Thursday, June 13, 2013

Rivers of London: Ben Aaronovitch


Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch is the third fantasy book that I read for the Once Upon a Time Challenge at Stainless Steel Droppings. I enjoyed this book very much. It was only the second book I read this month, but I suspect it will be my favorite for the month.

It is cross-genre fiction, blending fantasy and crime fiction. Most often I have seen it categorized as Urban Fantasy. The main character is a policeman and is actively investigating crimes so it also fits the definition of a police procedural.

Late last year, my husband, son, and I were discussing what constitutes an urban fantasy novel. "Urban" says set in a city. "Fantasy" says unreal, abnormal, supernatural. But the urban setting cannot be new to fantasy. So why do we now have a new sub-genre?

When I looked it up on the internet, it seems I am not the only one confused about this topic. Some said urban fantasies should have thriller elements.  Some said an element of romance is required. One definition that made sense to me indicated that situations in urban fantasy novels take place in the real world we are used to, but fantastical or supernatural elements come into play, and possibly need to be controlled.

And, actually the term "urban fantasy" has been used since the 1980's to describe types of fiction. I guess it has just become more popular now. And yet, not easily defined.

I was first attracted to this series by the book covers... the UK covers, specifically. The first review I read had a great and very succinct description, so I am going to use it. This description is from Simon's Book Blog:
...a police procedural with a difference: Peter Grant is a trainee PC in the Metropolitan Police who discovers that he can see ghosts, and is immediately seconded to a tiny division of the force (tiny, as in - Peter brings the staff total up to two) which deals with crimes which have a supernatural element.
I was intrigued by the police procedural element and had to give the book a try. Peter Grant is a probationary constable in the Metropolitan Police Service in London. He wants to be assigned to the CID, but it looks like he is headed for the dreaded Case Progression Unit, where he will be stuck doing paperwork. But right before this happens, he meets a ghost who witnessed a murder. And that leads to working with Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, in a specialist unit that deals with ghosts, spirits, vampires, you name it, when they are disrupting the peace in London.

This book was published with the title, Midnight Riot, in the US. The author has published two more books in the series, and a fourth, Broken Homes, is due to be published in the UK in July of this year and in the US in February 2014.



24 comments:

  1. I keep debating back and forth about this series. It's a series I will keep in mind when I'm in the mood for something different. As an aside, I loved Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake series (the first 8 books only) because they blended fantasy? with crime. I ate it up. I am always looking for someone to replace her. I love hybrid genre books typically.

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    1. Keishon, I will have to look out for that series. I have heard of the author. I haven't enjoyed fantasy as much as science fiction but I do like it blended with mystery.

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  2. Yes, the first 8 Anita Blake books were about her killing other vampires but as the series evolved, she worked with the police in solving other supernatural crimes. They were excellent reads. She also had some romantic tension in there. Unfortunately, the series devolved into a huge mess after book 8 which made me look elsewhere. Also, Patricia Briggs Alpha and Omega series are fantasy with some mystery elements. Very well done (this based on two books I've read in the genre) and then there's the Sookie Stackhouse series. Have you read those? I stopped at book five and am dying to restart them.

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    1. Keishon, I will follow up on all three of those series. I have not read the Sookie Stackhouse series, but I have read the Lily Bard series by the same author, so I know she writes well. Up to now I have avoided vampires and other supernatual elements in mysteries, but now I have come around to the "try anything once" approach. There is so much good writing out there.

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  3. This book was a lot of fun. I like the original title better than MIDNIGHT RIOT which is generic and has little to do with the real story. Interestingly, this book has a Punch & Judy aspect and Christopher Fowler's book THE MEMORY OF BLOOD about a Punch & Judy themed murder came out about the same time. I have Aaronovitch's second Peter Grant book and keep meaning to get to it. There are four books now? I'll never catch up with all my other reading.

    I dislike that label "urban fantasy." I think it was invented by marketing people to make contemporary supernatural books more palatable to people too embarrassed to admit they like reading about vampires and werewolves and ghosts in a modern day setting. It's the same thing with the crime fiction label. Everything has to be given an air of legitimacy and get repackaged and relabeled. They can call a book "urban fantasy" but it's still a book about monsters.

