Monday, 7 September 2015

Review: 'Rivers of London' by Ben Aaronovitch

My name is Peter Grant. Until January I was just another probationary constable in that mighty army for justice known to all right-thinking people as the Metropolitan Police Service, and to everyone else as the Filth. 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 a man who was dead, but disturbingly voluble, and that brought me to the attention of Chief Inspector Nightingale, the last wizard in England. And that, as they say, is where the story begins.

Now I'm a Detective Constable and a trainee wizard, the first apprentice in fifty years, and my world has become somewhat more complicated. I'm dealing with 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 that's just routine. 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. Which, I don't mind telling you, would involve a hell of a lot of paperwork.

As a born-and-bred northerner I’ll admit I had doubts about how much I’d enjoy a book centred entirely around the life and culture of London . . . but against all my natural instincts I found myself completely charmed by Rivers of London.

Actually, perhaps ‘charmed’ isn’t quite the right word; rather, being whisked along on this peculiar journey down unfamiliar streets has left me blinking and befuddled – in a good way. Rivers of London is refreshing in that it never pretends to be anything other than it is: a shamelessly daft, irreverent and slightly ridiculous story told through a funny and engaging first person narrator.

Peter Grant is a regular dogsbody in the London Met until, in the face of all probability, he’s informed that “yer a wizard, ‘arry!” and roped into joining the hidden arm of the police dealing with cases of supernatural lawbreaking. Grant’s first case as a real copper is to find out who – or what – is snatching bodies and forcing innocent people to do unspeakable things. One of the first things that stands out about the book is that Aaronovitch doesn’t shy away from violence and swearing: both are fairly prolific, yet fitting with the characters and circumstances, and the swearing never feels gratuitous despite being used largely for humorous effect.

The plot of Rivers of London is enjoyably bizarre and for the most part very entertaining. There are moments of disjointedness where it feels as though the story may be losing its thread, but it always picks up again and for the most part skips along smoothly. The novel’s irreverent tone and down-to-earth characters go a long way towards combating stereotypes, as does the author’s self-awareness of the clichés he is drawing on (cue sarcastic comments and humorous Harry Potter references). To his credit, though, Aaronovitch mostly steers clear of clichés and tends instead to go for the unexpected. Ghosts? Yep, they’re real, only they’re a lot chattier and, well, cockney-er than you’ve ever seen them before. The goddess of the river Thames? She’s a Nigerian woman with a huge family and a fondness for custard creams. And the villain? Well, I won’t say anything about them, except that I never saw that coming. The way the protagonist just goes along with it all, resigning himself to his fate with a sigh, actually makes the magical aspects feel normal and totally credible: every time something new happens, be it a nest of vampires or a time-travelling ghost, instead of rolling their eyes the reader just shrugs and thinks, ‘oh, okay, cool.’

Rivers of London is a lot of fun. I can already tell the books in this series are going to be the sort of fast, fun reads that I can turn to whenever I need rescuing from a reading slump, or as a reprieve after reading something tome-ish. I get the impression that Rivers of London has barely scratched the surface of Aaronovitch’s crazy world, and I’m really, really excited to get my hands on book two, Moon Over Soho.


1 comment:

  1. This is one of my favorite urban fantasy series and it only gets better! I literally can't wait for the next book and will probably buy it from Book Depository and get it shipped over this November (UK release) instead of waiting for it to come out in the US next year, lol.

    ~Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum