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.
Rivers of London is Aaronovitch’s fun and humourous take on the urban fantasy genre. It’s got a little bit of everything in it, an unsolved murder; magic; alternate history; ghosts and gods. What this novel did well in is combining all these different elements to create an amusing and fresh look into London. However this very same decision means that the story tries to be a bit of everything and in the end none of it made a big impact on me.
Rivers of London follows probationary policeman PC Peter Grant who is working on the streets of London. By chance a ghost gives Peter insights into a mysterious murder and suddenly Peter finds himself assigned to the only wizard in the entire police force. Peter might not the brightest copper but his heart is in the right place. What he lacks in judgement and experience, he makes up for it with hard work. In one scene, Peter has to intervene between two feuding river gods and Aaronovitch uses Peter’s eagerness and awkwardness to great comedic effect. Peter’s voice in the book matches his character perfectly as it really captures the whole fish out of water concept when Peter finds himself thrust into this alternate London that not many people knows about.
While I did enjoy Peter as a character, what failed to impress me was the plot for the book. The first half is wonderful as we follow Peter around, discovering a whole new side of London that few people knew about. We learn that Newton is not only responsible for defining the laws of motion but also that of magic. Instead of building on top of this foundation, the second half focuses on the crime investigation aspect of the novel, which was so dry that I needed a re-read to remind myself how the crime was solved.
Although I wasn’t that impressed with the plot, I did find Peter’s narration charming and the interaction between Peter and Inspector Nightingale more than makes up for the disappointments. I think the Rivers of London/Peter Grant series is a bit like the Dresden Files in that it gets better as the series progresses and with each novel sucks you a little further into its world. Rivers of London remains a fun book to read and I’m interested to see how Peter will end up in the later books.