Winter’s Gift is the most recent novella in the ongoing River’s of London series by Ben Aaronovitch and the subject actually came as a surprise to me when I got the book. When you have a character in the series called Tobias Winter (a German police officer) then an assumption that this is one of his books seemed logical, instead this is set in the US and features FBI agent Kimberley Reynolds.
Rewinding for a Rivers of London recap: magic is real, gods exist and are personifications of places and things (genius loci), and there are special divisions of law enforcement who deal with this half world (literally – they refer to this as the demi-monde). Our lead in the series is London copper Peter Grant but over time we’ve been introduced to magic ‘police’ in other places – particularly the US and Germany. These characters, if they have their own stories, feature in novellas and shorts or alongside Peter in main novels.
In this novella Kimberley receives a message from a retired FBI agent which indicates something strange is happening in the small town of Eloise on the shores of Lake Superior. Arriving there to blizzard conditions and finding a freak ice tornado has destroyed parts of the town it’s clear that something magical is happening. We find ourselves dealing with a more horror flavoured adventure than normal (it’s kind of a zombie situation, firearms definitely required) and facing up to what had happened between native settlers and the indigenous population many years before.
It took me a while to get into this story – I’d started and put it back down last year, but picked it back up to start this year. Kimberley isn’t my favourite protagonist, she’s defined by her Christianity and moral ‘uprightness’, which in a series where meeting gods is standard and weird shit is normal leaves her looking a bit naive. But the story itself picked up well and in particular I liked our latest god – a Native American teenage boy living on an island with an ex-military protector – who very clearly possessed great power and had knowledge of exactly who and what he was dealing with.
Generally speaking it’s a decent entry into the River’s series but one that you could probably skip and not lose out on the story. Kimberley is still, for me, the weakest protagonist and that may be because the area and character of the story is outside the author’s comfort zone. And I still want another Tobias Winter / Vanessa Sommer story instead.