Midnight Riot (U.S. title) or Rivers of London (U.K. title) is the first installment in an urban fantasy series starring Peter Grant, a probationary constable. When his ghost whispering skills prove useful in the latest series of murders, Peter catches the attention of England’s last wizard, Inspector Nightingale, and finds himself immediately promoted. Now Peter just has to figure out why seemingly normal folk are committing senseless, brutal crimes that end with the victims’ faces falling off. That, and learn how to wield magic.
The author, Ben Aaronovitch, clearly took pains to research the ins and outs of the London police force. As an American civilian, I may be unqualified to opine as to the accuracy of the representation, but I found it thoroughly convincing. The realistic day-to-day details provide a nice backdrop of verisimilitude amidst the supernatural.
Aaronovitch’s style of writing is breezy and effortlessly humorous. He’s got an ear for quippy but realistic dialogue. He can pay tribute to theater and poke fun at the drama. He’s sensitive to visuals, so much so that as I was reading, I kept thinking that BBC should adapt this as a television series. It’s no surprise, then, that Aaronovitch is a longtime writer for various television shows including a little gem you may have heard of: Doctor Who. If Aaronovitch’s background means that he may have the inside connections to make the Peter Grant television series a reality, I’d be first in line to watch it. The fantasy television world could use a handsome mixed-race protagonist… and the fresh content too, of course.
Diana Gabaldon’s cover praise, that Midnight Riot is “[w]hat would happen if Harry Potter grew up and joined the Fuzz,” is a pithy pitch that will attract many readers, but nothing about Peter Grant reminded me of Harry Potter. Both are British. Both utter Latin words to incant spells. But those are the only connections.
As for the spell incantations, if you assume from this blurb that the magic and supernatural in Midnight Riot are the usual clichéd fare, you’d be wrong. There are hints that the magic could be explained by science, just not the science we know. And the ghosts aren’t, well, exactly ghosts, and they can be as funny as they are deadly, sometimes both at once. The most delightful surprise, however, lies in London’s river deities—as for that, you’ll have to read the book to learn more.
Why should you read this book?
Midnight Riot is a fun and fast read. If you like urban fantasy, Peter Grant injects new life into the genre. If you don’t, this is one to get you started. You won’t even have to wait long for the next book in the series, Moon Over Soho, to be released on March 1, 2011 in the U.S., though Londoners may have to wait longer.
Benni received a review copy of this book courtesy of Del Rey.