Rivers of London/Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch

Discussion in 'Fantasy / Horror' started by Werthead, Jan 13, 2011.

  1. Werthead

    Werthead Registered User

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    Peter Grant is a probationary constable in the London Metropolitan Police Force who hasn't decided yet on what branch of the force he wants to serve in. A glorious career in the Case Progression Unit - who do the tedious paperwork other branches don't want - appears to be on the cards until a terrible murder takes places and Grant ends up taking a witness statement from a ghost.

    Assigned to Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale - who deals with all the 'X-Files stuff' no-one else in the Met wants to touch with a bargepole - Grant finds himself tracking down a mystical serial killer with an old axe to grind...

    Rivers of London - published under the somewhat less evocative title Midnight Riot in the USA - is the first original novel by Ben Aaronovitch, better-known to SF fans as a writer on the final two seasons of the original Doctor Who (and as the writer of the excellent Remembrance of the Daleks and its impressive novelization). It's the first in a recurring series featuring Peter Grant and Thomas Nightingale as the Met's supernatural experts, with Moon Over Soho due in just a few months and Whispers Under Ground due early next year. It's a rather lazy comparison, but this looks like it could be the closest we have to a British version of The Dresden Files, with the notable exception that whilst Dresden takes a few books to bed in and really take off, Rivers of London is superb from the very start.

    The book opens with Grant being dragged into the investigation into a spate of killings and random violence erupting across London. This leads him to becoming the apprentice to Thomas Nightingale, both the Met's resident supernatural expert and apparently the last proper wizard in all of Britain. Grant's education in the ways of magic and mysticism is played out in sporadic scenes alongside the developing plot, as he learns how to create balls of light, levitate things around and so forth. This is also an effective way for Aaronovitch to set out the rules of magic in his world: magic generates a sort-of EMP field that reduces silicon components back to their natural state, making it difficult (but not impossible) for magic and technology to coexist.

    Aaronovitch makes the interesting choice to have Grant as someone who is very much aware of the SF&F genre, hence references to things like Doctor Who, The X-Files, the Twilight novels (vampires have a cameo in the book, but no more than that, thankfully), D&D and Cthulu. This could come across as a bit too knowing and a bit too nod-nod, wink-wink, but it actually feels pretty natural and works well. Aaronovitch also has that ability to make the story humourous one moment, dramatic the next and genuinely horrifying the next, spinning the story around and sending it off in a new direction just as you thought you knew what was going on, but always ensuring that everything makes sense.

    The book takes its title from its main subplot: whilst Grant and Nightingale are hunting down the mystical killer, they are also tasked with repairing relations between the warring god and goddess of the Thames, using their tributary stream spirits (personified as the deities' sons and daughters) as intermediaries. This is a clever storyline which personifies parts of London as actual people in a similar manner to Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, and is just as successful. Given that Rivers of London is also the title of the whole series (according to a couple of listings sites, anyway), I'm guessing these characters will return in later books, particularly the Lady Tyburn, whom Peter develops an antagonistic relationship with.

    It's difficult to think of negatives. Perhaps the characters accept the existence of magic a little too readily, and maybe there's a few underdeveloped elements (some more info on Molly would have been nice). Otherwise, the book progresses along at a brisk pace, but is not rushed. Characterisation is strong, and Aaronovitch juggles the humour and horror very well. At one point he even trumps A Game of Thrones to provide the most shocking defenestration in the history of modern fantasy. His depiction of London is also excellent, painting the city and its history with affection without whitewashing the darker parts of its past (or showing any hesitation in reducing well-known streets to warzones). Also, whilst this is a complete novel, Aaronovitch seeds in some unresolved elements for later novels to pick up and develop.

    Rivers of London (****½) is a page-turning, relentlessly entertaining novel which injects some vigour into the urban fantasy subgenre. It's available now in the UK and, under its dubious alternative title, in the USA.
     
  2. Bastard

    Bastard Jack Bauer

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    Very good news. I have Midnight Riot on pre-order, so hopefully it'll reach me as soon as it comes out.

    I really hate when publishers choose to change titles, but I liked the Midnight Riot cover more. In addition, the sequel seems to follow the same style of cover and interestingly enough it's called Moon Over Soho for both UK and US, so in my opinion they would've been better off keeping the original title I think.

