Summer, nothing is what I expected! WHAT IS GOING ON HERE.
Spoilers follow for chapters 5-8.
An alternative title for this review could easily have been WTF, LESLEY. It was close, I admit. Because WTF, LESLEY?!
To recap: There has been no sign of our wayward/traitor copper, but all of a sudden she’s sending Peter texts – from blocked numbers, though she makes no effort to hide the fact that it’s her sending them – seemingly acting like absolutely nothing is out of the ordinary. I want to talk about this, because I was not expecting either her messages, or Peter’s response to them. In short, he does things by the book and reports the messages to whoever is in charge of investigating Lesley’s criminal turn, and her disappearance. He’s given advice on how to handle Lesley should she contact him again, which he follows. In fact, if it wasn’t for Beverley persuading him to let off some emotional steam, I’d be worried that he was bottling everything up a bit too tightly.
What really (truly, finally) wins me over with Peter, though, is how he reacts when Beverley suggests letting off that steam by blowing up a tree. Her advice, at first, is to let rip with some of his magic strength to make himself feel better. Peter refuses, but not so much because he’s in denial about his anger.
“‘I can’t,’ I said slowly. ‘It doesn’t fucking work that way, okay? It’s not about anger, or love or the power of fricking friendship. It’s about concentration, about control.’ It’s hard enough to make a forma when you’re hungry, let alone when you’re angry. ‘So you can see that as a form of cathartic release it’s a little bit shit.'”
While this might say something more about the nature of magic in Aaronovitch’s fictional world, I can’t help also reading this as insight into the kind of person Peter is, at heart. Throughout his training, from the moment he discovered he could use magic, Peter has used that power less as a weapon and more as a tool. He puts more time and energy into researching not only how he can use it, but how it works and why. In short, he takes this power seriously and has refused to let it inflate his ego. He’s curious about what it can do, but not necessarily about what it can do for him.
Which feeds into the reasons I feel so angry at Lesley, especially now. I’m holding onto the fact that we know very little for sure about why she betrayed him, but if the theory that she was offered a chance to repair the damage done to her face with magic is even possibly correct, that means that Lesley is trying to use magical power for her own benefit. There is every chance that she did what she did for selfish reasons, and however much I liked her, I can’t respect her for that. It’s understandable; I just don’t think it’s right.
And for her to do all of that, to physically harm Peter in the process and then to suddenly (apparently) turn around and make contact, out of the blue and acting like nothing ever happened? It makes me angry. I mean, it is entirely possible that Lesley has realised she’s in a world of trouble, that she made a mistake and this is her trying to reach out for help – but nothing about her messages indicates that. It looks far more likely that, for whatever reason, she’s doing this to mess with Peter’s head.
Which is why I have more respect for him now – his decision to handle this by the book, and to listen to what his superiors tell him, is probably the safest and wisest course at this point. It would be the perfect excuse for him to go off the rails and do something irrational, or even just to keep their contact to himself, but he doesn’t do any of that. It’s a refreshing change from how these things so often go, and it’s given me that proper push I’ve been needing to go from just being interested in the story playing out around Peter, to actually liking Peter himself as a protagonist. I had nothing but sympathy for him while he took Beverley’s advice (thankfully with a plain old stick and not his magic), and I’ve still got my concerns about the Lesley situation, but for now at least, I trust him not to do anything so stupid that it risks lives.
“And that’s when I came up with a cunning plan…”
… At least, not where Lesley is concerned.
Because it turns out we’re dealing with carnivorous unicorns in the search for the two missing girls. Now, I love me a good murderous unicorn story, but that doesn’t mean I’d recommend actively trying to find one. PETER NO.
(Humour points for the Baldrick reference, though.)
And these murderous unicorns are Grade-A scary, by the way. I love the specs here: built like brick houses, no sparkles, invisible unless the moon is full, oh yeah and they will murder the shit out of you, given half a chance. Not even calling one of them “Princess Luna” is enough to take that intimidating edge off. This is how unicorns should be, in my opinion – which probably tells you a lot about me, but IT’S TRUE. They’re literally designed to gore you to death if you’re dumb enough to stay in front of them. There is nothing about the unicorn that ought to say “cute and sparkly”. So I am here for this!
I mean, not so much for endangering kids. They should totally be stopped before more people get hurt, of course. But that leads to the other big question this week: given that Peter and Beverley (and Dominic, who is rapidly earning a place in my affections) manage to find and rescue the missing girls while running like hell from a pair of angry unicorns … What else is there? We’re only halfway into the book, so I’m assuming that either these unicorns are not entirely of the “dangerous but dumb beast” variety, or someone/something else had a hand in them turning up here.
But why? For that matter, how? And what, if anything, do the ‘retired’ wizard and the strange beekeeper lady have to do with it?
I suppose if I’m putting money on anyone being responsible for the unicorn outbreak, it’s either those two, or the as yet absent but suspiciously well-informed Lesley.