Urban fantasy that I read and love, that of Jim Butcher, Kelley Armstrong and others, tends to be American. American in terms of the author and setting, but also in terms of the feel of the book and the prose. This is fine, but it often leaves me feeling a little left out, thanks to references to places or people that I have never heard of. I think that is how Ben Aaronovitch feels as well. But with his latest book, Rivers of London, he has turned the tables.
Rivers of London is a murder mystery, urban fantasy style, and does a cracking job at mixing magic and monsters with good old fashioned policing. What makes it unique, however, is the London-centric writing, where the big smoke is as much a character as anyone else...
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 (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.
So, London as a character. This really is the case. Barely a page goes by before Aaronovitch mentions a place, a building or a shop name, trying to keep you completely aware of our hero's position. This is fine for most Londoners, and those of us who are familiar with the layout of the city, but I'm certain it would become a nuisance for people who do not. Why, for instance, can't we just be told that he gets off the tube near St Paul's Church, rather than telling us that he gets off the tube at Covent Garden, which is on the Piccadilly line, between Leicester Square and Holborn?
Still that is only a small gripe, and there are not that many others. Yes, the characters do tend to accept the existence of magic a little easily, and yes there is a distinct lack of actual fireball & lightning magic taking place, but these things do not take away from the fact that Rivers of London is a genuinely intriguing book, with a fun and bloody story.
Our hero is a little wooden, although likeable, as is his best friend Leslie, but many of the supporting characters such as the mysterious Molly - housekeeper and some sort of demonic entity - and the river spirits like Mother Thames and Beverly Brook, more than make up for this. There's also a trusty dog sidekick, which is always welcomed!
It is not an epic, nor is it a must read, but it is good fun and well worth a look. There are more books in the series, which will be released quickly throughout the year, and I for one will await them eagerly.
Order your copy of Rivers of London from Amazon UK