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January 13th, 2011, 10:45 AM #1
Rivers of London/Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch
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.
January 13th, 2011, 11:02 AM #2
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.
February 5th, 2011, 05:12 PM #3
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:
Really want to read this one, but just nice to see good things being said about it so far.
February 6th, 2011, 05:15 PM #4
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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.
February 6th, 2011, 05:33 PM #5
February 6th, 2011, 06:04 PM #6
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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....
February 7th, 2011, 10:24 AM #7
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.
February 7th, 2011, 10:26 AM #8
These freaking products should have a disclaimer warning the consumers: "WARNING: WE AMERICANIZED THE **** 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 by Bastard; February 7th, 2011 at 10:29 AM.
February 7th, 2011, 10:32 AM #9
@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.
February 7th, 2011, 10:48 AM #10
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 by Bastard; February 7th, 2011 at 10:54 AM.
February 7th, 2011, 11:51 AM #11
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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'.
March 22nd, 2011, 11:48 PM #12
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:
Peter Grant is a wonderfully believable rookie cop. Hes not cool or terribly exciting really more of a bland guy that may not be suited for police work, but at least he has a sense of humor about it. But when he discovers that he may have a talent for magic he gets a bit cocky and over confident not very much, but enough to make him feel even more real. In short, hes the sort of guy thats easy to cheer for. And I really enjoy the extra bit that Peter is a bit of geek, making Midnight Riot just self-aware enough to be extra amusing.
So, Im jumping on the bandwagon with this Midnight Riot/Rivers of London is a great read. Sure, you dont want to think too much about it because it all may just fall apart, but it is a fun take on the supernatural detective and captures the atmosphere of London wonderfully. This pulp-ish urban fantasy has a bit of an old-school vibe just how I like it.
March 23rd, 2011, 05:35 PM #13
March 23rd, 2011, 05:47 PM #14
March 23rd, 2011, 06:03 PM #15
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.