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Winter's Gifts

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I love when a series takes a detour into the side adventures of a supporting character, so Winter's Gifts was right up my alley. Special Agent Kimberly Reynolds is a fresh new voice for the world of Rivers of London, as is her investigation into the mysterious happenings in a snowy lakeside Wisconsin town. And as much as I love Peter Grant, I'd happily read an entire spinoff series about Kim's misadventures exploring the American magical traditions.

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First published in the UK in 2023; published in a deluxe edition by Subterranean Press on December 1, 2023

Winter’s Gifts is a good book for readers who miss the X Files. The supernatural/horror elements in this short novel (or long novella) are . . . wait for it . . . snow zombies. Don’t let that discourage you from reading the book. Being made largely of snow and trash, they bear little resemblance to ordinary zombies.

The novel is the most recent in Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London urban fantasy series. Winter’s Gifts features Kimberly Reynolds, who appeared in a couple of earlier novels in the series. Reynolds is an FBI agent who, like Mulder and Scully, handles cases for the FBI that have “unusual characteristics.”

A retired agent named Patrick Henderson contacted the Bureau and asked for a meeting in Eloise, Wisconsin to discuss such a case. Eloise is way up north, not far from the Apostle Islands. Reynolds must contend with a blizzard as she makes her way to the small town. She arrives just after a snow tornado destroys the town hall.

A neighbor tells Reynolds that she saw Henderson being dragged from his house by a shambling creature with antlers. The neighbor assumed she was dreaming and went back to bed. When Reynolds finds a mutilated deer, she wonders if Henderson was abducted by someone carrying a deer head. Her subsequent discovery of a human arm suggests that there is more to the case than animal mutilation.

Reynolds wonders whether the mystery that troubled Henderson ties into the Marsh expedition. Its explorers made camp in Eloise in 1843 before they disappeared. Reynolds finds the journal of a Canadian trapper in the local library that provides clues to the fate of the explorers. Reynolds suspects that wolf spirits may have been involved. Scott Walker, an ethnographer from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, helps Reynolds understand local legends and native history relating to supernatural creatures, leading Reynolds to suspect that a weaponized spirit may be preying on the community.

The other significant characters are the local librarian (Sadie Clarkson), a meteorologist (William Boyd), a little girl named Ashley, a grandmother named Ada Cole who owns the local hotel, and a missing hotel guest named Bunker. Some of the characters are magicians/wizards/witches. Some characters who aren’t practitioners of magic are knowledgeable about the supernatural. Bunker seems to have been compiling information about Henderson, Walker, and Clarkson for a mysterious purpose. Reynolds needs to decide whether she can trust characters who dabble in magic.

A couple of Native Americans join the cast in the novel’s second half. One of them is probably a supernatural being, although he’s not a snow zombie.

The explanation of the snow zombies involves desecration of the environment. The spirits are bothered by people who litter. Well, who isn’t? By definition, supernatural story elements don’t need to be rational, so the novel’s sketchy explanation of snow monsters is probably as good as any.

Aaronovitch keeps the story moving, adding elements of mild horror to an investigation of unusual circumstances before hastening the pace with chases through the snow and across the ice. While the story isn’t particularly frightening, the characters are entertaining. Reynolds develops a romantic attachment that might be more accurately described as a lustful attachment, although the G-rated narrative suggests that Reynolds hasn’t cast aside her religious upbringing to embrace the joys of hedonism.

While I’m not generally a fan of urban fantasy, I’ve found Aaronovitch to be one of its better practitioners. Readers who are fond of urban fantasy should be pleased with this latest entry in the Rivers of London series.

RECOMMENDED

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2020s, urban-fantasy, FBI, verbal-humor, situational-humor, Northern-Wisconsin, myths-legends, mysteries, novella, magic, missing-persons, supernatural, paranormal, meteorologist, series, snow-season, blizzards, tornado, Lake-Superior, Ojibwe, spoof*****

FBI Special Agent Kimberley Reynolds gets tagged to go to the frozen North of Wisconsin in response to a call from a retired FBI agent who signals that magic is involved. When she gets there things are even loonier and the man has disappeared. Good thing that she has spent time in England with Peter Grant and has a fair handle on EuroAmerican spooks and magic. While in Wisconsin she gets to learn a bit about Ojibwe magic and tales, including a nineteenth century expedition that seemed to vanish and also a snow monster. Great story with only a few glitches because of the thing about England/America being separated by a common language. Excellent fun!
Good thing I'm overdue on this review, because the first ever tornadoes ever recorded in Wisconsin in the usually frigid month of February caused more than $2.4 million in damage on February 8, 2024.
I requested and received a temporary EARC from Subterranean Press via NetGalley, misplaced it and paid for an audio copy. Don't waste your money on the audio because the narrator will make you nuts with her pronunciations of liberry (library) and parkerrr (parka as in jacket). But the story is 10/10.

