So we kick off 2015 without any firm travel plans for the year (which is a little unusual, I usually have some idea of where I’m headed in the first quarter at least), but while I decide on that, I spent my New Year’s day curled up with some snacks and a new book (some rare reading!) to spark some wanderlusting. This time it took me back to my London trip last year.
Well it’s not a new release – Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch was first published in 2010 and there have been 4 other sequels since which I probably will pick up because I enjoyed the first book. It reads as a first person narration by the protagonist Peter Grant, an aspiring policeman in London who accidentally stumbles on the more magical side of the city while on the job, which leads him to doing magic, discovering supernatural creatures and helping to solve London’s otherworldly crimes.
You could call it an urban fantasy, or magical realism – it’s akin to another favourite book of mine called Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, where magic exists alongside everyday life that we know (it is also set very intimately in London, so I recognized a lot of the place names while visiting the city, and it was a wonder putting a visual to something that’s existed mostly in my head). I like how the magic here has some basis in science as well, a little different from Neverwhere and Harry Potter where we just assume that magic exists, just because.
But one thing that struck me about this book is the absolute detail it goes into describing London and its surroundings. You can tell that the author (London born of course) has very intimate knowledge of the city and being in the city – the detail that he drops into the narrative does a lot to bring the place alive. Since I was just there less than a year ago, some of these places that he mentions like Covent Garden, The Thames and even Camden for example are spots that I can actually see in my head because I’d actually been there. I usually enjoy fantasy because it lets me build worlds in my head, but being able to see the setting in my head and relate it to real places has been quite nice.
Go check out the book if you’re a fan of London and would enjoy a story that is part-history, part-commentary and part-cartographic about the city. I will admit that the first person narrative takes a bit of getting used to – Peter Grant is quite the sarcastic character so it took me a little while to get used to the tone. He even had a blog that gives a bit more context to some of the book’s content.
Side note: I liked that Peter Grant is actually a mixed-race dude with African roots – the way race and gender is treated is quite refreshing and it adds some character to the story without being turned into some sort of race commentary or caricature.
In case you’re getting a hankering for London as well, check out my London Street Art post as well as my fangeeking out about Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes and Neverwhere in London.