The longer that it takes for a book to be released, the less interested I become in reading it. I still get caught up in the excitement of the waiting, in the suspense of the inevitable postponements. For the most part I even purchase them on the day of release, unless the postponements have been so frequent and the new release dates so erratic that I give up and end up buying the book 6 months after it was released. This happened with ‘The Golden Yarn’ Cornelia Funke’s latest in the Mirror World/Reckless Series and the novel that I was intending to review this week. I love the series for its use of various Fairy Tales and the awesome characters, and I was incredibly disappointed when ‘The Golden Yarn’ disappeared from my favourite online bookstores (I don’t buy from Amazon. I have a Complex). I gave up for a few years, only to discover last month that it was published last year. It turns out that Cornelia Funke had a dispute with her editor about the manuscript, got the rights back, and independently published ‘The Golden Yarn’. After years of waiting, I finally have that book in my hot little hands, and I am Not Interested. The writing is good, the characters are as excellent as ever, and yet getting through the second chapter was a trial. I’ll have to reread the first two books to get my excitement back, and I’m frustrated that I have to do that.
The same delay has occurred with ‘Rivers of London’, the book I’m reviewing in place of ‘The Golden Yarn’. The sixth book ‘The Hanging Tree’ was originally slated to be released early in 2015, and then late in 2015, and then early in 2016. My pre-order was automatically refunded after the 3rd date change. ‘The Hanging Tree’ will apparently be released on the 3rd of November, and I’ve started re-reading the series to avoid my usual postponement disinterest. Fingers crossed that it works…
Aaand finally, The Review!
As the first in a series of paranormal crime novels, Rivers of London begins well, with probationary police constable Peter Grant interviewing the witness to a grisly murder…who happens to already be dead himself. As a result of this, Peter is apprenticed to Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, the last known wizard left in England. The grisly murder turns out to be one of a string of assaults and deaths committed by normally benign people, and Peter must work with his friend Leslie – a constable in the murder unit – and Beverley Brooke – the genius loci of a small river in London- to trace the paranormal force behind them.
One aspect of both ‘Rivers of London’ and its sequels that I particularly like is that Peter Grant isn’t an extraordinary gifted wizard/policeman/chosen one. His first attempts at learning magic are almost relatable to anyone trying to learn a new skill, and he frequently makes errors of judgement as he learns to become a better policeman and wizard. It’s nice to see a character learning and growing, instead of having great abilities that they can control almost instantaneously.
The author Ben Aaronovitch also uses a particular method to describe magic, which I find is both incredibly effective as a technique, and super awesome in general. As someone sensitive to magic, Peter can sense vestigium, which is the trace left behind after a magic occurrence, or on an individual who is very strong magically. Synaesthesia – a condition in which experiencing one sense, such as sight, results in experiencing additional senses such as scent or touch – is used to show this effect. As a result the book is full of interesting descriptions such as the following, when Peter meets the Genius Loci of the River Thames:
‘One beautifully manicured hand rested on a side table, at the foot of which stood burlap sacks and little wooden crates. As I stepped closer I could smell salt water and coffee, diesel and bananas, chocolate and fish guts. I didn’t need Nightingale to tell me I was sensing something supernatural, a glamour so strong it was like being washed away by the tide.’
I do find that the plot lagged in places, and that as a result the whole mystery was wrapped up incredibly quickly in the last two chapters. There is an impressive plot twist, but on rereading I found no clues to suggest it, which was disappointing because discovering the hints in hindsight is half the fun of a plot twist.
Overall, I recommend ‘Rivers of London’ to anyone who likes their characters relatable and their magic realistic.