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.