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This book is not part of the main Ricers of London storyline and is set in the US. It does feature a character we’ve met before, Kimberly Reynolds. It’s been awhile since I’ve read the book she was in, but it’s not entirely necessary to remember her. This does make a lot more sense if you’re read the Rivers of London previously. I found it to be a fun side adventure.

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Ben Aaronovitch has a new tale set in the same world as his Rivers of London series but taking place in the dark cold of a Wisconsin winter. FBI Special Agent Kimberley Reynolds, who has seen actual magic, is following the lead of a former agent who had retired to the small town. She arrives to find him missing and the town just hit by a snow tornado. If these Winter's Gifts (hard from‎ Subterranean Press) weren’t enough there are murders and magical monsters. Lots of fun.

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I read the Rivers of London series with great rapidity and fell in love with Ben Aaronovitch's wit and delight in describing a world I could imagine all to well. The last couple full-length books, however, fell a bit flat for me. This novella is a really fun return to form. We've crossed the Atlantic to spend some time with our favorite fed, and she's delightful. There's some backstory but frankly not too much, and off we go on an adventure. I thought it was a perfect read for chilly nights over this winter. Four fun stars for this quick and magical (heh) read.

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Fun, dark, a mystery of fantasy and police procedural drama that blends nicely together. A good read.

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Winter's Gifts is a spin-off novel related to the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch. Released 31st Dec 2023 by Subterranean Press, it's 227 pages (print edition) and available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats.

This series (and indeed the author's oeuvre full stop) will already be on most UF/fantasy readers' lists. Aaronovitch is hysterically funny, often profound, clever, and always an engaging read. Since it occurs outside the main series, this novel doesn't have the same continuity as the others, but by the same token, it makes a fine standalone read. Because it's set in the USA, the slang, spelling, and language constructions are mostly American English.

This volume features an ancillary returning character in the main role, FBI Special Agent Kimberly Reynolds. She's sent to the backwoods of northern Wisconsin on a nebulous call-out from a retired agent suggesting "hinky goings on".

She's soon neck deep in cryptids, Native American curses, and there's even a sweetly relevant (non-saccharine) romance angle which hopefully will be explored in further installments. Peter Grant makes only tangential appearances (via trans-Atlantic telephone call) in this book, but as always, the author's wit and humo(u)r are on full display.

Definitely one for fans of "bureaucratic" urban fantasy (Charles Stross, Cory Doctorow, etc).

Four stars. Great execution, clean language, very entertaining read.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

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Thanks to Netgalley from giving me this ARC.

I will preface this review by saying that this is not really my type of book. I didn't read previous books in this universe, and I probably won't be seeking them out. It's a book about the supernatural, kind of like a more fantasy XFiles. The story was kind of slow, definitely odd, and with some Twin Peak'ish vibes.

The characters had depth, the writing was solid, but it just wasn't my cup of team. If you like this genre, you could well love it, for me it just didn't float my boat.

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The main character in this novella, FBI agent Kimberly Reynolds, first showed up in the third Peter Grant novel, Whispers Underground. The setting shifts from England to America, Wisconsin to be exact, as Agent Reynolds is sent to investigate a mysterious plea from a former FBI agent.

As usual with Aaronovitch’s books, the story is an entertaining blend of action and magic (with a hint of romance). The plot centers around an 1843 expedition against a Native entity that mysteriously went missing. Now malevolent magic is affecting the small town built on the location of their camp, and Agent Reynolds must figure out the source and how to defeat it.

For me, one of the best things about the Rivers of London series is Peter Grant himself, and without him, this novella isn’t as enjoyable as the other books. It’s also been a while since I read Whispers Underground, and I didn’t remember Reynolds at all when I first started reading. I don’t think it’s necessary, but I might have felt more of a connection with the character if I had read that novel more recently.

Overall, this is a minor entry in the series, best for fans rather than casual readers.

A copy of this book was provided through NetGalley for me to review; all opinions expressed are my own.

