Tuesday, 13 August 2013

June 2013 - Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch is a crime novel set in London, with a difference – the difference being that DC Peter Grant has just found himself the newest recruit of a secret magical branch of the Metropolitan Police.  Blending urban fantasy with crime procedural, the novel follows Peter as he investigates a series of grisly murders in the heart of London’s Covent Garden, takes an eyewitness account from a ghost and meets Thomas Nightingale, gentleman wizard and investigator who’s keen to show him the real magic that lies within London’s streets.  And if that’s not enough he’s also got to sort out a growing turf war between two tribes of water spirits on opposite sides of the Thames.

Most of the group found this book an easy and enjoyable read. They enjoyed the fact that whilst it is a fantasy book, it was still very grounded in reality. We were all quite pleased to see that the day-to-day aspects of police work were not glamorised as they can be in some crime novels. The characters, bar the slightly more outlandish ones, were all very average, down to earth people you’d meet on the street. Those members who read fantasy, enjoyed the book and even those who didn’t normally dip into the genre, found parts interesting. Many of us enjoyed the sense of humour within the writing and the witty dialog and observations made by DC Grant. However a few of us felt that sometimes the dialog, particularly the swearing, was a little forced.

One thing we did like was that the author didn’t shy away from the multi-cultural aspects of his setting. His protagonist Peter Grant is mixed race and many of his characters are people of colour and varied ethnic backgrounds, but they are never reduced to stereotypes. You can tell the writer has a strong grasp of both his setting and the people that populate it.

Many of us felt that the author got carried away with the two separate plot lines running through the book. Some people really loved the “Spirits of the Thames” and how each of them represented their own area of London. Oxley was very posh and suburban, whereas Mama Thames was more urban. A lot of us really liked the character of Beverley, a gobby, feisty, black teenager that takes a bit of a shine to Peter. Most of us thought, based on the title, that the Rivers plot would form the main part of the book, but were disappointed it didn’t.

Instead the focus was mainly on the string of gruesome murders that are somehow linked to the children’s puppet show “Punch and Judy.” Most of us remembered Punch from childhood, but many of the group had no idea how gory and disturbing the original tale is. Many of us found one particular incident involving a child pretty horrible. Where the author lost many of us was when he brought in the idea of people’s faces changing shape. Whilst many of the group were able to buy into the idea of the magic, we felt the idea of people’s faces moving and changing shape was a little too outlandish in the midst of the book’s more grounded aspects.

At the time we were reading the novel, in a strange kind of synchronicity, London was in a state of turmoil following the Woolwich murders. The group remarked on the strong sense of place within the book. It couldn’t really be set anywhere else. London is such a melting pot of cultures and histories and so many different kinds of people all living on top of one another. You can tell the writer has done plenty of research and really loves the city. Although one reader felt the research was too heavy sometimes and threatened to get in the way of the story. It was almost as if the author was trying to throw too much in at once and needed to follow the plot through.

We all agreed the theme of the book was that we all choose how we react in a bad situation and that when we let our own anger and prejudices spill over into micro aggressions, people can get hurt. Many of us were struck by the scene in which Peter is squashed in on the Underground, surrounded by others and gouded by an evil spirit to take his anger out on people. Many of the victims in this novel are fuelled by frustrations that are played upon. Members of the group remarked on how easy it can be to “flip out, but at any given moment we can choose how we react and what we do can change a whole life.” You could see the author saw the city as a potential “tinder box” waiting to ignite. One reader was particularly struck by the image the author had of Londoners “growing together like spots of mould on a petri dish.” The city is a teaming mass of mixed cultures and traditions all in one place.

Because Rivers of London is the first book in an on-going series, some of us felt the ending didn’t give enough closure for some of the characters, particularly Peter’s fellow officer Leslie May whose fate many of us were concerned about. One member felt that despite the book being part of a series, the plot should still be self-contained, without too much left hanging. A number of the group said they would plan to read the rest of the series and some had already started the second book “Moon Over Soho” to find out what happens next.

The book was enjoyed overall with the average score being 7/10.

The lowest score was 4. The highest score was 8.

Write up by Kelly.

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