Series: Peter Grant #1
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Published by Gollancz on 1 February 2011
Rivers of London is an extra special urban fantasy tale of Probationary Constable Peter Grant. It’s so special it even has two titles to cater for both the USA and UK markets – I’ve listed both names and ISBNs. Ben Aaronovitch clearly has affection for London and it is lovingly recreated, albeit with a dash of magic. Peter unfortunately has been drafted into the Case Progression Unit which is a branch that help the police fill out paperwork. The only thing he is likely to die from is boredom. His career takes a 90 degree turn however when he encounters a ghost at a crime scene who gives him exclusive information about a headless corpse. This captures the eye of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale who investigates magic crimes and unusual happenings.
Peter is an interesting character and his multi-racial background definitely has an effect on the people he comes into contact with. He is the son of a white jazz musician father and a Sierra Leone cleaning lady mother and his parents’ backgrounds have a significant impact on the way he approaches life. He learned tenacity from his mother and sticks with magic even though it takes him a long time to learn the most basic of spells. Not content to just believe what he has seen, he turns his scientific (geeky) mind to try to rationalise it. He becomes Nightingale’s apprentice and takes on the role of negotiator between the different factions of the Thames River. He’s not perfect and he stuffs up quite a bit as he and Nightingale use magic and old fashioned police work to solve the crimes. His interactions with the Rivers are particularly amusing although I would have liked more. Women fall into a few distinct categories – some like the Tyburn are feared given their strength while others such as Lesley seem to be taken for granted. It is a bit odd to have them so simplistically drawn when Peter is so well rounded.
This story is told in the first person and so we only have Peter’s interpretations of them – luckily he is a great narrator. The plot does not seem that fast paced because of Peter’s experimentation with magic and info dumps but I can forgive Aaronovitch for that as I enjoyed seeing London through Peter’s eyes. Where the book really shines though is the wry humour that seeps out of every page. The book does tend towards the gritty but Peter just rolls with the punches. No matter what life throws at Peter, I imagine he could meet it after a quick panic, with humour and some equanimity. The climax could have been handled with a bit more emotion as could the denouement.
Rivers of London is a great urban fantasy novel that rolls police detective work and the paranormal world into one. I loved stepping into Peter’s London and will happily do so again.