Any opportunity to review a book I’ve been wanting to read is a good one. It’s even more of a special event when done for one of my blogging buddies. When TJ of Dreams and Speculation let me do the honors with Ben Aaronovitch’s new Urban Fantasy debut, Midnight Riot, I was excited, but also a bit wary. Apparently, I’ve read more UF than I first realized. As a result, I have become a bit jaded with certain staple tropes over the years. To be frank, I’ve become a little harder to impress and the only person that really loses out in those circumstances is me. It means my imagination has to work harder to believe in the fantastical aspects of books that would otherwise be so much fun. Luckily, Aaronovitch did something clever with his book. He made it humorous. I am all about laughing and feeling good; Midnight Riot made me laugh out loud.
As is the way with things, change is the only constant. I’m sad to announce that Dreams & Speculation is no longer an active blog. While I will miss TJ’s insightful reviews and posts, D&S had a great run. I wish TJ the best. However, the time has finally come for me to post this review here and the book was quite entertaining.
Set in modern day London, the narrative follows protagonist Peter Grant, a Probationary Constable who has dreams of being a detective. His supervisor has other plans and the news is rough: Peter just doesn’t have the focus to be a proper detective. He is too easily distracted, a fault that accidentally works in his favor when a bizarre murder occurs and Peter discovers he can talk to ghosts. Now he’s under the guidance of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale. Nightingale works for an obscure division of the London Metropolitan Police—one that few know about and some try to forget about. Peter’s world is turned supernatural as his training demands hours of studying Latin and magic, visiting local deities, trying to solve a string of mysterious and magical murders that threaten the city, and continually defending how he isn’t Harry Potter to his co-worker.
The first chapter alone had me literally laughing out loud—something that by natural inclination usually seems to be reserved for watching television, films, or socializing. Brilliantly tongue-in-cheek, Peter often times speaks directly to the reader. This conveys a sense of inclusion, that readers are all in on the joke, even if we aren’t knowledgeable about inside jokes referencing specialized information or experiences (e.g. the minutiae of the London Police). In those instances, Aaronovitch does a good job of helping us along; I never once felt confused or out of place. The opening scene, which seems to contain all of these things, sets the tone for the rest of the novel. It’s dark, strange, and disturbing, but equally humorous as Peter reacts to the extraordinary world unfolding before him.
At times, Peter and Nightingale are so vivid, I could easily visualize the latter’s long-suffering sigh in the following scene with Leslie, a fellow member of the London police:
”So magic is real[…]Which makes you a…what?”
“Like Harry Potter?”
Nightingale sighed. “No,” he said. “Not like Harry Potter.”
With the occasional Harry Potter and Star Wars jokes thrown in, and a quirky cast of secondary characters (Molly was the most intriguing), Midnight Riot (originally published as Rivers of London in the UK) is a light, fast-paced mix of mystery, myth, and fantasy. Fortunately, I don’t think we’re meant to find Peter the most loving of characters. The few (in the literal sense: 3 or 4 instances) disparaging remarks about women are either straight from him or from an entirely unlikable Detective Sergeant as to put each into perspective and not reflect poorly on the novel as a whole. For example, Peter’s sexualization of Leslie, a woman who he admits he has feelings for even if they aren’t necessarily of the romantic sort all of the time, is limited to him and under the circumstances within the scope of his character.
As for the title change, I’m always skeptical when publishers decide to do this. Foreign titles are subject to poetic license; one phrase or word in one language won’t convey the same meaning when translated literally. Rivers of London, the UK title for Midnight Riot not only has more narrative significance, but contains nothing inherently alien that the novel doesn’t already explain for non-London or England based readers. Mother Thames, Father Thames and all of their children are integral to the plot and conceptually understandable, even if one is not looking directly at a map. I’m probably biased, but I am slightly bothered by this (the cover was also changed; I will let you guess which I prefer). I also realize I may be in the minority. The average reader will probably never know about the changes or if they do, may find them inconsequential.
Title and cover change aside, Midnight Riot is fun and fresh, revitalizing certain aspects of the UF mythos without falling into tried patterns of folklore many novels in the genre use over and over. I was pleasantly entertained and look forward to reading the next.
Release Date: February 1, 2011
Reviewed Format: Mass market paperback provided by Dreams & Speculation for review.