I’m just going to review it under this title because I like it a lot better (and the cover is a lot classier) than the US version, which is just tacky. This always seems to happen–the covers for Joe Abercrombie’s books are always yards better in the UK but alas, there’s not a lot I can do.
I will preface this review by saying I am not much of an urban fantasy reader (though I did really enjoy Stacia Kane’s Chess Putnam series, which I will have to review one of these days) and the genre name seems to have a number of negative connotations. However, this is a modern fantasy set in an urban environment so I guess that’s the best genre definition you could have? Anyway, I was excited to read this book because I thought the UK cover was lovely and the summary sounded right up my alley (and in fact is a distant cousin to the general idea of one of my own works in progress), a mix of police procedural and fantasy.
Probationary constable Peter Grant, after witnessing a violent murder and subsequently interviewing a ghost, is thrust into a division of the police force that deals with magic–it’s all real, and there are a number of in-jokes and weary nods regarding common misconceptions. It’s led by Thomas Nightingale, England’s last wizard, who may be much older than he looks, and who takes Peter under his proverbial wing. Together, they are forced to deal with a number of problems including a vampire nest in Purley, territorial disputes between river gods, and of course, the main mystery: why are people suddenly losing their minds, having their faces collapse, and murdering each other violently?
It’s a good police procedural; I appreciated the little nods and inside jokes, and Aaronovich really does a good job of making London come alive in a similar Neverwhere-ish fashion. I liked the dry humor that ran throughout the story, including a Harry Potter reference; the writing was self-aware of the tropes it used but not obnoxious about it. Some of the twists and turns were a little predictable, I had an idea of where the malevolent spirit was “hiding” about a quarter of the way in, and guessed a few other things, but there were enough surprises to make it not disappointing to read. Peter was a good character to follow the world through: as we are introduced to magical concepts, so is he, though the exposition isn’t done in a dull way because of his inquiring mind and “deviousness” (several characters make reference to this–I didn’t quite see it, myself, but that’s all right). I felt the “romance” sideplots were a little underdone, and read another reviewer complaining about Peter’s attitude towards women, but to be honest, it just seemed fairly normal for a man… I don’t know what THAT says, exactly.
The writing really gave a nice sense of London’s multiculturalism, again seen through Peter’s background (his mother is from Sierra Leone; his father is a white Londoner) as well as through the people with whom he interacts: the river gods are both traveling folk and African immigrants. The descriptions of both the rituals and the food give the book a lively bit of flair and really drop you into the world. There are some scenes of intense violence, as well, but they were not overdone.
In summary, it was a good, fluffy light reading book in between all of my schoolwork, though it was occasionally scary (a nice balance of fluff and fright). I’m really looking forward to reading the rest of this series. And hopefully getting back into the swing of book reviewing for a bit.