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This isn't the type of book I usually pick up; I prefer 'swords-and-sorcery' fantasy, or historical biopics. However, I had heard very good things about this book from friends, and so decided to give it a go. I was not disappointed.
The story is set in a modern day London, but one influenced by magic; its existence is known of, but kept from the general public, so it is a special branch of the Metropolitan police force who deal with magical crimes. Enter newly qualified police officer, Peter Grant. While his colleague and crush, Lesley May, has been assigned to the murder squad, Peter is expected to do paperwork. This changes however, when walking the beat one evening, he sees a ghost, who claims to have witnessed a murder. From there, Peter is transferred to the special branch, under the supervision of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, the last wizard in England. Peter now has to work out just who or what is behind the sinister, deaths in which someone brutally and publicly kills an innocent bystander, before collapsing themselves with horrible facial injuries. But being one of only two wizards, he is distracted by more mundane issues; nests of vampires, how to stop an argument between Father Thames and Mama Thames turning into civil war, and of course, learning magic.
This is a very clever, very funny book. All of the magical goings on are slotted convincingly into ordinary London life. The characters are well-padded out, with Peter being the slightly confused apprentice who is nevertheless trying to do her best, Nightingale, the wise old wizard figure, and Lesley, the sassy, feminist voice of reason. At times the humour can be a bit crude, but I think it fits in well with the setting of the Metropolitan police force. While making magic a central part of the world, the book also gently ridicules it; Peter's incredulity at still having to learn spells in Latin, for example. However, for all the joking, this book also has real depth; the murders are quite dark, something particularly evident in the final scenes which are also quite emotional in places. A couple of cliffhangers lead nicely on to the next book in the series, which I went straight out to buy!
My last jaunt to the library threw up two brilliant finds - fantastic writers that I had never previously encountered. One, already reviewed, was Tom Holt, and the other was the second book that caught my eye on a rebellious day when I picked up books at random after being inspired by the temptation of "fate". The title was Rivers Of London, and it was penned by Ben Aaronovitch.
And it's really very good.
A previous contributor to the legend that is Doctor Who, you can find out more about Aaronovitch via Wikipedia or his website, the-folly.com, the name of which is inspired by this book.
He is an English writer, and I lucked out in that this book happens to be the first in the series which is basically his current project - the Peter Grant series.
He's also contributed one episode of Casualty to society, but you don't have to hold that against him.
You can pick this up from Amazon for £1.59, and it is a Kindle option also. The £1.59 is pretty impressive as it qualifies for free delivery. The RRP is after all £7.99.
Peter Grant is ending his probationary service in the Met and is on the brink of being condemned to the living death existence of Crime Progression Unit - where people push paper so that real coppers can crack on.
Then he meets a witness to the last murder he become involved in before this seemingly inevitable "promotion" takes place. The witness is scared, elusive and will only talk to Peter. He's also a ghost.
Turns out that Peter isn't going mad. Soon there's a dog with a huge appetite, an association with a unique Inspector which leads to an apprenticeship, a serious issue with the Thames - which proves to be a lot more troublesome than you might think - as well as a malevolent spirit and some of the good people of London performing acts of massive brutality before their faces pretty much fall to bits.
And there's Lesley, the fellow copper that Peter is desperate to get into bed.
Oh yes. Given that its fairly old hat these days, its good that Aaronovitch got the "so you mean magic is real?" bit over with not only pretty swiftly but with his characters' fairly down-to-earth, dead-pan acceptance of the fact. Yes, it is. Ghost too. And other stuff. Deal with it.
Peter's salvation from paper-pushing hell comes in the form of Inspector Nightingale, who frequently throughout the book is the subject of little nudges that there is more to him than meets the eye even when you realise that he's a wizard - I'm guessing this might unfold further in later books.
Peter himself is a very good character, dealing with the sudden changes to his life both pragmatically and with a healthy sense of irony and sarcasm. He's believable - a young bloke led both by his job and his sexual fantasies. He's also a Londoner, and with that comes a sort of "oh, right, fine let's just get on with it" reaction to most unexpected scenarios.
