Ben Aaronovitch’s Midnight Riot ( Rivers of London UK Edition) suffers a bit from an identity crisis. It tries to be a fantasy-fiction story, a police procedural, a London guide, a commentary on race and a murder novel all wrapped in one and it fails. There is so much going on in every single page, that I would often not remember how I arrived a particular point in the story and whether it was significant.
Let’s begin at the beginning. Peter Grant, our hero, the wizard in making (don’t get your hopes high people, this is NOT anything like Harry Potter) is a newly graduated Police Constable in the Met (the police force, not the NY museum). His main function includes standing in the cold London air guarding scenes of crime. The story starts at the death of a William Skirmish who is bludgeoned to death by a wealthy British producer for no apparent reason. On the scene of crime, Peter Grant is accosted by a ghost (yup, you read that right) who gives him a tip on the crime. This tip brings Grant firmly into the center of the magical world of London, with Chief Inspector Nightingale (The Wizard) as his guide. This murder embroils them in similar crimes and a hunt begins for the entity causing them all.
While trying to stay on top of the case, our wizarding coppers are also dragged in a property dispute between Mother and Father Thames.The Gods of the rivers of London are mythical creatures personified in people who drowned in them. Magic exists but is a more ambiguous concept and it’s hard to know how much power anyone really possesses. A lot of time is spent referencing the history of London rivers, old magic articles and theories, but instead of being entertaining, these snippets of information appear like wiki entries. I learned more about the underground rivers of London than I would ever want to know.
The plot is generally all over the place. Nightingale and Grant are called on to investigate several other crimes and these diversions take away from the central storyline. All characters are very two-dimensional and because there is so much happening on the page that it’s hard to spend time with anyone character long enough.
Lot of emphasis is laid on explaining magic through science – you see the fallacy, right? If magic could be explained through science, it wouldn’t be magic anymore – it would just be ‘how things work’. The intention is great and they do ride the ‘energy in the universe is constant’ wave for some time before hitting a roadblock and hitting unexplainable phenomena. Why do rivers have spirits? Why some people can feel vestigia and others can’t? When Peter asks those questions, Nightingale (his mentor and teacher) basically shrugs his shoulders and says “dunno”. As a reader, that is extremely disappointing.
Also, there is much ado about everything – Nightingales’ age , impact of magic on technology, the magical effect of vampires – there is a lot of build up to all these questions but the reveal is extremely underwhelming.
There is only one thing going for this book – humour. The dialogs are sharp, the wit dry – very similar to watching a sitcom. The humour is literally what endured me through the 250 odd pages. But I doubt I will pick the second book in the series.