Monday, February 21, 2011

Book Review: Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch (AKA Rivers Of London to you UK folk)

Probationary Constable Peter Grant dreams of being a detective in London’s Metropolitan Police. Too bad his superior plans to assign him to the Case Progression Unit, where the biggest threat he’ll face is a paper cut. But Peter’s prospects change in the aftermath of a puzzling murder, when he gains exclusive information from an eyewitness who happens to be a ghost. Peter’s ability to speak with the lingering dead brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, who investigates crimes involving magic and other manifestations of the uncanny. Now, as a wave of brutal and bizarre murders engulfs the city, Peter is plunged into a world where gods and goddesses mingle with mortals and a long-dead evil is making a comeback on a rising tide of magic.

So MIDNIGHT RIOT by Ben Aaronovitch (also known by the far more apt title RIVERS OF LONDON in the UK)...and what do we have here? The British version of a Dresden File? I’m not a huge fan of comparisons as I’d like the work to stand on its own, but if you’d like something to compare it to, then Butcher’s series is closest (and those of you that know me know that is a GLOWING endorsement as Butcher is my fave author ever). 

This is a fantastic book, and to be honest I’d been looking for some urban fantasy recently, but my tastes are decidedly discerning. Ben Aaronovitch, besides having written a few of the very BEST episodes of DOCTOR WHO, is so good at his craft because he knows how to relate his characters to the world around them.  In as such they not only become believable, but wholly interesting and fun to read about. This book is equal amounts of the magical and supernatural, humour (like pop-culture reference humour that made me chuckle out loud), action, history and mystery. 

Basically, PC Peter Grant WAS looking at a police life working for the Case Progression Unit pushing papers that actual street detectives were altogether too busy to fill out. That was until one evening when he sees a gruesome headless corpse in Covent Garden and the only witness is a 125-year old cockney ghost...whom he can see. From that point on Peter’s life (both professional and personal) changes for the better, sort of. With the help of his new mentor, also London’s last proper Wizard, Inspector Thomas Nightingale, Peter embarks on a journey that shows him that magic is real, gods, goddeses and all other manner of supernatural beasties are as well, and someone is knocking the heads off folk. From the last bastion of British Wizardry, a place called The Folly (Home to British magic since 1775) began by Sir Isaac Newton, the two set out to solve these bizarre murders, while at the same time trying to keep the peace amongst the restless river spirits of the Thames and its tributaries.

Within a few pages I knew I was in for a rollicking ride and I also knew that it did instantly remind me of Harry Dresden. The wit and the charm and the main character making Star Wars, Harry Potter, Doctor who and Twilight references to his comrades who look at him cockeyed. This was a protagonist I could get behind and root for. The other characters within the pages, there is Nightingale of course who is a great mentor character, his maid Molly who it would seem is some kind of night creature, Peter's co-worker PC Leslie May (cute as a button blonde spitfire), Dr. Walid who helps them in the supernatural forensics, and various other kind and not-so-kind characters populate the pages and really do jump off them with all their own voices.These characters give off little bits and pieces of the overall agreements and treaties in place between the magical London and the mundane, but it's never fully explained leaving me tantalized and wanting more in future books!

The pacing is really quick and I found myself racing through it as fast as I could read. One of those “Just one more chapter before bed” kind of books where it’s all of the sudden 3AM and you don’t know how that happened. The story is always enthralling and Peter’s magical education is done not in one clump, but rather alongside the main storylines so as not to stop the momentum and to be honest it really works. I fully believe that after Peter and Thomas had been out for the day investigating the latest supernatural murder, that Peter would then come home to practice spells and learn Latin, Arabic and Greek(the languages in which magic has been written down over the ages). It makes sense actually far more than any magical-education-dump would have at the beginning when Peter first learns of the existence of magic and wizards.

The Britishness within these pages is not overwhelming at all for non-British folks. I might have as slight advantage over others as I have no trouble understanding phrases or words like “on the pull” or “shift” or “Charing Cross Nick” or various other British colloquialisms that I am aware of due to watching so many BBC shows and having a few Brits as friends. That said, these are not as overt as they might be and don’t at all deter from the reading pleasure and in fact just make this book as everyday London as it gets. You know you can read a book about NYC or Chicago and know that it’s taking place there simply because the way people talk and act. Well this is no different and gives you a really nice immersive London experience. Having been there not too long ago I was totally able to place a lot of the areas and streets where the action takes place which only enhanced my experience. 

Fresh, engaging and one hell of a ride, MIDNIGHT RIOT is a book that I totally wasn’t expecting to be as awesome as it ended up being. Aaronovitch has successfully wiggled his way into my rather discerning urban fantasy clique with Butcher, Carey , Briggs and Harrison. Well done sir. If you give this book a shot, I promise you will get so much for your money. This book has everything. A likeable protagonist (a Police Constable & an Apprentice Wizard), a host of fun and interesting periphery characters, some naughty bits, magic, history, action, night creatures, ghosts, revenants, vampires, deities, no-so-deities, magic and technology not liking one another and even a few longer plot threads that I assume are going to show up in further books. Aside from all that, this book is just bloody entertaining!

I’m not sure of the release date of the second book MOON OVER SOHO, but when I find it out I’ll mark it on my calendar, as Aaronovitch has become a “buy it the day it comes out” author for me now.


  1. I found it to be a really good and enjoyable read as well. Per the sequel, I think it's coming in March in the US and in April in the UK. A little odd as it's often the other way around, but whatever. I'm looking forward to it!

  2. I'm hearing excellent things about this book left and right, can't wait to read it!!

  3. @ Benjamin, that's good news. thanks for the info!

    @ Redhead. Yup, this book is every bit as fun as everyone said it was. Great stuff!



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