Over the last few days I picked up and put down two or three books from Grete’s insane to-read pile, reading the first 10 or 15 pages, trying to find something to peak my interest. I tried a little bit of sci-fi, a little bit of fantasy and even some survival horror. However, it took only six pages of Rivers of London to know that I was hooked and that this was the lucky winner in the ‘what will Tony read next’ competition.
Ben’s writing is engaging, clear and easy to read. His characters are rich from the outset and get more complex as the story goes on, and his take on London Urban Fantasy (should be a sub-genre in its own right) is both unique and compelling.
The book is populated by solid, realistic British coppers, and if Ben hasn’t worked for the police it would seem he certainly has someone on the inside (or, he’s good at research, but that didn’t sound as exciting). The police procedure elements of the story were interesting and provide a good backdrop to the drama. They ground the tale in a believable reality, despite the very rapid introduction of ghosts, wizards and other mythical beings.
Our main protagonist, Constable Peter Grant, discovers very early on that he can see ghosts and sense magic, which is just about all that saves him from a life stuck pushing paper around in the worst part of the police force. He, his friend and fellow copper Lesley May and England’s Last Wizard, Inspector Nightingale, embark on a dangerous murder investigation where the felon is clearly not playing by the same rules.
Although the introduction of magic and ghosts happens quickly, Ben doesn’t dwell on people accepting or disbelieving it all. Instead, we get a stoic acceptance that this kind of thing goes on, and if it goes on, it has to be handled, and if it’s going to be handled, then the Constabulary should be the people to handle it.
The pace is solid, and builds nicely towards the end. There are really two stories going on here, the crime that Peter and Nightingale investigate, but also, the topic the book title alludes to. The involvement of modern day living representations of the rivers of London is unique and one of the things that sets this book apart from what could have been a pastiche of Felix Castor or Harry Dresden.
Throughout the tale we are given hints of a dark past for magic and an agreement, and hence room to grow the back story. We also get clear hints that Inspector Nightingale is more than he appears to be. We barely scratch the surface of the mystery of the Folly and its even more mysterious maid, Molly.
Added to all of this, Ben Aaronovitch clearly doesn’t shirk away from putting his major characters at risk, and I’ll say no more than that so as not to spoil anything.
I described this book on twitter as “like blancmange with a severed finger in it – light and fluffy but filled with gore“. The scenes are vivid, the magic is believable, the characters are engaging, rich and well thought out, and there are some really clever scenes. Rivers of London is a superb example of what urban fantasy is all about. You will not be disappointed.