Title: Rivers of London (UK)/ Midnight Riot (US)
Author: Ben Aaronovitch
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Gollancz (UK) / Del Rey (US)
Publication date: Jan 10 2011 / Feb 1 2011
Hardcover: 400 pages
My name is Peter Grant and until January I was just probationary constable in that mighty army for justice known to all right-thinking people as the Metropolitan Police Service (as the Filth to everybody else). 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 someone who was dead but disturbingly voluable, and that brought me to the attention of Inspector Nightingale, the last wizard in England. Now I’m a Detective Constable and a trainee wizard, the first apprentice in fifty years, and my world has become somewhat more complicated: 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 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.
Stand alone or series: First book in a new UF series
How did I get this book: Review copy from Gollancz
Why did I read this book: I had it on my radar for aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaages because of the awesome cover.
Has Peter Grant, a probationary constable of the Metropolitan Police, gone bonkers? Because that is the only way to explain the fact that a ghost has approached him at a murder scene with information about the crime and he actually took a witness statement. It’s either that or all that paranormal shit is real – vampires, ghosts, magic and whatnot – which is what Peter comes to learn soon enough. His willingness to accept all that is the reason why he ends up being co-opted by Inspector Nightingale, the last wizard in England and sole member of a secret department (much like the FBI’s X-Files), to become his apprentice and work under his orders.
As they investigate the crime that brought them together and the ensuing escalation of violence that might point to a vicious spirit taking over the minds of innocents, Nightingale and Peter also have to navigate the murky waters (ha) of the embodiment of the Rivers of London who decided that now is a good time to fight over territories. If that wasn’t enough, Peter needs to learn all he can about practicing magic in a short period of time, take care of a dog that seems to have adopted him and try not to get caught in department politics whilst simply trying to be a good copper.
Whereas I can’t really say that the premise of Rivers of London is original (i.e. the tale of The Unsuspecting Protagonist Thrust in a New Situation Whereupon He Learns That There Are Supernatural Beings Around And That He Too Has Powers He Must Learn To Control), the execution of the plot, the setting, and Peter’s voice more than make up for it and are what made reading this book such an extremely fun experience.
Plot-wise, Rivers of London is a mix of whodunit and politics placing its protagonist in a position of having to play detective and diplomat. The first part takes place as he deals with the horrible crimes that are happening all over London – and the answer to this mystery and who is behind the killer is AWESOME and I can’t really say more about that to avoid spoiling the fun. But it is certainly very theatrical and I loved that part. But not as much as observing Peter having to deal with the embodiment of the Rivers of London – Mother Thames, Father Thames and their daughters and sons (smaller rivers and minor estuaries) – and the mythology created around them. Both arcs are quite clever and expertly handled by the author.
Equally clever is how the setting, the city of London is incorporated into the story: not only its rivers and its history come to life (literally. No, seriously) but Peter makes his way all over the place. Living in England and having visited London countless times, it is great to see a place that I love on paper and with such vivid colours too. And if there is one word that I would like to use to describe the book it would be: britishness (Microsoft Office, I do NOT mean brutishness). Rivers of London is filled to brim with it: it permeates the setting, the writing, the humour and above all, its main character, Peter.
The story is narrated in first person by Peter and he too, embodies something and I think it is the contemporary brit. He represents the diversity that exists in England with its immigrants – his mother is from Sierra Leone and Peter himself is Black and the potential problems that this might represent (I particularly enjoyed this one scene in the tube in which he knows he is being observed) . His choice of profession is a mixture of the highly traditional (I love that Peter is constantly analysing and thinking about what does it mean to be a copper, what kind of clothes to they wear and why, how to they represent themselves in public and to their superiors) and ubber advanced in terms of technology which seems to define Britain so well.
Similarly when it comes to magic, there isn’t simply an acceptance. He questions everything although the lack of answers is frustrating to him (and the reader). But the questioning is welcomed and fascinating to me (even if sometimes it sounds a bit like info-dump) and it comes from a place of Science too. When one of his lessons leads him to create light, he muses:
“The laws of thermodynamics are pretty strict about this sort of thing, and they say that you never get something for nothing. Which mean that the joule was coming from somewhere – but from where? From my brain?”
Peter has an inquisitive mind that reveals that there are consequences to the use of magic, which I imagine will come into play as Peter grows stronger.
I liked Peter as a narrator and as a flawed character. His voice is funny, sort of ironic and he is a well-balanced blend of effectiveness and cluelessness. I don’t very much care for the way he thinks about the female characters although that is certainly part of the “flawed” character bit and probably part of his personal arc. Because of that, he remains in the “like” category rather than the “love” but there is a lot of potential there for growth since our relationship only but started.
In any case, Rivers of London is top notch Urban Fantasy and I can’t wait to read the sequel, Moon Over Soho.
Notable Quotes/ Parts: a bit of Grant’s philosophy:
Sometimes I wonder whether, if I’d been the one that went for coffee and not Lesley May, my life would have been much less interesting and certainly much less dangerous. Could it have been anyone, or was it destiny? When I’m considering this I find it helpful to quote the wisdom of my father, who once told me,’ who knows why the fuck anything happens?’
Additional Thoughts: On the subject of covers and titles, can someone explain to me WHY the US title is different? And the covers are SO different too: the UK one in my opinion is unique, and fun too – also very, very accurate and representative of what’s inside. It also has a major spoiler but you won’t know that until you read at least half of the book and THEN you notice. I am cryptic on purpose, yes.
The US cover on the other hand, ay mama. It is SO generic and bland with the gun and the glowy light thingy. I guess though it is a good thing that they didn’t whitewash it, right?
Rating: 8 – Excellent
Reading Next: To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis