I have been planning a book rec post about Rivers of London for a while now, but I am starting to suspect I missed the boat big time — most people I know seem to have already read and loved the series. It was recommended to me by a friend in the UK who was so confident I’d like it that she sent me the first two novels by post from the UK. If that is not friendship, what is?
Despite this incredible endorsement I put off reading the stories for ages. Some of it was because I was working on Thorns and Fangs and I am ridiculously single-track when writing. Another reason is that I am equally intimidated by book recs and contrarian in nature. The more I get told to do something, the less I want to do it (for example, I have not seen a single Marvel superhero movie because everyone insists I will enjoy them. Stupid? Very. But who knows — maybe in a few months I will be writing a blog post about Iron Man and why everyone needs to watch it). But I finally bit the bullet while back in NZ, and wow — I fell hard and fast for Ben Aaronovitch’s incredible characters, amazing world building and twisty plots.
Rivers of London expertly blends urban fantasy and police procedural. I like to think of it as Harry Potter for grown ups. The series starts with Midnight Riot, and follows Constable Peter Grant as he discovers the existence of the Folly, the branch of the London Metropolitan Police dedicated to investigating magical crimes, and then doubles its personnel by joining it. With his friend and fellow officer Lesley, Detective Chief Inspector Nightingale, Molly and Toby (ghost-sniffing dog), Peter attempts to balance policing and Latin study, as he learns magic and tries to end a chilling series of nonsensical murders.
I’m in that weird place where I don’t want to say too much so I don’t spoil it. Aaronovitch does an amazing job of bringing not only the city of London to life, mingling modern observations with historical facts, but its rivers — the personification of the rivers of the title producing some of the series most memorable characters — Mama Thames, Beverley and Lady Ty — and grounding his magic in a historical and scientific tradition. The history geek in me loves the historical references sprinkled throughout the series. I sympathise with Peter’s Latin learning from first-hand experience. The kiwi in me appreciates the All Blacks reference and the angry New Zealand nurse. And as a traveller, I got itchy feet reading about Aaronovitch’s London.
This is not an M/M series so you may be wonder why I’m recommending it. Peter is straight and in the course of the series has one doomed romance, a lot of thrwarted sexual tension and finally what I really, really hope will be an ongoing romance — but I will still recommend it to readers of this blog! The romance is second to plot and character development. More, Aaronovitch’s cast is diverse in addition to strongly written and beautifully characterized, but the book presents this as a consequence of being set in London rather than ticking boxes. I really appreciated that aspect of Aaronvitch’s world building — it felt intelligent and sensitive. It acknowledges prejudice but doesn’t let it prevent the characters from doing what they need to.
Writing an engaging novel is hard work, but following it up with a sequel that isn’t derivative and lives up to it is even harder. So the fact that every one of the books in the series continues to deliver comes down in a large part to how Aaronovitch produces meaningful consequences for his characters choices and actions. This means that reading them is not always comfortable — there are some heart breaking moments along the way. I am now thoroughly invested and impatiently waiting for (and simultaneously dreading) the next book — The Hanging Tree, due out in June 2016.