His main character comparison is Lesley, a dedicated and very good policewoman herself, who becomes involved with the same case as Peter through her own new job role - hers in "real world" policing and his in a slightly less commonly known department.
Aaronovitch writes with a dead-pan, practical style that is both pleasant to read and amusing - he is also blessed with a fine imagination and you won't see the reasoning behind the title of the book coming until its upon you - another situation that Peter and Nightingale have to deal with on top of the increasing and massively violent murders that seem to embody the simmering anger and frustration of the urban society of the city. I'm a commuter and it makes me not so much Miss Rarr as Miss Stop Dead In Front Of Me To Check Your Phone One More And I'll Rip Your Face Off - so I enjoyed this take on the city. Peter seems to view it with a combination of resigned detachment and ingrained, native pride - it adds to his believability as a character. The way he deals with the unfolding of all the aspects of the world that he previous never knew existed, but is now his own, is very British.
The plot escalates quickly and doesn't lag - there's always a new development but its not at the expense of good characterisation and good relationships between the protagonists - even the dog. Nightingale could do with being fleshed out a bit more and I hope that when I read more in the series I see this start to happen. Which I definitely will - my copy included a teaser chapter of Moon Over Soho, which I will be purchasing soon - at the moment I'm knee-deep in Kate Mosse's Citadel, a book so epic that they've had to make the pages anorexic to get it between paper covers, and after that Game Of Thrones shall rule supreme, but I'm very glad to have met Peter Grant and thoroughly intend to catch up with him again soon. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and so plenty of stars are coming its way.
Rivers of London is the debut novel by Ben Aaronovitch, and tells the story of PC Peter Grant and his introduction to a magical underground London. The book begins with a murder at Covent Garden; PC Grant is given the job of keeping the area empty during the early hours and encounters a ghost who tells him that the man was killed by an entity that had a strange face. Grant doubts his own mental well-being after meeting the ghost and discounts the knowledge, however, he does encounter a mysterious Inspector Nightingale who he does mention the encounter too. Soon he is asked to join the special investigations force under Nightingale and to investigate the murder. Peter is of mixed race and this is mentioned a couple of times as a comedy element to explain his presence in the police force and his desires to become a detective.
This novel has been mentioned as a sort of Bill meets Harry Potter and there are aspects of both in the book, however, it's more Bill than Potter. PC Peter Grant is the main character and the book centres on his activities, thoughts and actions, through him we interact with characters in and around London. He is introduced to the world of magic and slowly becomes more proficient in certain spells and incantations, but he remains a policeman first and his investigations into this murder and another subsequent one soon bring him into contact with magical characters.
This book certainly has Harry Potter style moments, Peter's introduction into magic has elements of comedy which are similar to Harry's first fumbling's at Hogwarts and the mystery is conveniently solved using these rather simple tricks. The book is generally light in nature, slightly more mature than Potterworld but not by a huge margin, this book is perhaps aimed at the older teenage market rather than the 10-14 which Harry Potter is aimed at. There are a few sexual mentions and the obsession of Peter over one the suspects is definitely not for the younger market, we do encounter however a well-balanced novel. In this book, we are introduced to the forgotten rivers of London, not just the Thames but the Fleet and others and the river sprites associated.
I enjoyed the novel without being amazed; it rather lost its way in the third quarter but did have a satisfying end and left plenty of plot lines for the author to explore. By far the best parts of the book are the characters PC Peter Grant and the mysterious Inspector Nightingale, I suspect much more will be discovered in the future novels. The book has a slight Discworld element; there is a comic element in the use of a modern and very straightforward London with a magical element which has been explored by Terry Pratchett and Ankh Morpock. This book has a slightly different focus but the use of police officers as main characters does force this to happen.
So an encouraging start and I have the second book to read and hopefully review, it will be interesting to see how the author takes the storylines forward.
River of London is the first novel in Ben Aaronovitch's PC Grant series. Set rather unsurprisingly in London, we are introduced to Police Constable Peter Grant who at the start of the novel is assigned to Charing Cross police station, and is waiting to find out what section of the Met he will be posted to. Then he meets a ghost...and finds himself the apprentice of Detective Constable Thomas Nightingale, a wizard and sole member of the Met's supernatural division.
