Peter Grant is reaching the end of his probation with the Metropolitan Police in London and the time has come to choose a role within that mighty institution. Unfortunately, he seems unsuited to the exciting life of a detective and he is heavily recommended to move into the Case Progression Unit, which spends all its days shuffling paperwork. It may be vitally important to the daily operations of the police force, but he fears that he might die of boredom.
Fortunately, Peter displays a rather unexpected talent for seeing the dead when a ghost approaches him and reports witnessing a strange case of beheading. Rather than gibbering or staying quiet about the details he gathers from his ghostly informant, Peter reveals his encounter and is quickly introduced to Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, the head of a secret branch of the Met that deals with anything decidedly ‘uncanny’. He soon becomes embroiled in trying to catch a strangely familiar murderer with a penchant for hitting people with very large sticks. At the same time he needs to learn to do magic and settle an increasingly heated dispute between Mother and Father Thames.
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I have to admit that one of the advantages of running a book group is that I can occasionally misuse my power to add suggestions from my stupidly long ‘To Read’ list. I was aware that Rivers of London, the English title, had caused quite a stir when it was first published and the reviews of the subsequent titles had only added to my conviction that I needed to read this series. Being a serious fan of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, I was rather hoping that this would be something similar, only with a English feel. I was not disappointed.
Peter Grant is a suitably imperfect hero, who spends too much time thinking about random stuff to really pay attention to the process of police work. He gets hung up on seemingly trivial details and then misses the important stuff that seems blazingly obvious to his best friend, and potential love interest, Leslie. It is no surprise that she ends up working for the Criminal Investigation Division, whilst Peter seems destined to die by a thousand paper cuts. The fact that Peter is not perfect makes him much more appealing and relatable than some heroes, and I certainly appreciated the fact that Leslie is so much better at being a ‘copper’ than he is: I always like a bit of gender equality in my reading.
I was also rather pleased that Peter’s abilities were not as suddenly amazing as those that many heroes display. His progress with magic is slow and somewhat dangerous as he repeatedly sets fire to things and keeps destroying his mobile phone. This allows us to accept the fantastical elements of the storyline much more easily because we take baby steps into this slightly different version of the real world. Of course there are things that are incredibly ‘uncanny’ but we are surrounded by mundane details and so they seem wonderfully possible. However, I rather wish that the editorial team had put a red pen through much of the seemingly endless lists of travelling directions. At times the book did almost descend into feeling like a print out from Google Maps or the recitations of a GPS. They were unnecessarily detailed and were rather distracting to those of us who do not have an intimate knowledge of inner London. This is a minor point, though, and my only criticism of world building that was generally impressive.
The tone of the writing felt very British to me, with Peter displaying a dry humor and sarcastic turn of phrase that had me chuckling away as I read. His relationship with Leslie seemed particularly English, with his forlorn longing and inability to tell her how he actually feels. This lack of self confidence was rather endearing and helped to counteract the fantastical elements of his new found abilities and experiences. However, the very British feel included some cultural references that were rather obscure and caused slight issues for some of the group. They made the wise decision to simply go with the flow, though, so it did not detract from the experience very much.
As the first in a series, there was surprisingly little time spent on extensive world building and very few times that felt like we were being subjected to excessive exposition. This left me with many unanswered questions at the end of the book, although the plotlines reached satisfying conclusions. It left me wanting to move on through the series to see what else is revealed, rather than being frustrated by a lack of resolution or needless teasers.
Whilst some people might be a little uncomfortable with the descriptions of the strange injuries that we encounter, I heartily recommend this title to anyone who wants a good Urban Fantasy with a British feel.