Thursday, March 7, 2013

Book Review: Rivers of London

There is nothing like feeling late to the party. I'm quite used to it with films, as we don't get to the cinema very often and consume a large amount of TV via the medium of the Box Set, but I like to think I'm moderately up to date with books and authors that I would like. So when my Mum, of all people, passed me a copy of Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London, because I would like it, I was slightly skeptical. After all, surely I'd have heard it mentioned by now. And then I mentioned them on twitter, and a bunch of people relied to say that yes, it was brilliant, and how come I hadn't read it already?

So yeah, another party, still late.

In some ways, Rivers of London is hard to categorize. I guess you'd call it "Urban Fantasy" but in structure and tone it feels more like a crime thriller crossed with Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency. Peter Grant is a London cop, just graduating, when he's recruited into a small department - very small, as he doubles its membership - that deals with magical crime. A series of strangely violent murders are playing out across the city, the spirits of the Upper and Lower Thames are in dispute, and Peter finds himself thrown into the deep end. Sorry, couldn't resist.

Straight off the bat, it has the witty, light tone that draws you in. The characters are charming and likeable, and it feels grounded in the mundane world of policemen and criminals, even when magic starts making peoples faces fall off, and the odd supernatural entity makes an appearance. Its is also, on occasionally, pretty damn grim, moments that are more shocking because of the lighter authorial voice, without undercutting it. There is at least one moment of out and our horror towards the end that I really didn't expect to play out that way, and its to the books credit.

Story-wise it does sort of meander around a bit and I expected the two main threads (one more world-building, the other more cop-drama) to overlap a little more than they eventually did. Not that its really a problem, given how much fun it is to read, but I'd be interested to discover if the books get tighter as the series continues, and how much of some of that world building is being put in for future use. A fair bit, I suspect, although it is an interesting vision of magic in the modern world, and Peter's analytical approach to it is refreshingly different.

And as a final thought, I am amazed this hasn't been picked up for TV adaptation because surely it wouldn't be that hard to do. Late to the party or otherwise, this was a cracking read and I've rolled straight onto the next one.