Tuesday, 3 May 2011

On Our Shelves 1: Rivers of London/Moon Over Soho

Both James and I are avid readers. Having little space to store books on the Duck, we mainly satisfy our need for reading material by visiting the library. In this new, regular blog feature I thought I'd review some of the books we've read and enjoyed (or not!) recently.

I will begin with a new series of books by Ben Aaronovitch, the first of which is entitled Rivers of London, and was followed this month by Moon Over Soho. These books have in fact made it onto our shelves permanently: we liked them so much as to actually buy them, which is saying a lot when you see how little book storage we have! It helps that they are really beautiful books, too.

My name is Peter Grant. Until January I was just another probationary constable in that mighty army for justice known to all right-thinking people as the Metropolitan Police Service, and to everyone else as the Filth. My only concerns in life were how to avoid a transfer to the Case Progression Unit - We do paperwork so real coppers don't have to - and finding a way to climb into the panties of the outrageously perky WPC Lesley May. Then one night, in pursuance of a murder inquiry, I tried to take a witness statement from a man who was dead, but disturbingly voluble, and that brought me to the attention of Chief Inspector Nightingale, the last wizard in England. And that, as they say, is where the story begins.

So begins the dust-jacket blurb for Rivers of London, giving a taste of the book's style. Set in very modern London, the story interweaves the harsh reality of policing its streets with tales of a magical underworld which is unknown to most people. Aaronovitch's London is colourfully and richly described, and I enjoyed recognising the places in which the books are set. As well as the engaging human characters, he also brings to life some other, more fantastical creatures and deities: the charismatic black Mother Thames, her alluring daughters Lady Tyburn, Effra, and Beverly, all goddesses of London's subterranean rivers, who are warring with the ancient Father Thames of the upper river and his sons. The likeable lead character Peter is mentored by the enigmatic wizard Thomas Nightingale, who appears to be ageing backwards, and they live in a large old house in Bloomsbury, complete with the creepy housekeeper Molly.

Rivers of London has a great plot: a really enjoyable and thrilling crime story, with enough humour to counter the darker elements, but Moon Over Soho goes further. We begin to learn more about the magical world into which Peter has found himself, and its history, and the plot manages to be not just dark and funny but moving as well, with a storyline that kept me gripped until the last page.

For anyone who enjoys fantasy these are a must, but I suspect that even those who don't think fantasy is their cup of tea would enjoy the way these books are grounded in an otherwise very real London with a very down-to-earth lead character trying to make sense of his world.

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