Author: Ben Aaronovitch
Series: Yes, #1
UK Publisher: Gollancz
UK Release date: January 2011
Genre: Contemporary paranormal
After 2 years in the police force as a probationary constable, Peter Grant is facing a future career of humdrum paperwork and filing; until he meets the sole witness to a brutal murder. It’s just a shame the witness is a ghost and he’s the only person that can see him. But as Grant discovers, the Metropolitan Police Service has a special ‘arrangement’ for paranormal activity within the capitol: namely Detective Chief Inspector Nightingale. Taking Grant under his wing as an apprentice wizard, he is led into a world of magic, mayhem and plenty of mischief.
Review: Right from the start Aaronovitch’s distinctive writing style grabbed me; Grant’s narrative has been written with humour, wit, and a real sense of personality. Observations and commentary of human behaviour, such as how people behave on public transport, is something we all pay little attention to but notice more on a subconscious level. And by adding these observations into the narrative Aaronovitch makes the story feel real and very true to life.
Grant's narrative does try to maintain a delicate balance between magic and science, which should satisfy readers like myself that need a little 'proof' or theory behind paranormal activity and a bit of natural scepticism to make the magic feel a bit more realistic. The fact that the paranormal elements are also balanced with the crime element, adds more importance to Grant's role and puts him in lots of dangerous situations. Grant in himself is interesting, as well as his role within the police service. He doesn't stick to the rules, he's curious, inquisitive and makes things up as he goes along, which often gets him in trouble. Grant continuously tries to figure out where the magic comes from and how it works, experimenting with magic and sometimes trying things beyond his means. This curiosity and intrigue keeps the plot interesting and helps him get out of a few sticky situations.
With an action packed plot, Grant has a tumultuous start to his new job as apprentice wizard. Skipping easily through ‘quieter periods’ of his training and learning kept a steady pace to the story, leaving the rest full of action, mystery and intrigue.
Rivers of London is richly woven with London’s past and geography, adding a real sense of place and history to the story. Magical elements are also linked into geography in an intriguing way, such as rivers being connected to living embodiments through some mysterious magical force. I did find myself confused at the ‘Punch and Judy’ historical link, but that may because the plot was purposefully filled with mystery and questions.
The characters ranged from normal, honest but likeable Lesley, who was steady and dedicated to her job, to Beverly Brooks, a London river in corporeal form. There was obviously chemistry between Grant and both of these very different women, and I'm intrigued to see where this little triangle goes. I also loved Toby the dog and how he ended up involved in the story and helping investigations. There’s something about a lovable, furry side-kick that I adore in any story.
Combining investigative crime-fighting with magical forces and a witty narrative, Rivers of London has potential to be a great series.