    I had already been highly anticipating this, but your good reaction is getting me excited to read this when it comes.
     
  3. Bastard

    Bastard Jack Bauer

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    I'm still waiting for my copy to arrive. Bookdepository books have been taking a while to get here as of late (I just received a book that got shipped on November 24)...

    Anyways, it seems like there are a ton of people reading this book, which is nice to see, particularly in this forum where few read Urban Fantasy overall.

    Here's Mark's review for those of you who haven't noticed:
    http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/686.html

    Really want to read this one, but just nice to see good things being said about it so far.
     
  4. DurzoBlint

    DurzoBlint http://tinyurl.com/363ogv

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    That is probably why I am waiting for my Hamilton book to arrive. I was wondering why it had yet to arrive here.

    I am debating about picking this one up still on the fence. I like the idea but trying not to buy too many books this year and instead concentrate on what I already have on the old pile. It is starting to tempt me though.
     
  5. Bastard

    Bastard Jack Bauer

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    Maybe wait until the sequel is out and see how the response is? It should be out within a month I think.
     
  6. Hobbit

    Hobbit Now.. A Seriously Likeable Administrator Staff Member

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    Yeah: unlike Wert (at least based on what's above!), I had issues, but I suspect once the series settles it could be a good 'un.

    As I said in the review, I'm interested to see what non-genre readers think. I suspect this one'll be bought as an access point to Urban Fantasy: not as sexy as Dresden, not as nasty/dark (in a good way) as Felix Castor, not as slushily (or steamily!) romantic as... well, take your choice!

    I just feel Ben needs to rein in some of his excesses: there were missteps that pricked the balloon of disbelief I was attempting to inflate....

    Mark
     
  7. kcf

    kcf Nobody in Particular

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    Almost finsished with this - I'm enjoying it. I'll probably fall between Hobbit and Wert somewhere in my opinionl. I will say that the 'Americizing' of it of the US audience didn't do any of the book any favors. The title change alone is pretty horrendous, but it really jerks you right out of the atmosphere of London when they change things like football to soccer.
     
  8. Bastard

    Bastard Jack Bauer

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    I wasn't aware of those changes, now I'm very disappointed of getting Midnight Riot instead of Rivers of London. The only reason I went with Midnight Riot was because I liked the cover better and the sequel seems to be following that theme.

    These freaking products should have a disclaimer warning the consumers: "WARNING: WE AMERICANIZED THE SHIT OUT OF THIS BOOK". And I have nothing against Americanization, I'm just a firm believer in doing my reading as intended originally.
     
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2011
  9. kcf

    kcf Nobody in Particular

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    @Bastard - it's a pretty standard practice to scrub books as they cross the pond. In the least they convert American English to/from Queen's English (usually just spelling), but they often will mess around with the colloquialisms of language - which it felt like they did more with this book than many others (such as a China Mieville novel). I think things suffer a bit for it.
     
  10. Bastard

    Bastard Jack Bauer

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    I know it's standard practice overall, it just bothers the heck out of me in some instances. I follow a lot of manga and anime, and I'm well acquainted with the heavy editing that goes on. It's just disappointing.

    I mean, I don't mind changing some words like colour to color, or things of that nature. But as you mention, the setting is London, then they should at the very least keep the terms as a Londoner would use them.

    But it doesn't always stop there, sometimes they start changing character names, which leave me perplexed as for the reasoning.

    I'll just leave it at that, I just think that even if it's standard practice, the consumer should be made aware of any alterations of the original because it's not always of significance, which really is the problem since there's inconsistence in the practice.

    The practice is not limited to Americanization though, everyone in the world does it as a practice which they figure would make the product more sellable, which I fully understand, just wish there was more transparency with the consumer on what that person is actually buying.

    But whatever, funny thing is that if I wasn't made aware of the changes I probably wouldn't have cared. Damn internet. And didn't mean to use this thread for this discussion, so I won't post more on the matter here. Just needed to let it out of my system.

    Let's keep talking about how awesome Rivers of London is.
     
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2011
  11. Hobbit

    Hobbit Now.. A Seriously Likeable Administrator Staff Member

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    Actually B, I think it's a really good point: regularly do I find UK editions with US spellings/mannerisms, unaltered.

