Sunday, 7 July 2013

Book of the Week: Rivers of London

"Being a seasoned Londoner, Martin gave the body the "London once-over" - a quick glance to determine whether this was a drunk, a crazy or a human being in distress. The fact that it was entirely possible for someone to be all three simultaneously is why good-Samaritanism in London is considered an extreme sport - like base-jumping or crocodile wrestling."

I apologise for neglecting my blog a little this week, but it isn't without valid reason, I assure you! I'm a huge tennis nut, so Wimbledon has taken over my life a little bit this past week or so. And for the first time in 77 years, a Brit has won!! Yay for Andy!! I'm looking rather like the Cheshire Cat at the moment, but now it's high time that I get back down to business! So, without further ado...

Not really an all time favourite (yet), and more a favourite of the moment, the Peter Grant series by Ben Aaronovitch was one that I hadn't encountered before last year, when I received the first book, Rivers of London, as a birthday present. Having never heard of it before, I must admit that I wasn't all that excited to read it, although the premise of the story sounded an intriguing one. However, I hate to leave a book unread, so I settled down to read a couple of pages and before I knew it, I was on Amazon ordering the rest of the series for next day delivery. Clearly the friend that bought it for me knows me oh so well. 

Described as "what would happen if Harry Potter grew up and joined the fuzz", Rivers of London tells the story of Peter Grant, a young police officer who gets the shock of his life when the only witness to a grisly London murder approaches him at the scene... and leaves through a wall. He is, of course, a ghost and is the first of many encounters that Peter will have with the supernatural. Beginning his new life as a member of the Folly, a top secret branch of the Metropolitan Police Service, he attempts to solve the mystery of the malicious unknown that is disfiguring and killing his fellow Londoners, as well as settling territory issues with the major London rivers (yep, rivers are people too, you know), and trying to get a handle on his newly discovered magical powers (think, "yer a wizard, 'Arry").

Admittedly, the concept of the book has been explored many a time before now. There are plenty of instances where some ordinary folk are subject to extraordinary happenings, forcing them to discover their destiny as a part of the previously invisible supernatural world. But there's something about this one that sets it apart. Maybe it's the immense detail and the effort clearly visible behind every aspect of the book, the originality of the story itself, or the dry, somewhat ironic sense of humour that is prominent throughout, I don't know. One thing's for sure, I could not put this book down.

Firstly, I'm a huge fan of Aaronovitch's dry, pithy humour. Read it for that alone. Peter Grant is quick to question everything about his new life as the apprentice to the last wizard in England, and as a result, there are rather more than a few fantastic one liners and quippy anecdotes. As well as this, Peter and Inspector Nightingale's detective/sidekick combo makes the perfect recipe for some hearty laughs. 

As well as this, I love how passionate the author is about the landscape in which he sets his tale: London. I find myself in London a lot of the time, and to see the city so vividly captured on the page as detailed as it is in reality is a wonderful thing. The picture he paints is so accurate and well researched, it is clear to anyone who reads it how much Aaronovitch loves the city, and that he has most likely spent a lot of time in all of the places he writes about. It's rare that I find a book where you can really feel the care and tenderness with which it's subjects and settings are treated, and this really is one of the strengths of the Peter Grant series.  Even the cover is adorned with a beautifully detailed and thoughtfully illustrated map of the West End (my favourite part of London). I think there might even be a London Edition of the book for capital city dwellers, but don't quote me on that. In this, and in the entire series, there is a rich factual history which underlies the fiction, not only in location but in character and storyline, entwining reality with fairytale. And it might be my inner history geek talking, but I think any book containing some element of history is all the better for it. 

Finally, and most importantly, it's got wizards! What's not to love about that! In fact, give me anything with an element of fairytale or sorcery, and I'm on board. It has that same Harry Potter quality in the way that it combines the real world with the magical. In this tale, it is explained that magic and science are linked (Sir Isaac Newton was a wizard, don't you know), and the magic is so intrinsically tied to the city itself that I found myself at times thinking that this could all actually be happening. It was a bit like the horribly depressing realisation on my 11th birthday that I must be a muggle, because Hogwarts clearly exists and I didn't get accepted. Let's not dwell on that, though. This book gives you the children's tales that you knew and, let's be honest, still love, and gives them a sinister, less than child-friendly make over. I love that there is still an aspect of childhood to the story, but it is still very much an entertaining adult read. And just wait until you get to the big reveal. I've never loved a murder mystery surprise so much. Trust me, it's one that'll make you gasp and need to read on, even if it is 3 in the morning and you have a job interview the next day - hypothetically speaking, of course.

I have now read all three published books, and loved each one of them. I am eagerly awaiting the release of the fourth, which I've actually just realised will be at the end of this month, so yay! I hope it's just as wonderfully written as the first three gems are. Weirdly, it's called Midnight Riot in the US, and the cover isn't half as appealing (Google it - you'll see what I mean), but put that aside and go pick it up. If urban fantasy is your cup of tea, or any fantasy for that matter, then you'll probably love this one.

Have you read the series? What did you think? What is your favourite London based fantasy? Let me know!


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  1. I really enjoyed reading your review! I love London-based literature, so this was really interesting. :)


    1. Thank you! =) You'll love it if you love London literature, it's so detailed and so current. I love reading it and thinking, 'I know where that is!' Such a novelty! xx