Why I Read It: When Midnight Riot debuted last year to lots of solidly good reviews, I was ambivalent. I was also burnt out on urban fantasy and didn’t want to pick up yet another series that I would potentially start having to follow. But when Borders closed last year, I found the book on the shelves and by this point, the discounts were so good that I didn’t mind forking out the cash to give the book a shot. Thanks to the Olympics and Mount TBR, I found the perfect time to read it, so let’s see if it lived up to the hype….
The premise: ganked from BN.com: Probationary Constable Peter Grant dreams of being a detective in London’s Metropolitan Police. Too bad his superior plans to assign him to the Case Progression Unit, where the biggest threat he’ll face is a paper cut. But Peter’s prospects change in the aftermath of a puzzling murder, when he gains exclusive information from an eyewitness who happens to be a ghost. Peter’s ability to speak with the lingering dead brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, who investigates crimes involving magic and other manifestations of the uncanny. Now, as a wave of brutal and bizarre murders engulfs the city, Peter is plunged into a world where gods and goddesses mingle with mortals and a long-dead evil is making a comeback on a rising tide of magic.
Spoilers, yay or nay?: Nay. Mostly I talk about what I like about the book without delving into specific plot spoilers. However, if you’re in a hurry, just skip to “My Rating” and you’ll be just fine. Everyone else, onward!
Discussion: From the start, this book grabbed me with its narrative voice. It takes just a second to realize you’re supposed to read the opening with a kind of wry humor, and once you do, it sets the tone for the rest of the book. That put me at ease immediately. If there’s one thing that will make an urban fantasy work for me, it’s the narrative voice. I’ll forgive a lot if narrative voice makes me happy. Thankfully, it did here.
I could be wrong, but off the top of my head, I can think of an urban fantasy (of modern, kick-assitude variety) that’s taken place outside of the states. I’m not saying they don’t exist: I still need to get my hands on Mike Carey’s The Devil You Know. And Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate takes place overseas, but it’s historical/steampunk UF, not modern.
Well, wait, I guess there was Daniel O’Malley’s The Rook. The fact that I didn’t remember this until I looked it up probably says something.
ANYWAY. I loved seeing the perspective of what amounts to a cop in England having to solve a paranormal crime. Of course, over there, it sounds much cooler. Probationary Constable who ends up with a Detective Chief Inspector, and between the two of them, they essentially make up their own X-Files-ish department. All the details (whether or not it’s accurate is beside the point, because I have no idea but believed it completely) I adored, like how they have station houses and the departmental internal workings of how the police force works over there. Fascinating stuff, and it really sold me on the believability of this world. I mentioned a minute ago that I have no idea of knowing how correct or incorrect these details are. But the author was born in London, so I’m going to assume he’s done his homework and knows what he’s talking about. But more importantly is that everything seemed to work in a way that made sense, and that’s always important. And the humor really helped sell it all (page 9):
“You want to be a detective?” Neblett was, of course, a career “uniform” and thus regarded plainclothes police officers in much the same way as civilians regard tax inspectors. You might, if pressed, concede that they were a necessary evil but you wouldn’t actually let your daughter marry one.
I was also delighted to learn our hero, Peter Grant, was of mixed race. This comes up as a plot point off and on, but I liked the point quite a bit. Again, we don’t see that many non-white heroes and heroines, so seeing it here was great.
The world-building involving the magic was quite fascinating. I loved the way it’s described while Grant is learning it rang unique and true to me, the former music major (page 71):
“Magic is like music,” said Nightingale. “Everyone hears it differently. The technical term we use is forma, but that’s no more helpful than ‘something,’ is it?”
And then there’s the description of magic itself (page 254):
Beverley threw herself down and pressed her cheek to the floor, I saw her lips moving. I felt something pass through me, a sensation, like rain, like the sound of boys playing football in the distance, the smell of suburban roses and newly washed cars, evening television flickering through the net curtains.
The pop culture references also cracked me up. Particularly this knock on Twilight, but you all know I appreciate a good knock on Twilight (page 98):
Nightingale said that everything was true, after a fashion, and that had to include vampires, didn’t it? I doubted they were anything like they were in books and TV, and one thing for certain, they absolutely weren’t going to sparkle in the sunlight.
And then there was the Star Wars joke (page 115):
“Her mother is the Thames, you know.”
“Really,” said Leslie. “Who’s your dad, then?”
“That’s complicated,” said Beverley. “Mum said she found me floating down the brook by the Kingston Vale dual carriageway.
“In a basket?” asked Leslie.
“No, just floating,” said Beverley.
“She was spontaneously created by the midichlorians,” I said. Both women gave me blank looks. “Never mind.”
Plot-wise, I was pretty engaged. Some of the crimes were rather horrifying, and learning the cause of it was fascinating, something that I would’ve been a little in the dark about had I not already had a bit of knowledge involving that piece of British culture. I did have a little trouble understanding Peter’s leaps of logic when it comes to solving the problem. I wasn’t quite on the same page as he was (har-har) but there is a chance I was reading too fast. I did like the way the story wrapped up nicely while still leaving some questions open, particularly regarding the fate of a few characters.
My Rating: 7 – Good Read
The book grabbed my attention with its wry humor from the start, and I have to say, there’s something really cool about reading an urban fantasy set in London while watching the Olympic Games, which took place in London. Fun, that. But the urban fantasy story itself felt unique and familiar at the same time, and Peter Grant made for an enjoyable narrator, despite my wanting to smack him just a few times for doing something he shouldn’t have. That’s okay, people are flawed, and I liked Grant for his flaws. The story was a bit gruesome as it unfolded, and there’s one particular scene that shocked me for its violence. Yet it ever becomes gratuitous, and Aaronvitch wraps everything up in a satisfying manner. I can definitely see myself continuing the series when I’m able, and I hope the latter books were just as enjoyable as this. Easy to recommend, especially if you like urban fantasy (or want to like it), but need something different. Try this, set in London, with a mixed-race hero, and pretty much zero romance with wry bits of humor, pop culture references, and a fair bit of horror and fascinating magic and world-building. I think you’ll be pleased.
Cover Commentary: When these books first came out, I really liked the bright splashiness of the US covers. Still do, actually. They’re designed to grab the eye, and you know it’s going to be some kind of urban fantasy story, but you also know it’ll be something a little different. After all, it is a GUY on the cover instead of a girl! No sexy poses here, and the font is prominent on the cover. However, I’ve grown fond of the UK covers. You can see the one for this book here, along with its alternate title, and one thing I realized, looking at all the covers side by side, is that in the UK, each of the titles references a place, and each of the covers shows you said place on a blood-stained map. Really cool. And now that the US has switched to that design for book three, kind of makes me wonder why they didn’t do it to begin with? I will say that I feel the title change for this book makes a lot more sense considering the main plot, but consider the UK title references a subplot that ends up impacting the main plot, I can’t complain too much.
Point: the US cover does a great job at grabbing my attention.
One other observation: Peter Grant is of mixed race, and the use of the silhouette does a rather pointed job at hiding that. You can’t say it’s white-washed by any means, which is good, but still interesting that the US team went through all the trouble when the original UK cover doesn’t feature the hero at all.