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Friday, October 21, 2011

Midnight Riot - Ben Aaronovitch

U.S. Cover.
Diana Gabaldon said, "Midnight Riot is what would happen if Harry Potter grew up and joined the Fuzz.” I think that's sort of a red herring. I get it, Harry Potter is wildly successful and the quote targets a massive audience that will enjoy Ben Aaronovitch's novel. However, if I was asked to write a more accurate blurb, it might read, "Midnight Riot is what would happen if Shadow from American Gods was an apprentice wizard with a wry sense of humor who wandered around London waxing poetic about it and solving crimes under supernatural circumstances." Ok, so that probably wouldn't sell as many books, but it's a lot more descriptive.

Peter Grant is a rookie copper working the streets of London. As he nears the end of his probationary period and decisions are being made about his long term position in the force, a ghost gives him a lead in a case of mysterious murder. Next thing Peter knows he's in up to his ears in the arcane, assigned to the department's in-house wizard Thomas Nightingale.

Most of Midnight Riot is spent with Peter wandering around London trying to solve a murder and/or settling a long standing dispute between the river gods. When Peter isn't doing either of those things, he's learning magic or trying to get laid both of which are endlessly entertaining.  And that's sort of the heart of what Aaronovitch's debut novel is all about - entertainment.  It has wit, action, and charm in spades.  Unfortunately the one thing it really lacked was a compelling plot which ultimately left me feeling a bit flat.

Don't me wrong, the novel itself is rather compelling and exceptional readable.  Aaronovitch takes his readers on a guided tour of the city and her rivers, building into it an occasional history lesson and cultural what's what of modern London.  All that's very fun and more than a little cool, but much of it ended up feeling like a smoke screen covering the aforementioned average story.

U.K. Cover. Looks like
it belongs on a Martin
Amis book.
I won't to get into details on why the plot underwhelmed me.  There are twists and turns I don't want to spoil.  Suffice to say, the story itself would fit nicely into a TV procedural without too much grief.  And I don't mean a season finale level episode either, more like the last episode before sweeps start.  The secondary plot, negotiating peace between the river gods while more interesting lacked any sense of impending disaster if Peter failed in his mission.  In other words, I just didn't care that much.

Now that I've panned the novel as 'uninteresting', I'm going to backtrack a bit because all the other things I mentioned like characters, setting, ambiance, and wit make Midnight Riot a pleasurable reading experience.  Because of the importance and emphasis Aaronovitch places on the city of London I have to think that Londoners will get more from the novel just as readers from Tempe, Arizona get a little something extra from Kevin Hearne's Hounded.  Still, there's a lot here to enjoy laying the base for, what I imagine will mirror Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, steady improvement with each installment.

I admit I'm not exactly Midnight Riot's target audience.  I'm not a huge urban fantasy fan, nor am I particularly ensnared by the police procedural.  Nevertheless I'm glad I was exposed to Peter Grant, Aaronovitch's London, and his excellent first person voice, all of which caught my interest and held it for 300+ pages. I absolutely recommend it to fans of the subgenre, and fans of fantasy in general with the caveat that the plot won't leave you out of breath.

I read a lot of Midnight Riot in-between sets at the gym. Rawr!
Midnight Riot is available anywhere books are sold in Mass Market Paperback. Aaronovitch's sequel Moon Over Soho came out earlier this year and has received strong reviews thus far.  It's available in both Hardcover and Trade Paper Back in the UK from Gollancz and in Mass Market Paperback in the U.S. from Del Ray.

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2 Comments:

At October 29, 2011 at 7:33 PM , Anonymous redhead said...

I'm probably not Midnight Riot's target audience either. Couldn't tell you the last time I read a police procedural, unless Mieville's The City and The City counts (and I sure didn't read it cuz it was a cop book), and urban fantasy as it's known today doesn't do much for me.

But I LOVED Midnight Riot. I thought it was a hoot! Can't wait to read the next one in the series!

 
At January 4, 2012 at 9:26 AM , Blogger Skeadugenga said...

I've just finished this - "Rivers of London" in the UK - and loved it. I agree that its more "American Gods" than "Harry Potter", but I've got "Moon over Soho" on order now and am looking forward to the rest of the series. Peter Grant is a new and interesting voice, I'm hoping to find out more about Thomas Nightingale (shades of Dr Who)and the possibilities for where this could go are wide open. And don't tell me you didn't open and close your palm a few times in the hope of creating a werelight.

 

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