Rivers of London, by Ben Aaronovitch

Peter Grant, a police officer guarding a murder scene encounters a ghost who says he witnessed the crime. Grant does a bit of investigation and finds that the information provided by the ghost does seem to be genuine. He then meets up with a senior detective who can do magic, and decides to train as an apprentice magician.

This was on A Good Read and although I'm not that keen on magic-y stuff, they seemed to like it.

Well, I didn't like it at all. I couldn't work out what genre it's meant to be: it's not very thrilling, not very funny (although it's obviously trying for humour in some parts), and the crime story wasn't one you could work out from clues in the text. The writing style sort of reminded me of a very watered down Christopher Brookmyre, perhaps crossed with Jasper Fforde (and I definitely didn't like The Eyre Affair).

The world being imagined is an odd version of reality, in which magic exists, and is generally known about, at least to certain people. In that respect it's a bit like Harry Potter. But unlike HP, it's not the case that any great effort is made to keep it secret, and when people do discover it (as our hero and his sort-of-girlfriend fellow police officer Lesley do), they don't seem particularly surprised.

I assumed that that Grant, having seen the ghost, would (a) disbelieve it, then (b) have to decide whether to keep it to himself or tell people, and (c) find himself unable to persuade anyone else that he's not mad. But no, he pretty soon decides to tell Lesley who, despite initially being sceptical, and not being able to see the ghost herself, just accepts it.

And when Peter gets involved with the senior detective-cum-wizard, he takes about half a page to decide that he might as well accept the job of a trainee wizard, despite never having known that wizards existed about 2 pages ago.

The bulk of the book is taken up with three themes: Peter's apprenticeship and learning of magic lore, the investigation into the supernatural serial killer, and building relationships with the spirits of the eponymous Rivers of London.

The whole thing feels like a set up scene for a series of books: Peter doesn't actually learn or do much magic, but we learn about how it's meant to work, and some of the latin names for the spells etc.. We find out a fair amount about how many rivers there are/were in London, and how there are some kind of rules governing how the spirits of the rivers are constrained in their powers. But like Harry Potter, a lot of it feels made-up-as-you-go: when Grant is confronted with any kind of tricky situation or phenomenon, the old wizard is on hand to provide him (and us) with some previously unmentioned rule of magic which can be invoked to explain things away.

On A Good Read I remember people saying they liked the way London was described and that it felt very real to them because they lived there. I'm inclined to think they were being polite and just trying to find something nice to say about it - there is a bit of London description but if that’s the best bit of the book it’s not saying much.

But I see that it's got a lot of five star reviews on Amazon, where it's described as "urban fantasy". Beats me; I definitely won't be reading any more in the series..

Completed : 11-July-2015 (audiobook)

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