RELEASE DATE: 1st January 2011
FORMAT: Paperback, 391 pages
GENRE: Urban Fantasy
Probationary Constable Peter Grant dreams of being a detective in London’s Metropolitan Police. Too bad his superior plans to assign him to the Case Progression Unit, where the biggest threat he’ll face is a paper cut. But Peter’s prospects change in the aftermath of a puzzling murder, when he gains exclusive information from an eyewitness who happens to be a ghost. Peter’s ability to speak with the lingering dead brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, who investigates crimes involving magic and other manifestations of the uncanny.
Now, as a wave of brutal and bizarre murders engulfs the city, Peter is plunged into a world where gods and goddesses mingle with mortals and a long-dead evil is making a comeback on a rising tide of magic. (Goodreads)
To find good urban fantasy books, we have had to turn to our American counterparts. Whether this has been down to what the American market wanted, I’m not sure. This has changed very recently, with British writers beginning to crop up, turning their backs on the Epic Fantasy genre and going down the Urban Fantasy route.
Ben Aaronovich is one such writer and I’m glad to say that on the whole, he is really pulled something altogether a bit different out of the bag. Rather than try to replicate his American peers, Aaronovich has produced a book that is very British, while still keeping what makes an Urban Fantasy book so enjoyable to read. While reading this book, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to the TV show Life on Mars. Tonally they are both very similar and that helps it stand out more.
The book opens with our hero of the series, Peter Grant, finishing off his training as a Probationary Constable in the Metropolitan Police Service. One of his last postings is to keep the crime area around the Royal Opera House after a gentleman gets murdered by an unknown assailant. It is while on duty that Peter finds the only witness is a ghost and he is the only one who can see him. Fortunately for Peter, the last wizard in England, Inspector Nightengale, gets wind of this and prevents him from being banished to the Case Progression Unit :–
We Do Paperwork So Real Coppers Don’t Have To.
Instead, Peter becomes some sort of protégé and will be part of Nightingale’s team.
From here on out, the book treads the usual who-done-it pattern that other crime novels follow. There are lots of twists and turns in the plot, which left me completely blindsided when the truth was revealed. Aaronovich is a master at keeping you on your toes. It seems that every few chapters, he takes you down a path, only for you to come to a dead end.
The murders all appear to be random and it is not until about two thirds of the way through the book does the big clue finally get revealed both to the reader and to Grant. It’s a master stroke and I honestly didn’t see this as a connection (though if you look closely at the UK cover, the clues are all there). I must warn you, that there is a couple of very harrowing scenes in the book, one of which left me very upset. It didn’t distract from the book, but if you are sensitive over the death of a mother and child, be warned. It is not graphic, but the manner in how it happens made me wince.
What didn’t make this an excellent read for me was the over explanation of the police procedures and resources that were repeated a few times throughout the book. By the third time that Aaronovich mentions the huge database that the police use and how they access it, I was beginning to skim in order to get back to the action. It is a shame because I did like the fact that the investigation was much more methodical than some of the American UF books, where the hero (or heroine) charge about with all guns blazing.
There is also an excellently handled secondary plot, revolving around two deities that rule over the River Thames, Mamma Thames and Father Thames. It didn’t seem to be that important at first that these two deities and their “children” were effectively fighting over the boundary lines of their respective domains. Aaronovich manages to weave this into the overall plot with ease and before you knew it this plotline was just as important to the outcome of the main plot.
The characters are really interesting, each with their own skeletons in their respective closets. Out of the whole book, there were four standout characters for me.
Peter was one of the most complex characters I have encountered in any book I have read. It is clear that he has the ambition and drive to make something of his life after witnessing the decay of his drug addict, former jazz playing father. He shows his heroic side time and time again in the book, wanting to do the right thing even when all common sense is telling him to run. Peter has a rather sarcastic and dry sense of humor, which is evident when he is interacting with partner (and crush) Lesley. By the end of the book, he has matured quite a bit and I am interested to read more about his heritage and see where he goes from here.
Inspector Nightingale is very much of an enigma over the whole expanse of the book. We are given little snippets of a backstory, but there is nothing that really gives you any true idea of who Nightingale really is. I think that he is much older than he seems, but whether he is a vampire or some sort of immortal, is still very much up in the air.
The housekeeper Molly is another mystery and I thought I had figured out what she was by the end of the book, only for Aaronovich to throw one last curve ball that still has me scratching my head. All I do know is that she isn’t human, she also is much older than she seems and she is scared of Nightingale. (Oh, and if you are an over amorous bloke, watch out. She puts a whole knew spin on ball breaker!!!)
The last character, who although is minor had me very much intrigued and that is one of Mamma Thames’ children, Tyburn. After an unfortunate confrontation resulting in a fountain getting blown up, Peter is on her hit list and she makes life very difficult for him until Mamma Thames steps in. I don’t think this is the last we will see of her nor do I think her meddling days are over. I get a feeling she holds a grudge.
In fact the whole deity infrastructure is very interesting and I hope that we get to see more of all the people who make it up. There is plenty of material there.
Overall RIVERS OF LONDON is a great read and very different from the normal Urban Fantasy fare on the market. It has a very British tone to it, but at the same time can be very brutal with regards to some of the crimes that take place. I’ll definitely read more of this series as it is written in such a way that before you know it you are hurtling towards the finish line.
BOOKS IN SERIES ORDER
- Rivers of London
- Moon over Soho
- Whispers Underground
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