    It's usually too expensive (or perhaps too much bother) to change them.

    Most of the time I can live with it.

    However, in a book set in London, I would've thought you'd need to retain much of the English (as opposed to the American) to maintain that sense of 'being there'.

    Mark
     
  12. kcf

    kcf Nobody in Particular

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    And I've got the review done now after quite a while. All my issues with the US version aside (which include Americanization and cover art white-washing that I go into on the blog), this is a fun novel that I don't hesitate to recommend.

    An excert is below:

     
  13. KatG

    KatG The Bony Hand of Death Staff Member

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    I hate that. Why do they still do that? It's so stupid.

    How funny is it? Is it very funny, Doctor Who funny or Dresden funny?
     
  14. kcf

    kcf Nobody in Particular

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    Well, I honestly can't say since I don't watch Doctor Who and haven't read Dresden. But, Aaronovitch is a writer who has written for Doctor Who, so I think you can get an idea.
     
  15. Bastard

    Bastard Jack Bauer

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    Still waiting for my Moon Over Soho copy to arrive so I can read these two together. As for whitewashing the cover, I don't know if that's what was actually done though I agree that it sucks when it happens. In this case I'm going to give a bit of the benefit of the doubt since I actually think that the silhouette looks more fitting with the art of the cover.

    But then you start to think, with the extent they seem to have gone to Americanize the novel, whose to say that their intent wasn't to whitewash it? But whatever.

    For those that don't know, there's already a third book under way titled Whispers Under Ground, looks to be released on October/November.
     
  16. Bastard

    Bastard Jack Bauer

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    My Moon Over Soho book arrived a couple of days ago, so I finally managed to read Midnight Riot, finished yesterday.

    I liked it quite a bit, though it was a bit different than I was expecting. It's heavy in the procedural aspect, a bit slow with the pace, but very well written and attention to detail, particularly as it regards the city of London and it's history, as well as the police structure.

    I'm not so sure if a British Dresden Files really fits to describe this book, and I can't say in all honesty that if you like the Dresden Files then this would be an automatic read for you. I thought them different enough. Harry is to Urban Fantasy what Jack Bauer is to action tv, and I don't see Peter Grant built in that mold.

    And certainly, the comedy is different.

    But enough of comparisons, I thought it was very well written, and Peter Grant a very likable character, I do hope he gains a bit more of personality as we go further. Main complaint is that it seems that the book at times falters a bit in narrative energy, and the plot gets a distracted a times. I did like how they use magic here though, looking forward to see how the aspect develops. I thought it a bit too dry in the dramatic/emotional department at times, but no biggie for me.

    Started Moon Over Soho this morning, and so far so good. It picks up not long after the end of Midnight Riot/Rivers of London. Any of you started/read Moon Over Soho yet?
     
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2011
  17. SLASH

    SLASH Registered User

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    I was wondering if it was only happening to me :). Never received two books that were shipped the end of february. They said they were gonna sent replacements but where can u see that ?
    Hope this isnt't gonna be a standard thing. Any othere good bookshops online :) ?
     
  18. Sam Allardyce

    Sam Allardyce Registered User

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    I enjoyed Midnight Riot and I didn't get the sense it had been Americanized. I seem to remember a lot of British idioms and cues like the old guy (real old) in charge of Peter's department reading the Telegraph (the old codger's paper in the UK).
     
  19. Bastard

    Bastard Jack Bauer

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    My books have been getting quicker as of late. I think the delay was mainly due to it being holiday season + me ordering a bunch of books at the time. And of course, they're shipping from across the world, so I really can't put too much blame in there being delays. And really, most of the shipping problems are about things they have little control over once they give it to the shipping companies. All companies have problems with shipping in some form or another. At least customer service is great with BD, and they send replacements when adequate without any hassle or offer refunds.

    Lately I've been trying to order from Barnes and Noble since I'm getting good prices with their coupons + shipping in orders of $25 of more.

    I still get good prices from BD particularly with pre-orders on mass paperbacks ($5.99), but other than that they're not providing any longer the vast advantage in pricing they used to have, particularly with hardcovers.

    Other than the "soccer" problem depicted above, I found it same as you. No problem with the level of Americanization with me.
     
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2011
  20. Werthead

    Werthead Registered User

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    Book 2: Moon Over Soho