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Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Rivers Of London by Ben Aaronovitch

 
URBAN FANTASY

Now to tackle one of the categories in my Literary Exploration challenge that I was feeling pretty apprehensive about: Urban Fantasy. On initially reading the list of genres I came to realise quite quickly that I wasn't actually sure what Urban Fantasy IS. Fantasy is just not my thing and I'm not at all familiar with its different sub-divisions. I hot-footed it over to Goodreads to have a look at their definition:

"Urban fantasy is a subset of contemporary fantasy, consisting of novels and stories with supernatural and/or magical elements set in contemporary, real-world, urban settings--as opposed to 'traditional' fantasy set in imaginary locations"

This cleared things up somewhat, but it did make me wonder what other sub-classifications exist without my knowledge. Is there a niche in the market for Rural Fantasy - set in "contemporary, real-world" countryside settings? Suburban Fantasy, where wizards and warlocks navigate the school run and visit their local supermarket? The covers of the books on the Goodreads page didn't do much to entice me as there were no titles that I'd ever heard of and they all looked very much on the YA and/or trashy side (oh hello there, inner book snob!). So I was pleasantly surprised when my Dad, of all people, suggested the perfect Urban Fantasy read that sounded very appealing.


Peter Grant is a police constable who is finally coming to the end of his probationary period after putting in the hours pounding the streets of London doing the thankless work of a junior copper. He had his hopes pinned on a gritty and glamorous detective role, but it looks like his bosses have got nothing more exciting planned for him than reams and reams of admin and paperwork. That is, until he gleans a crucial piece of evidence from an eyewitness who happens to be a ghost. After that, the powers that be recognise that Peter may have a raw talent for working with the supernatural, and they appoint him as an apprentice to Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale - a single-handed subdivision of the Met who specialises in solving crimes with a paranormal basis. He expected to be investigating murders as a police officer, sure. He just didn't expect that to do it he'd have to travel back in time or negotiate with the gods and goddesses of the city's rivers.

I really, really enjoyed this. It felt like a breath of fresh air after having read quite a lot of terribly serious books in recent months. The whole thing is light-hearted and really funny, with a distinct brand of dry wit running throughout it. The humour was the best bit about it with loads of great one-liners I wanted to bookmark. It feels like ages since a book has really made me laugh like this. I have been known to turn my nose up at fantasy as a genre, and struggle with more traditional fantasy settings. The fact that this was placed in a more familiar contemporary environment and that the paranormal characters were given distinctly human personalities and realistic qualities made reading Rivers Of London much more palatable to me.

I did think that the plot and the crime itself felt a bit lacklustre.  Maybe this only stood out to me because I am used to reading lots of straight crime thrillers and mysteries, which isn't what Rivers Of London is all about. But it definitely felt as if the mystery was only there as a vehicle to show off Peter's developing magical skills and not as the focus of the book in its own right. It could have done with more detail as I kept forgetting who was who and needed to flick back to remind myself what exactly was going on (which was difficult as this is the first book I have ever read on a Kindle! More on that at a later date!).

I also wonder if a more thorough knowledge of London itself would have led to a greater appreciation of some scenes. Aaronovitch tends to refer frequently to street names or particular London landmarks rather than giving detailed descriptions of the environments the characters end up in. This is fine, but I found it difficult to conjure up a mental image of the places mentioned as I'm not especially familiar with the layout of our capital. 

So all in all, a success for Urban Fantasy! I already have the second and third books lined up and I can't wait to find out what Peter Grant gets up to next. Whether or not you're a fan of fantasy, this will probably be enjoyed by anyone who's in the mood for escapism or simply wants to read something fun.

11 comments:

  1. I really enjoyed this book, it love the blend of humour mixed in with the Urban fantasy. Also he was a complete newbie worked really well. I hope you enjoy the rest of the series, I plan to read them too.

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  2. I saw (on Goodreads) that you were reading this book, and I have been waiting for the review. I ran into this book a while back and just fell in love with the cover. But I resisted the paranormal aspect. Your review has convinced me it is worth a try. I hope that I find a copy and read it someday.

    Great review and I love the part about your father pointing you to the book.

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    1. The cover is great isn't it - but I'm not so much a fan of the US title/cover! I found the paranormal aspect was pitched just right, it's a very accessible read for those who don't usually enjoy fantasy/paranormal elements.

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  3. I also enjoyed Rivers of London when I read it a few months ago (under the less-fitting US title Midnight Riot), though it wasn't a favorite. I really enjoyed the humor, and I thought the plot/world-building was creative, but I think Aaronovich needs to develop his writing skills a bit. But I think a little more practice is all he needs to be pretty darned good. :)

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    1. I completely agree - so I am expecting great things from books two and three in the series!

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  4. I really enjoyed this - still haven't read the next though! Need to catch up.
    Lynn :D

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  5. I agree with your review Marie. I listened to this as an audio book and it did feel like a breath of fresh air. However I didn't think the crime element was that interesting. But the setting was wonderful.

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    1. It's interesting that you listened to the audio version of this - I have a couple of friends who did too and they both found the narrator's voice to be most seductive ('sultry' I think the word possibly was) - would you agree?!

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  6. I read this last year, I think. I had really high hopes for it, but ending up feeling a bit let down. The sequel is actually better, believe it or not!

    Did you ever feel a bit confused? I don't know if I just read it in a dizzy frame of mind or what, but towards the end I had NO IDEA what was going on. I thought it was a great idea but couldn't have been pulled off better. Lacklustre, like you said, is a perfect word for it actually.

    I hadn't thought of it as urban fantasy until you said this, but I suppose you're right. Ah well, not that it matters :)

    New follower! *waves*

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    1. Thanks for stopping by! I had my suspicions that the sequel might be better, so I'm really looking forward to that. It felt a bit like with this one he was concentrating so much on establishing this magical world and illustrating how Peter's skills develop that the actual plot/mystery fell a bit by the wayside. I definitely felt confused at some points! Had to flick back and recap several times. So hopefully with the next one there will be less of that because he won't need to include all the introductory stuff.

      I'm not sure whether this technically is Urban Fantasy, but I am bending the rules of this multi-genre challenge and trying to make the books I already own fit the categories!

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  7. I read this ages ago and have No.2 just sat waiting (impatiently). I really must read it!
    I'm glad you enjoyed this.
    Not sure if there is any such thing as rural fantasy - although the Hobbits did live in the countryside (I'm stretching it a bit there now!).
    Lynn :D

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