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I received a free copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

This was a book I was really hopeful for. I really loved the first books in his Rivers of London series, but not so much the last few. This book straddles somewhere in between for me. Though America as a magical place in this author’s world is an accepted fact, they went about addressing it differently. It’s too big a place to have something like the Folly and London, where you see the same core characters. But, that’s something I’d like carried over- at least a small cast of core people I can get to know and root for. There are lots of opportunities with a new setting, and I hope the new setting allows for some of the magic of the first books to come back; where the mystery is primary.

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The Rivers of London series is one of my favorites, and I absolutely love the universe that Aaronovitch has created. That being said, the books that do not focus on Peter Grant or are presented from a different perspective than his are generally not my favorites, and this one was no exception. I just never feel a connection to the narrator and stories when they are other than Peter-centric... Still, in the intervening time between full series novels, they are a quick fix and one I'm willing to take on for the quick hits of Nightingale and Starling and further universe development that appear buried within. The central mystery as to Henderson's disappearance and what was going on in Eloise felt a little disjointed to me, and a lot of the characters seemed designed as foils rather than full-blooded individuals in their own right. Still it was a quick read and I did enjoy the incorporation of The Boy/other locii spirits - it would be cool to see more of that across localities in future novels. Here's hoping the next full series book comes out quickly!

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FBI agent Kimberley Reynolds featured in an earlier entry in the Rivers of London series, Whispers Underground, where she learned about the reality of magic and that gods walk among us. Now back in the US and assigned to the FBI’s unit that investigates weird and possibly magic events she travels to a small Wisconsin town to check on reports from a retired FBI agent of something unusual. She arrives to find an unexplainable storm has destroyed parts of the town, a blizzard has cut the town off, the retired agent is missing and, oh yeah, strange creatures are attacking. Trying to determine who she can and cannot trust while getting to the bottom of the mystery of current and past disappearances, Kimberley has her work cut out for her.
This is a quick read and delightful entry in a series that never disappoints. Hopefully Mr Aaronovitch will give us more of Kimberly’s adventures in the US world of magic. Highly recommended

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A novella featuring FBI Special Agent Kimberley Reynolds, who gets to deal with her own magic related case state-side. As she investigates an unusual weather event in Wisconsin, she finds many odd things about the town and is sure something supernatural is brewing. Overall, a fun quick story, told with Aaronovitch's usual humor. Fans of the Rivers of London series will enjoy this sidebar.

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CONTENT WARNING: gore, blood, racism, religious intolerance

I often finding myself checking every few months if Ben Aaronovitch has another book coming out, because it’s often the only way that I find out if there’s an upcoming book in the Rivers of London series. And since I seriously love that series, I was thrilled to discover that YES! There was another book coming out, and it was going to be soon.

While I do find myself partial to Peter’s voice, I was exceptionally curious to see what it would be like to have a story told through Kimberley’s eyes. She’s a character that we met earlier in the series, when she’s dispatched to London and winds up collaborating with Peter to solve a crime. That’s when she’s exposed to magic for the first time, and despite her fundamentalist Christian upbringing, she manages to accept this and just keep her cool no matter what.

In this book, Kimberley is assigned to investigate an incident called in by a retired agent. She arrives in Northern Wisconsin expecting some weird bollocks (as they’re called in London), but the weirdness levels are high and rising. The town was hit by a surprise tornado, and the retired agent is missing. Even worse, a vicious blizzard prevents anyone from entering or leaving the town, as strange events occur more frequently.

Kimberley continues to be an interesting character. Although her behavior doesn’t exactly match up with people raised as fundamentalist Christians that I’ve come across, I was willing to let it slide because maybe it’s different for people in England? I loved her tendency to just take everything in stride, and that also comes across as very British to me. No matter how weird the situation gets, she never loses it.

Just like Peter can’t get his job done without the right assistance, Kimberley relies on a local source for assistance. William Boyd, a local meteorologist and Indigenous man, is the perfect foil to Kimberley’s laid-back and practical personality. He’s another one who just takes everything as it comes and doesn’t sweat anything, yet always makes time to fanboy over unusual weather phenomenon. In addition, there’s some romantic tension sizzling between these two throughout the story, and it was a nice side plot that didn’t overwhelm the main plot.

As for the main plot, I was here for it. Aaronovitch has this way of hooking me within the first chapter and not letting go until the very end. Although I’ve been struggling to read as quickly as I’m used to, I read this book at my usual rate (aka ridiculously fast) because I had to find out what happened next. With this kind of story, I didn’t know what was going to happen next. Scratch that, I kind of had an idea of what might happen, but I had no idea why, and was constantly surprised by the plot twists in this short book.

