Title: Rivers of London
Author: Ben Aaronovitch
Genre: Urban Fantasy
“My name is Peter Grant. Until January I was just another probationary constable in that mighty army for justice known to all right-thinking people as the Metropolitan Police Service, and to everyone else as the Filth. My only concerns in life were how to avoid a transfer to the Case Progression Unit – We do paperwork so real coppers don’t have to – and finding a way to climb into the panties of the outrageously perky WPC Leslie May. Then one night, in pursuance of a murder inquiry, I tried to take a witness statement from a man who was dead, but disturbingly voluble, and that brought me to the attention of Chief Inspector Nightingale, the last wizard in England. And that, as they say, is where the story begins.
Now I’m a Detective Constable and a trainee wizard, the first apprentice in fifty years, and my world has become somewhat more complicated. I’m dealing with nests of vampires in Purley, negotiating a truce between the warring god and goddess of the Thames, and digging up graves in Covent Garden – and that’s just routine. There’s something festering at the heart of the city I love, a malicious, vengeful spirit that takes ordinary Londoners and twists them into grotesque mannequins to act out its drama of violence and despair.
The spirit of riot and rebellion has awakened in the city, and it’s falling to me to bring order out of chaos – or die trying. Which, I don’t mind telling you, would involve a hell of a lot of paperwork.”
Rivers of London came to me via a dear friend, writer and urban fantasy connoisseur. He had sung the praises of this series at me enough times that I finally got myself organised to get hold of a copy and read the damn thing. If nothing else, to shut him up.
Rivers of London is much more restrained in its fantasy than I tend to go for and first and foremost this really is a police procedural at its heart. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed picking my way through Aaronovitch’s London, which is not only highly accurate but clearly loved by the author. With a setting many people know, or think they know, it is often hard to create a new vision but Aaronovitch does this well by exploring the layers of history that create a big city. There is a great balance of realism and fantasy here which grounds the novel giving it a greater sense of legitimacy. Add to this the wry and terribly British humour and a smart and pacy plot and this novel has a lot of things going for it.
The characters were engaging, particularly Peter’s narrative voice, and again even the most fantastical were well grounded giving them a sense of realism. I particularly enjoyed the believable mysticism of Mama Thames and the way that magical characters were grounded in mythology and fairytale. My only real criticism is that not many characters seemed to develop regardless of some of the dark, murderous consequences they were witnessing and as such I felt like I was missing a level of emotional engagement. Nonetheless, I was carried along by the plot regardless and didn’t find myself overly disappointed by the lack of development.
Despite the magic being a little too restrained in places for my personal taste, it sat well in Aaronovitch’s world and I am eager to explore it further. I don’t tend to read a great deal of crime and perhaps this is a book that may change that. I will certainly be continuing to read the next in the series.
If you like this, you might like: Books by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett