Fun books - truly fun books - don’t often come around very often. Usually, these are not books that can be praised for their originality or their literary value but more for things such as their entertainment value or their capacity to keep you coming back for more. Ben Aaronovitch’s first, non-tie-in novel, Rivers of London, is one such book that can be deemed a fun book. The adventures of Peter Grant, police constable and newly-appointed wizard apprentice, are a pleasure to read, the pages of the book being filled with quick pacing, intriguing characters, a gripping wit, and the odd wild card that will throw you off. This is the start of a promising new Urban Fantasy series.
My name is Peter Grant. Until January I was just another probationary constable in that mighty army of 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 hoe 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 Lesley 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 acts 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 of of chaos - or die trying. Which, I don’t mind telling you, would involve a lot of paperwork.
The first thing that struck me in Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London is the vividness of the setting. Anyone who’s ever spent any amount of time will be able to attest to Aaronovitch’s accuracy in describing London’s layout and, more importantly, the feel of it, and those that haven’t been will immediately be taken by immersive quality of the setting. Now, I haven’t ever been a police constable, or none anyone who was, but the novel’s depictions of Peter’s daily life (minus the wizard-apprentice bit) as one ring true and ground the story in a semblance of reality - something, you’ll gather, which is quite important to an urban fantasy.
Aaronovitch handles essentially everything else with the same dexterity. The mordant wit of Peter’s descriptions and the offbeat tone of his voice are perfectly suited to the style of story Rivers of London recounts. His directness adds familiarity to the novel and makes the reader feel included in the story. The fantasy elements are woven into the plot in a way that makes sense, and is complex enough that the reader still has much to discover in further installments of The Folly about the way things work in this magic-filled London.
The characters, in their personalities and function in the book follow the trend of greatness and fun-ness. Peter particularly so, but the supporting cast is far from bad. Chief-Inspector Thomas Nightingale as the mentoring wizard with deep mysteries is a joy to read. Peter’s quirky relationship with his fellow PC-trainee Lesley is uncanny in how realistic it comes across.The rest of the characters, an ensemble of policemen, deities, ghosts and other such fantastical creatures create a colorful and dynamic backdrop t0 which Rivers of London unfolds.
Ben Aaronovitch has certainly entered the fantasy scene with success. Mine is not the first, nor I’m sure will it be the last, praise-filled review his book will receive. But what’s not to love? Rivers of London is that perfect blend of realism and fantasy that manages to feel plausible and still completely whack at the same time from which urban fantasy typically draws much of its strength. If you add to the mix all manner of geek-culture references, from Doctor Who and the X-Files to quirky historical facts or Cthutlu, add some especially engaging characters and you know you’ve got yourself a winner. Give this book a good look. Then pick it up and read it. After that, be sure to check out the next Peter Grant adventure in the second book of The Folly, Moon Over Soho, to be published in April.
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Reading Age: 16 and up
Ben Aaronovitch's Website: http://www.the-folly.com/
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