Within the first few pages of Rivers of London, I was sure that this was going to be an enjoyable novel. The story was already shaping up to be interesting and exciting, but even before it really gets going the style and characters are very appealing.
As Rivers of London is written in the first person, we get to know Peter Grant very well. He is an average guy, a typical Londoner and a narrator it is easy to connect with. Aaronovitch's writing style is excellent, as it portrays the character of Grant so well. It is so easy to immerse yourself in Grant's life, and to understand him. He could be anyone I know; he talks about "doing a ton down the Great West Road", and his first thought on successfully working a spell is "F*** me, I just did magic" - which would likely be my first thought in the same situation.
Grant is a thoroughly likeable character, and so it is easy to become involved in his story. And it is some story: murders and magic all mixed together, with some territory problems with the river spirits thrown in for good measure. While I do enjoy a good supernatural story, Rivers of London feels like it is thoroughly grounded in reality thanks to the everyman nature of Grant. The action is well-paced, with plenty of excitement and humour mixed together to keep you gripped.
The only possible negative that I can think of in regards to Rivers of London is that some readers may be put off by the supernatural side of the story; that is, after all, not everyone's cup of tea. While it is a shame that some people may miss out of such a great book because of this, the magic and supernatural elements of the story are intrinsic to it and not a sideline.
Put simply, Rivers of London is a good book. It is a very good book. I've enjoyed plenty of novels recently but this one really does stand out as a really enjoyable and amusing read; I can't wait to get stuck into the second of PC Grant's adventures, Moon Over Soho.
I really love adding new authors to my reading list especially when they come recommended by one of my favourite review writers, Ladybracknell. On reading her review I put my name down for the book in my library and have just finished reading it. I found it classed as science fiction/fantasy, but would probably say that's limiting its readership since its certainly not mainstream science fiction. I'd say its fantasy with a touch of horror and some comedy, so probably should be among popular fiction, or even Modern fiction.
Introducing a Brand New Wizard.
One of the taglines on this suggests it's what would happen if Harry Potter joined the Fuzz, another says 'Magical, mysterious and mesmerizing.' I like to think of it as a combination of all my favourite genres rolled into one. But let's see what the plot is about.
Peter Grant is a lowly probationary constable in the Metropolitan police force, a lad who maybe has a habit of getting easily distracted by girls, food and staying out of a boring job in the dreaded Case Progression Unit (a desk job). Being a junior officer he's a natural choice to stand around the perimeter of a crime scene at 6 0'clock in the morning at Covent Garden, London. The crime is a particularly nasty one with a headless corpse found earlier by a drunken out of work actor. That could have been the extent of Peter's involvement if he hadn't been quite so lazy and allowed his fellow officer Lesley May to go and get the coffees.
While he's waiting and lurking around by St Paul's Church out of the cold, he meets a man who says he saw the murder happen and is eager to tell all. Unfortunately for Peter, the witness may know a thing or two but when Lesley comes back with the coffees, the man disappears- Peter has just interviewed his first ghost!
Naturally he finds this puzzling and upsetting, certainly put out since he wanted to boast to Lesley (who he's attracted to being female and pretty). Being able to see ghosts does have some advantages as Peter finds out when he meets the enigmatic Inspector Nightingale, the last wizard in England. It just happens that Nightingale could do with a little help, which is how Peter finds himself apprentice to a wizard, living in a place called the Folly and a member of a largely unknown and under populated task force investigating the unusual, the arcane and the unwanted. At least that's how it initially is seen. But before long it becomes obvious that there's a side of London rarely seen and it has some mysterious ways about it, along the rivers of London.
Meet The Family.
One thing that comes across clearly in the characters of the book is their love of London and their families. This extends from Peter's dysfunctional family (mixed race, manic mother, weed smoking musical father), to the 'Family' that's the Police force and ultimately to the strange population of London's hidden side. These include Trolls, goblins, vampires, ghosts and the Gods, in particular the River Gods.
