Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Book Review - Rivers of London

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 (and 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.
(source: Amazon)

Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London fell into my hands after a friend highly recommended it to me. It is the first book in the Peter Grant series of urban fantasy novels. The dust cover quotes Diana Gabaldon saying: "What would happen if Harry Potter grew up and joined the Fuzz."
In a way, I guess, that's true. Only, Harry Potter learned magic when he was young, while Peter Grant is pushing 30 and finds that magic is not as simple as waving a wand and requires many hours of study and concentration. The latter being something I highly approve of, especially the hours poring over Greek and Latin because no one bothered to translate all the books into English.

As a character, Grant is well crafted. He's a bit green and easily distracted, but full of ambition and though his talents are sometimes lacking, his heart is in the right place. His curios nature has further endeared me to this character, as Grant seems to spend almost as much time trying to figure out how magic as a whole works, as he does practising any one spell. Having said that, the whole idea that the "magic subdivision" of the London police force is to be kept under wraps has not quite sunk in for him. While it became pretty obvious early on that most people in the police force (at least higher ranking officers) were aware of the situation, I was surprised that there were no ramification when Grant revealed to his former partner Lesley May that he is a wizard in training. Lesley, also, took it surprisingly well.

The plot begins as a fairly straightforward murder mystery, complicated by the fact that the only witness is a ghost. One death leads to another and before long there is a bit of a killing spree of unprovoked murders in the city with Grant and his new master scratching their heads as to the cause. And as if that were not enough, there is a feud between the god and goddess of the Thames and their many children that Grant must resolve before they take matters into their own hands.

The plot of the book was compelling and made for a fairly quick read. What made it less enjoyable for me was the frequent use of police jargon and slang that I had never come across before and was not always able to pick up from the context of the story. I had also expected to see more of the feud between the Thames gods. Considering that throughout the book Grant is negotiating a truce, the two factions seemed fairly content with their respective situations.

If you read this book expecting Harry Potter you will be thoroughly disappointed. Magic may be part of this world, but the focus stays on the police work with added supernatural elements. The sense of wonder and enchantment that drew me into the the Harry Potter books back in the day is kept to a bare minimum, with most people dismissing  magic or wishing it didn't exist. Even Grant goes at it with the rational, no nonsense, adult mind, which makes encounters with ghosts and river spirits more gritty than enchanting.

All in all I give the book 3 out of 5 stars. It's a good, fast read with a bit of humour sprinkled in and an interesting main character. On the whole, though, I was not endeared to the world and think it unlikely that I will pick up the other books in the series.

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