Book Review: Rivers of London

Leave a comment

Recently, thanks to multiple books lent to me byrivers of london by ben aaronovitch friends, I have been on a crime-reading spree. And while I have learnt that perhaps crime is not for me, unless it is really, truly worthy (Gone Girl is still a particular favourite), I have also discovered that, at least in the crime fiction world, 95% of all heinous crimes occur in London. Terrible, dreary weather can have that effect on people.

Told from the perspective of Constable Peter Grant, Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London, is part crime fiction, part fantasy. When a terrible murder occurs (think callous beheading), Peter thinks it’s just another case – until he realises that the first witness he speaks to is actually a ghost. Soon, Peter is taken under the wing of Inspector Thomas Nightingale, where he learns that not only is magic real, but he has the ability to learn how to use it.

Of course to make things all that more difficult, Peter and Nightingale have to first solve a tricky magical murder. When the terrible beheading is only the first of a series of disgusting, facial disfiguring murders, it soon becomes clear that there’s more to magic than simply saying ‘Hocus Pocus’ – particularly when vengeful ghosts are involved.

Fans of Jasper Fforde’s novels would probably love Rivers of London because it is the original combination of magic, surrealism, crime and dry wit. Yet in the same way that I didn’t particularly love The Eyre Affair so too was Rivers of London unfortunately not my cup of tea.

While I will readily admit that fantasy isn’t my forte, the biggest issue I had with this novel was its convoluted plot. It seemed as though I had to go round and round in circles for the crime to make much sense (or have a motive) and then the big conclusion was sadly a letdown. For a story that was already a bit tough for me to get my head around – police, murder, vengeful ghosts, different types of magic, different types of ghosts, fictional characters that might also be controlling the vengeful ghosts who are controlling others, etc. etc. – Aaronovitch then chose to pile on a secondary storyline that didn’t really make much sense in the context of things. Granted, Rivers of London is the first in a series and that plot may make sense further down the track, but for the time being it just added another layer of confusion onto my already very confused self.

The second issue that I had with Rivers of London was that it really came across that Ben Aaronovitch was trying just a smidgen too hard to be witty. Usually I love dry humour, and I’m the first to laugh at a bit of wit, but I do think there is such a thing as being too clever. Aaronovitch’s constant references to the Daily Mail (which I think we can all agree is outstandingly crap journalism) became too frequent to be witty and just came across smug, and it managed to change the whole tone of the novel. More importantly though, Aaronovitch spent more time trying to be humorous than actually developing his characters and the result was that his protagonist, Peter Grant, came across as two-dimensional, relatively unremarkable and not particularly interesting. And while Aaronovitch does add a back story for Grant, it seems almost as an afterthought, and didn’t provide me with any real intrigue.

If you’re a fan of Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair then I would recommend Rivers of London to you. Otherwise, I don’t know if this is the book for you. I commend Ben Aaronovitch for creating something so original, but unfortunately the execution let it down.

Have you read Rivers of London or anything by Ben Aaronovitch? Are you a fan of his series? Let me know!

 

Book Review: The Eyre Affair

5 Comments

It took three people to recommend it before I finally read The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. My mother, who described it as ‘a world where librarians reign supreme’ (what’s not to love), a uni friend, and then finally, my friend, Sophie. And the only reason that she succeeded is because she quite literally mailed it to my house.

The Eyre Affair follows literary agent Thursday Next in a parallel universe where England and Russia have been fighting in a war that has lasted over a century; where literary agents have a status that rivals the FBI and where issues like ‘Did Shakespeare really write those plays?’ is on the tip of everyone’s tongues. Like my mother said, book nerds here reign supreme (FINALLY!).

Thursday Next is enlisted to help track down the evil mastermind Acheron Hades, her former university professor, who also has the ability to shape shift, stop bullets and avoid any form of photographic detection. While Thursday Next survives a stakeout on Hades (that leaves everyone else dead), things manage to turn from bad to worse, particularly when Hades tracks down the original copy of Jane Eyre and threatens to kill off the leading man, Rochester. How does he plan on doing it? By using an invention created by Thursday’s batty but brilliant uncle Mycroft, which allows anyone to enter a book’s universe – and as long as he makes changes to the original, then he’ll make changes to all copies around the world.

What a great concept for a storyline, right? After all, it’s one thing for a character in a novel to be kidnapped and killed (a character we were only recently introduced to), but quite another to kill off a character and story that has been beloved by millions for over a century. Imagine Pride and Prejudice without Mr Darcy? Harry Potter without Harry (or Voldemort for that matter). While literature may not be quite as beloved in our universe as it is in Thursday’s, I think most of us can feel our hearts break a little at the thought of Elizabeth Bennett stuck with her mother (and Mary) for the rest of her life.

However, while the concept of The Eyre Affair was fantastic, I have to admit that I didn’t love this book as much as I really should have. While I think that is partially because I’m not the biggest fantasy/sci-fi fan, I think it was more Jasper Fforde’s execution. Though his writing was witty, I didn’t have much of an emotional connection with the characters, ironic considering the central plot. And though the novel was called The Eyre Affair, the first half of the novel actually had little to do with Jane Eyre, but rather had a slow build up that included Charles Dickens’s Martin Chuzzlewit, Thursday moving towns, a somewhat lacklustre romantic lead and a loophole in the time-space continuum. Once again, this may be because I’m not into sci-fi, but overall I spent a great deal of the first half of the novel wondering when the actual plot would begin to start.

Yet in saying that, I can see why The Eyre Affair is loved by so many readers. Jasper Fforde definitely has a flair for the original, and his ability to tie in much-loved classics with his own bizarre universe is really quite impressive. Plus, I have to give him points for changing the storyline of Jane Eyre so that his ending made sense. For someone who has actually never read Jane Eyre (I know, terrible), I was delightfully surprised how he managed to make the faux-version so realistic that I kept wondering why anyone would read a novel with such a disappointing ending.

Have you read The Eyre Affair or anything by Jasper Fforde? How would you feel if your favourite literary character was kidnapped? Let me know!