I found this hilarious at first then wanted to believe in them, a bit like the Cornish Piskies and the Welsh nature sprites. The author gives us a huge family with Father Thames and Mother Thames locked in a conflict over territory and their offspring taking sides. Imagine a rustic farmer type who lives by the River source, yet can appear every bit as dangerous as a Roman or Celtic God. The females are even more glamorous yet terrifying. Playful one moment and deadly the next. They all want the same outcome though, the London they know is under threat and normal policemen can do little. It's up to Inspector Nightingale and Peter to track down the source of the disturbances while placating the underworld.
Underneath the Arches.
Funnily enough I visit London frequently as my daughter, son-in-law and grandson live there. Growing up in Wales I had a natural suspicion of the Big City or the Sassenachs, and lumped it all together as noisy, polluted and dangerous. In this book it is actually that, though the pollution is generally not thrown up in the faces of the River Gods and their family (tributaries). I found that aspect of the book very charming in many ways as I've discovered a rare part of The City is actually green and pleasant. Some of the places around Richmond and Kew are quite lovely and even in the parts that are more rundown; I've found a sort of quiet contentment, interspersed with the flare-ups common to any city.
I also sense something underneath the 'glamour' that is London, the hidden parts where it's easy to imagine all sorts of characters straight from the pen of Dickens. I love finding the hidden canals and rivers that suddenly appear from an underground stream to join mighty Father Thames, so it came as no surprise that the book makes much of this hidden underbelly and the sneaking suspicion that there is something unknown and frightening under the Arches and highways that form the City routes.
It makes the story even more intriguing by suggesting the presence of ghosts and other shadowy characters that have lived a very long time, long enough to take Peter back on a trip through time to the very founding of the City in a desperate attempt to stop a madman whose power can literally rip the face off people. This upsets the Faery world, as much as it does the world we know, so with Inspector Nightingale temporarily unable to teach Peter more Wizardry, he has to dig deep and use his own resources.
I expected something quite different from what I actually got from the book and that was a new and exciting writer with a fresh perspective on the different types of strangeness that I've called Faery for want of a better word. In giving it the old spelling it means something like creatures that are alive but not human and very dangerous along with a subtle allure. It's a little like vampires but much more down to earth and even sexy. I found parts of the book extremely funny but with a wry humour rather than slapstick. I loved the parts where the ghost appears and runs rings round hid adversaries, but I also loved the character of Peter with his youthful cynicism thoroughly put to the test.
I also loved the characters that make up the magic part of the Rivers in the book and thought how apt many were. This is the first in a series of books about the Police force and the very real work they do along with a fantasy world where the 'Fuzz' work alongside characters such as Inspector Nightingale and his minions. It's a lovely read that will charm and frighten by degrees across the board of age and taste. I can see it being lapped up by lovers of the current Vampire vogue but also to people like myself who like a bit of fun laced with terror and a damn good story to boot.
Definitely recommended by me, it gets the full five stars. It's not great literature, but it's streets ahead of the Demon/Vampire/Werewolf vogue. I expect a lot from new author Ben Aaronovitch and I'm sure he won't let me down.
RRP £7.99 in paperback. 392 pages with a 28-page taster of the new book 'Moon Over Soho.'
Thanks for reading.
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The parameters for what defines an urban fantasy novel are fairly elastic and it's rare that a book comes along which can truly be attributed to that genre without it spilling over into, say, paranormal romance, alternative history or science fiction but Rivers of London appears to be one of that rare breed and it's also a cracking read.
Peter Grant is a probationary police constable working in London. Assigned to stand guard over a newly discovered headless murder victim, Peter has a visitation from the only witness to the crime: a ghost! Because of this ability to communicate beyond the corporeal world, Peter finds himself assigned to work alongside Inspector Nightingale, the last wizard in England, in the little known Economic and Specialist Crime Unit which currently consists of DCI Nightingale and now Peter as well. Suddenly from being a simple probationer, pounding the beat and trying to make it beyond first base with WPC Lesley May, he's been promoted to Detective Constable and has become the first apprentice wizard for 50 years and he's working on his first case and it's a doozy!
Urban fantasy is the melding of the real and prosaic with the unreal and fantastical in such a way that it becomes wholly believable. This is achieved by the author building a world with which the reader can immediately identify to such an extent that when unrealistic events occur, they seem completely normal. Ben Aaronovitch has more than succeeded here.
