This is going to sound like an insult, but it isn’t: Rivers of London is a mix of the magical and the mundane. But “mundane” here isn’t a bad thing. Think Harry Potter meets The Bill. The end result, with characters throwing spells in one scene then grappling with the modern bureaucratic nightmare of the London police force in the next, is pretty hilarious.
The set-up is pretty standard stuff: Peter Grant is a regular cop who stumbles into a previously undiscovered magical underworld. He’s apprenticed to the mysterious and charming Inspector Nightingale, one of the last of the wizards, who’s formed a complicated working relationship with London’s Bobbys (that’s what English people call police officers, right? Right?).
In between dropping one-liners, Peter gets to work on his first cases: solving a string of deaths caused by a malevolent trickster spirit; and working out a dispute between London’s river spirits. London is, obviously, a big part of the novel, and while it never really achieves “another character” status, the London details threaded through the story add to its charm – Aaronovitch has a clear affection for the city. (Also, kudos to Aaronovitch for attempting to work out the physics behind magic, something many fantasy authors ignore, cough J.K. Rowling cough.)
I do most of my reading on my commute to and from work, and Rivers of London is one of those “Aww, I’m at the office already? I wanna keep reading nooooow“-style books. It’s also the first entry in a series (followed by Moon Over Soho, which I want to read nooooow, and the forthcoming London Under Ground), and it shows. While the A-plot is resolved, most of the lesser-lettered plots are left hanging. Which is a little frustrating, but standard operating procedure nowadays.
PS: In the US this book is called Midnight Riot, and has a cover that cuts back on the whimsy and ramps up the action-packed-ness. Oh, America.