Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Review of Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch (Gollancz, 2011)

Peter Grant is a probationary constable in the Metropolitan police.  While he wants to become a detective, he’s destined for a career managing paperwork until he’s called to guard the scene of a beheading.  While his colleague, the perky WPC Leslie May seeks out coffee, and he’s trying to shelter from the rain he takes a witness statement from what seems is a ghost.  He heads back the following night to see whether he can find out more and meets Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale.  Nightingale heads up a secret unit that polices supernatural phenomenon.  He offers to take on Grant as an apprentice and to train him in the magical arts of dealing with London’s darker side.  The job has its obvious attractions but also many dangers, including a homicidal maniac seeking to take revenge two hundred years after he himself was murdered, and trying to negotiate a truce between the god and goddess of the Thames.  There’s an awful lot to learn and not much time, but the risk of a premature death is better than a lifetime filling out paperwork.

Rivers of London is a police procedural meets urban fantasy tale set in contemporary London.  It follows the induction of probationary constable Peter Grant into a secret unit within the Metropolitan Police that investigates supernatural events and crimes within the city, and his attempts to negotiate a truce between the warring factions of the god and goddess of the Thames and to halt the murderous actions of a homicidal spirit.  Grant – the son of a mother from Sierra Leone and white jazz player - has an interest in science, but didn’t achieve the grades necessary for University, and instead joined the police force where he seems destined for low-level administration.  Instead, after a chance encounter with a ghost and Thomas Nightingale, the Mets resident wizard, he’s become the sorcerer’s apprentice – a role he’s not entirely suitable for, but is willing to try, especially if it’ll impress his good looking colleague, Leslie May.  Those three characters provide an interesting set of leads and there is a good, cosmopolitan cast.  Other strengths of the story are its dark humour, the snippets of history and geography, and the everydayness of the magic and mythical characters.  The tale starts well, with a nice setup, but the story wanes a little in the middle before picking back-up, and Grant's teenage persona trapped in an adult's body gets a little wearing at times.  Overall, an enjoyable start to the series and I plan to read the next book, Moon Over Soho.

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