Modern day London: home to a vibrant mix of cultures, faiths, and hipster coffee shops. And, in Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series, also home to gods and goddesses, the fae, ghosts of past London, and the terrifying spirit of Mr Punch from the Punch & Judy puppet show. Really it’s not surprising that the Met Police need their own magic division to cope with a city where any building could embody the spirit of a 2500 year old anglo-roman who got worshipped as a god and a vengeful magic practitioner wants to sacrifice them to change reality and make Merlin real. When crazy stuff is happening forget Ghostbusters, call The Folly instead because DC Peter Grant and his boss Nightingale are here to kick ass and take names.
We’re 7 books in to the Rivers of London now and that’s not including novellas, short stories, and the really very good graphic novels. All of these tie together to create a dense and rich alternate London where it does feel that the only difference is that magic is real. The people are recognisably London – Peter being a modern Anglo-African copper dealing with low-level racism and just wanting a quiet night in with his girlfriend (personification of a river, technically a goddess); Nightingale, old school and upper class. We also extend the role of DC Guleed in this book because she wasn’t awesome enough just being a sarcastic hijab-wearing muslim copper – now she’s taken up with the Chinatown crowd and is dating a ninja swordsman, and is developing her own magical ninja-like abilities.
Plot wise, you have to start at the beginning if you’ve never read these books before – go back and read the original Rivers of London (originally published as Midnight Riot in the US) because it’s a constant story in these books. This one with Mr Punch ties directly back to the plot of the first and also brings some plot points to a conclusion. It’s a fast paced read, witty as ever, but definitely assumes you’ve read all of the other work in the series or you’ll miss some points (why Abigail talks to foxes, who or what the Pale Ladies are, the whole deal with Lesley and the Faceless Man).
I love this series and this volume did a great job of almost ending a big story thread whilst creating new issues and perils for Peter and the team. It’ll be interesting to see where we go from here, particularly as Peter is facing some big lifestyle changes. For me this series combines things I love – London, architecture (Peter’s a fan…), sarcasm, magic, and being a foodie – so I’ll be sticking around for more.