Overall, this scratched my itch for a Rivers of London novel, and while Kimberley won’t ever fill Peter’s place in my heart, I would love to see her starring in a spin-off series exploring how magic evolved in America, and how practitioners are different in various areas of the country. That could be really fun, but at the same time, I’m jonesing for a fix of Peter Grant, since it’s been a while since we had a book starring him. Also, if you’re planning to start the Rivers of London series, I highly recommend the audiobooks. The narrator is incredible.

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Thanks to Ben Aaronovitch, Subterranean Press, and NetGalley for an Advanced Readers Copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Prior to reading this book, I was already a fan of Ben Aaronovitch’s Hugo Nominated Rivers of London series, so I was very pleased to see him transition and hopefully start a new series in the United States.

The book is a quick, entertaining read. It starts out as a FBI investigation after a former agent sends out a call for help and then agent Kimberly Reynolds has a lot on her hands.

This book had a X-files vibe and it was a fun read, Recommended.

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Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for providing me an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.

Having been a new convert to the Rivers of London series, I knew I was taking a gamble by reading this most recent novella technically out of order from the rest of the series. However, in reading the description it felt like a total one off and fairly safe. My gamble paid off, but overall I was left wanting more.

Winter's Gift focuses on FBI agent Kimberly Reynolds who is sent up to the what I'm assuming is the upper reaches of Wisconsin to investigate some odd happenings after a report from an ex-agent is made into the bureau. While it was overall a quick entertaining read, I also felt like, intentionally or unintentionally, it veered into Fargo-ness where some of the characters were a caricature of what people living in upstate Wisconsin must be like (being a mid-Westerner I feel like I get a little bit of permission to say this).

Another reviewer made a comment that they felt like this had the feel of a first book of a series instead of a novella that is part of a bigger world and I have to agree. To me it was just okay, but despite that I'm totally going back to the world of Rivers of London.

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I have been a fan of Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London series for years, and it's always a delight to read the novellas that explore the world more.

Snow tornadoes, a missing retired FBI agent, & something ghastly is waking up. All in a day‘s work now that Kimberly Reynolds knows about the magical subculture in her word.

I really loved Kimberly's character when we first met her in the main series, and I really enjoyed seeing more of her in her natural habitat. She‘s no nonsense, practical, & focused. And I have a particular weakness for characters that, feeling attraction in the middle catastrophic events, actually stop and think, hey is this the time or place for this?

The pacing was excellent, with well written action and brief lulls, allowing the reader to catch their breath along with Kimberly. I adored the development of the magical world outside of London and hints of more to come!

The writing style took a little to get used to because it's so different from how the Rivers of London is written. Which totally fits the character, but the whole novella almost reads like a case file. Kimberly regularly summarizes her own dialogue, while focusing on narrating her observations and the useful information she learns over everything else.

I would be genuinely delighted to read more of Kimberly's adventures, and I have already ordered an audio copy! Many thanks to both NetGalley and Subterranean Press for the opportunity to read this ARC!

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Winter's Gifts is a wonderful, fantastic, enormously fun addition to the Rivers of London series, focusing on American FBI agent Kimberley Reynolds, who is fast learning about the magic of the world. Reynolds is sent to bitter, wintry Wisconsin, where a strange and violent storm has caused mayhem. Soon on the trail of non-humans, humans with secrets, and humans seeking magic, she finds herself amid Native genii locorum, fearsome creatures, and a cute meteorologist. It's a delight.

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Many of my friends read this author but this is my first time. I found his writing style to be very enjoyable. His characters are well thought out, with some caveats. I'm not sure yet whether he knows how women work or how to right them well. Not every female out there is carrying around emergency tampons in a coat pocket. She also didn't really feel female even with a romantic interest around. The author also writes worlds well. They hidden magic groups, wizards and shades all trying to stay under the radar is interesting. This book takes place in Wisconsin, a vastly different area from London. The author still uses phrases and idioms occasionally though which can throw a reader off. Soya being one example. We usually just call it soy. but those are minor critiques. the story is short but enjoyable. It moves at a fast pace and is easy to visualize. It is currently my excuse for heading to my local library to check out prior novels by Aaronovitch. He is a good writer and fans of his and even new readers can enjoy this novella.

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