Ben Aaronovitch pulls a very minor bait and switch at the beginning of the eighth book in his urban fantasy Rivers of London series. As the last book (Lies Sleeping) wrapped up a long running story arc, it is vaguely possible that Peter Grant has decided to chuck it all in and get a job outside of the police force. So it is not necessarily a surprise when the book opens with Peter trying to secure a position in security for a large tech company, having been drummed out of the police force. Of course, nothing about Peter’s job or the company he has gone to work for is quite what it seems.
It is hard to talk about False Value without giving away some spoilers. But suffice to say, Aaronovitch takes his urban fantasy deep into science fiction territory with the introduction of magically powered drones, ancient calculating machines and potentially world-changing technology. This allows him to riff on a bunch of deep nerd culture touchstones that would normally fall outside the “urban fantasy” milieu including 2001, Neuromancer and Terminator. But Aaronovitch saves most of his nerd fan service for the Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy. Fans of the Hitchhikers’ Guide will immediately recognise the homage in the name of the company that Peter goes to work for – the Serious Cybernetics Company. But by the end of the book even diehard Hitchhikers’ fans may feel pummelled by the sheer number of both implied and overt references. Clearly Aaronovitch is a fan, but this is reference overload. And the fact that this uber-homage is hardly remarked upon or lampshaded either by nerd Grant or the tech whizz owner of the company who presumably mandated their use, makes it more annoying.
That minor quibble aside, this is overall another engaging entry in a long running and always reliable series. The mystery plays out tantalisingly, the lore is expanded with the introduction of some American magic practitioners (Librarians!) and there are some much needed upgrades to The Folly. Beverly Brook, Peter’s partner and river goddess, is pregnant with twins and gets herself into the action a little, allowing for some more exploration of the rules around genius loci. And all of the fan favourite characters are back, if only as cameos for some.
False Value moves on from much of the overarching plot of the first seven Rivers of London books so theoretically it could be read as a standalone. But there are so many characters and so much lore in the background that it could be a struggle for new readers to catch up. Then again, coming into this volume having read all of the novels and many of the connected graphic novels, it is hard to be objective about this. Suffice to say that fans of the series will not be disappointed and new readers who can get on board with the premise will still have a great time, even if some of the deeper references are likely pass them by.