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    1. John, you make some good points and I agree with all of them. (Especially that second paragraph about labeling books.) I could not figure out where the title MIDNIGHT RIOT came from... but then I lose the details of one book as soon as I start the next one, unfortunately. I haven't gotten to THE MEMORY OF BLOOD yet, but I did feel that there were some similarities to the Peculiar Crimes Unit series in this book.

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  4. I've seen a couple of references to this book, and it does sound intriguing, even though I'm not usually a big fantasy fan. I might give it a try, you make it sound very appealing.

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    1. Moira, I am not a big fan of fantasy either. I try it based on my sons recommendations and I tried this because it also included the mystery element. I found this a fun read; enjoyed every minute. I don't have the 2nd one yet, but if I did I would be rushing to read it.

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  5. Oh! This sounds very intriguing. I haven't heard of the author or the series but would love to rectify that. Thanks for posting about it.

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    1. Neer, I think you would like Rivers of London, if you get a chance to read it. Based on your reviews, I think this book would appeal to you.

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  6. Good choice, Tracy! I haven't read any books with a blend of crime and fantasy (unless we are talking about Harry Potter here which has both!). I don't read much fantasy (something I hope to rectify) though I'd like to try one of Ben Aaronovitch's novels. John does, indeed, make some good points about urban fantasy.

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    1. Prashant, this book has been compared to Harry Potter, having grown up and joined the police. I don't read much fantasy either, but this was definitely a good choice.

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  7. I liked this book. It's not really my gerne - I don't like anything fantasy really. But it was well written and I know the area around Covent Garden, where the book opens, well.

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  8. Sarah, fantasy isn't my favorite either. This year I have discovered I like science fiction better than fantasy. But I did like this one a lot and it did not feel so immersed in fantasy. And the humor was to my liking. I did think that it would be even more fun if you know London well.

    I am reading one right now (Daemons are Forever, Simon R. Green) that is also categorized as urban fiction by some and it has more fantasy. I don't like it as well, but fortunately it is an easy read. Long but easy.

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  9. I'm so glad to hear you liked this one! Fantasy isn't usually my thing either but this really made me smile. I'm reading the second book at the moment and this weekend will be going to an event that Ben Aaronovitch is speaking at - should be fun!

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    1. Marie, I wish I could read the 2nd book right now. Or soon. But I don't have a copy and I have other reading commitments. And I want a UK edition, so a bit harder to find. That event with Ben Aaronovitch does sound like fun. He has got to be entertaining.

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  10. I'm not a huge fan of urban fantasy, though there are a few authos I really love in the genre. The premise sounds good, and I agree the cover is amazing.

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    1. Ryan, which authors do you like? Do their books have mystery elements?

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  11. After reading your review, I found the book in a local bookstore and think it's good. Thank you for the recommendation! The British title and cover are superior to the American edition.

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    1. Your welcome, Debby. Now I just have to find the 2nd in a UK edition.

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  12. Sorry to spam your blog but your posts are very interesting. As I said elsewhere I love this series. 'Urban' fantasy to me always suggests something city based, but whether I'm correct in this I have no idea. LOL. I noticed you asked someone else about other crime/fantasy authors. I don't think there are a huge number to be honest, which is why I liked the Ben Aaronovitch books so much. My absolute favourites though are Terry Pratchett's 'Sam Vimes' books which are part of his huge Discworld series. These have a crime element, Sam is chief of the Night Watch, but I suspect there might be much more of a fantasy element to these than you would like. But they are very funny!

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    1. Cath, thanks for the comments, I welcome them. And thanks for your suggestions. I have heard that the Discworld series is good and plan to try some of it. I don't remember if I had heard of the Sam Vimes books but I will definitely look for them. I am checking out sci fi and fantasy (in addition to mystery of course) at a big September book sale we go to...

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  13. I just started reading this series a few weeks ago and am hooked! If only I'd listened to my friends who have been raving about this for months. And luckily for me, I found the first three books in my local charity shop:)

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    1. sakura, you are very lucky. I am still seeking a copy of the 2nd one. I am waiting until my favorite September book sale; if I don't find it then, I will look online.

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