Not being other than a casual viewer of Dr Who, I wasn't aware of Ben Aaronovitch before I picked up this book in the library. He has a long list of Dr Who credits to his name having written several screenplays as well as spin-off novels but Rivers of London is his first foray into urban fantasy.
Although I know one should never judge a book by its cover, this one is worthy of comment as it's very appealing and even before opening the book, I found myself studying the very detailed map of London and recognising several streets and landmarks, many of which crop up in the story.
The setting of the story will appeal to Londoners and non-Londoners alike. Those familiar with the city will recognise many of the locations in the novel which always add an extra dimension to a story and here we're also given a glimpse of the city's inner workings never seen by those who walk its streets by day, though many of this underbelly is purely from the imagination of Mr Aaronovitch.
I'm a confessed fan of urban fantasy but, sadly, most of it originates from America and features kick-ass heroines who though purporting to be real generally bear very little relation to anybody you're ever likely to come across. This novel, however, scores highly on realism. This is a very British urban fantasy with very British characters and plot.
Peter is a totally believable character; in many ways he's every man. He's a young trainee cop with the Met Police and the reader is first introduced to him as he stands guard over a newly discovered corpse on the steps of St Paul's Church in Covent Garden. Whilst WPC Lesley May, the object of Peter's lust, is away getting them a coffee, Peter encounters the only material witness though, in fact, the witness isn't exactly material: he's a ghost! Before he knows it, Peter finds himself working with DCI Thomas Nightingale and learning to be a wizard! As Nightingale explains, 'Magic is like music. Everyone hears it differently.' Unfortunately, Nightingale's benign wizardry isn't the only magic in London; there's a far darker kind lurking in the shadows and it's linked to the bodies which are beginning to turn up, all of them either headless or with their heads imploded.
This is a wonderfully entertaining read told in the first person by Peter. It's part police procedural, part fantasy and totally engrossing. The plot is convoluted to say the least but never confusing and the story combines humour, fantasy and reality. As one of the main protagonists, Peter is a delight. He's a bit clueless to begin with but nobody's fool either and he tells his story with a very appealing self-deprecation which makes him immediately likeable. 'My name is Peter Grant and until January I was just a 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).'
Through Peter's eyes the reader is introduced to a London beyond the mundane. There are vampires living in Purley, trolls hiding under London's bridges, Old Father Thames (a god, no less) living in a caravan somewhere in the upper reaches of the Thames, in dispute with his female counterpart and there's something far more menacing, an entity which takes over ordinary Londoners going about their daily business and turns them into unthinking beings who wreak vengeance on its behalf. Peter and his mentor are all that stands between it and the destruction of the greatest city on earth.
The other major characters, especially Thomas Nightingale, are every bit as well drawn as Peter. Thomas, in particular, though a wizard is very much human and he behaves as a human (and a policeman!) and the magical elements are merely an add-on to his persona. He's been around a lot longer than many, something which Peter picks up during the course of a conversation when Nightingale lets slip that he was alive in 1914. Nightingale merely says, 'I'm a lot older than I look.' He's an intriguing character and a wonderful foil to the less savvy Peter.
I suppose all writers in the course of their career are influenced by other writers and there are certainly elements within this book which give the nod to the likes of Terry Pratchett, Jasper Fforde and Neil Gaiman but it's also unique in its plot and construct and I absolutely loved it. I'm not sure how well this story would translate internationally because there are quite a few very British references which might leave foreign readers a little perplexed. I can't think many would know who Dixon of Dock Green was. This is a wonderful blend of humour, drama, fantasy and realism and I'm sure the story would appeal to even those who eschew fantasy in all its many forms. Personally, I can't recommend this novel highly enough. I'm not saying it's perfect but it isn't far off and I'm very pleased to report that currently there's a sequel, Soho Moon and the third in the series, Whispers under Ground is due for publication later this year.
Rivers of London
Published by: Gollancz
Price: £3.99 (paperback) £4.99 (Kindle edition)
Other books in the series:
2. Moon over Soho
3. Whispers under Ground (published June 2012)
Review also posted on Ciao under the same user ID