Reviews of ‘Amongst our Weapons,’ ‘Buddhism,’ ‘No Mud, No Lotus,’ and ‘Gallipoli’

Amongst Our Weapons

This is book 9 in the ‘Rivers of London’ series. I really enjoyed this!

I’m going to spoil this a little. This was a story where the Folly team has to hunt down a murderer Angel of Death. I liked the twist of the Angel being a tool of the Spanish Inquisition. The mystery was interesting, going back to the Reconquista, and then WW2, and forward to Manchester in the modern day. I liked how the book reflecting back on history helped add depth to the story.

If I were to critique this a bit, I’d say that the primary antagonist needed to be fleshed out some more. We never really got the chance to speak with her, for more than a few seconds. I would have liked if the coppers got a chance to interview her so we got more from her perspective.

I liked the development in the recurring characters. I liked how Nightingale is planning to retire, now that he has Peter to take his place leading the Folly. I like how Peter is a father, and what with Nightingale now retiring he has a lot of new responsibility placed on his shoulders. I am interested to see where all of the other new junior members of the Folly head. I am curious to see where Lesley is going as a character.

Now let’s talk a moment about the tension and stakes. I feel like this story suffered here. Police Procedural stories often struggle here, because it’s hard to balance a narrative where a police department feels appropriately powerful, but simultaneously outmatched by their villain. When you’re dealing with a serial killer, it’s hard to make the heroes feel threatened because usually the killer isn’t targeting the police. The serial killer targeted non-hero targets in this book; as a result, so the narrative never felt like the heroes were in personal danger, and thus the tension/stakes suffered. This is a hard problem to solve, because Police Procedurals are usually long-running series, and in long-running series you really can’t have a serial killer target heroes in each and every book, because if you do you’ll run out of heroes for the next book!

This lack of threat can be fixed by having the killer target people who the protagonist has an emotional bond with, aka friends and family. (If you’ve read the Dresden Files, this is the stakes that series usually uses. Ever wonder why Thomas gets kidnapped every other week? This is why.) The trope of ‘the serial killer targeting the detective’s loved ones’ happens so often in this genre that’s it’s become a cliché, but even so authors have to use it. It’s one of the few ways to solve this narrative problem.

Unfortunately, I felt like Amongst Our Weapons didn’t really tackle this problem. The angel of death villain was constantly on the back foot compared to the heroes, unable to predict or outwit the heroes. The side-villain Lesley was more interesting as a character because she was able to go toe-to-toe with the heroes, being able to predict their actions and try to rob them. I wish Lesley was in league with the angel, passing info to her; that would have been interesting.

I hate to say it, but I feel this series is treading water. Now, to be clear: I enjoyed this book. I enjoy this series wholeheartedly. This book was a solid 3 stars for me. (I default to giving 3 stars to good books. Most books I read are 3 stars.) But I have to admit that I feel that the ‘Rivers of London’ series needs to go in a new direction. I feel a hypocrite saying this after the shellacking I gave ‘Dresden Files’ last year for going in a new direction away from it’s mystery story roots, but in retrospect I think I have to change my opinion about ‘Dresden Files’ as well as ‘Rivers of London.’ This series needs a light reboot.

(And as Nightingale is retiring and Peter is becoming a father, we might be getting that light reboot!)

And about the villains in this. I think the series needs a new recurring villain as a part of that reboot. In the wake of the Faceless Man’s death, this series has felt a bit aimless. The stories since his death have all felt too insular, too small-scale. I’m happy the Faceless Man died (he was the villain in FAR too many novels, and I got bored of him), but this series now has a Faceless Man shaped hole in it.

I think the author is trying to build Lesly up to be the new villain. In concept I think this is a great idea; having a former hero becoming the new villain. I’ve only seen the hero-to-villain trope done a few times, but I LOVE it whenever I see it. However, I don’t think Lesly’s ‘on-again, off-again’ frenemies thing is working. This might be why I think this series is treading water; Lesly’s not quite pulling her weight in the narrative.

And finally, the Angel of Death. Like I said above, I liked the concept of her. However I wanted more from her. I wanted to see the story from her perspective, but the Angel barely had any dialogue. She felt a bit like an X-Files monster-of-the-week.

Caveat: the Urban Fantasy genre uses monsters-of-the-week as their bricks and mortar. I have trouble thinking about a single UF series I’ve read which hasn’t at least dabbled in the trope. They’re throwaway villains. I can’t call the Angel out for being a monster-of-the-week without throwing shade at the entire genre, and I do generally enjoy reading this sub-genre.

However, in this particular instance, I think it’s a shame she was so throwaway. The Angel here was a woman out of time, a lost pilgrim of the pre-colonial era struggling in a modern world. She was a deeply empathizeable person. And yet the narrative lost sight of that empathy. I wanted the narrative to make her the hero of this story, doing more to characterize her. I wanted the heroes to convince her to quit her crusade by speaking with her and forming an emotional connection with her, not to defeat her through trickery and magic. I wanted her to be a human-of-the-week, not a monster-of-the-week.

I hope that Nightingale’s retirement will shake things up for the series. I like mystery stories- this one included- but this series needs a breath of fresh air. Now that said, I will continue to read this series no matter what direction it takes.


Buddhism: Great Courses by Malcom David Eckel

This was a very solid historical and cultural overview of Buddhism. This doesn’t delve as deep into the how-to meditate aspect of ‘Real Zen for Real Life,’ another Great Courses lecture series on Buddhism. Instead, this Course focused more on the Indian and Tibetan traditions of Buddhism, instead of the Mahayana tradition of which Zen is a part. I particularly enjoyed the focus on the Tibetan tradition, and the theological/philosophical traditions of the different branches. The lecturer is a frequent acquaintance of the Dalai Lama, having had him as a regular guest lecturer for his university courses. Up until now I’ve ‘accidentally’ focused on the Mahayana tradition basically by random chance, due to picking up ‘Real Zen,’ and the works of Thich Nhat Hahn first. And while those sources didn’t actively neglect the other branches, they didn’t focus on them nearly as much either.

I personally felt this book was at it’s best when it focused on the philosophy.


No Mud, No Lotus

This is another handbook by Thich Nhat Hahn. I enjoyed it quite a bit. The first 3/4s of this book are general life advice on how to transform the suffering of everyday life into happiness. It transforms Buddhist philosophy on being into solid life advice. The last 1/4 were devoted to meditation practices. I think this was my favorite by the author so far.


Gallipoli

This is a nonfiction book about the British/Anzac/French attack upon the beaches of Turkish Gallipoli back in WW1. I enjoyed what I read; it seemed very detailed in research, as well as quoting first hand accounts form the journals of the survivors. I did not finish reading this, because I’m swamped with other things I have to read and I need to return it to the library, however me not stopping it is no sign of it’s lack of quality. I enjoyed this heartily.

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