I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
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 long-dead evil is making a comeback on a rising tide of magic.
A delightful, fun book, unlike any other urban fantasy series that I have read. Well, no, not completely unlike—just an unusual combination. It read like a hybrid of Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus series (for its setting & police procedural aspect) and Rowling’s Harry Potter series (for the beginner’s state of Peter Grant’s magic), with a dash of Butcher’s Harry Dresden series thrown in (for that shot of urban-fantasy) and maybe just a sprinkling of the The X-Files (for Peter’s relationship with the police department). I think Aaronovitch is alone in this precise calibration of elements and I liked it a great deal.
Also intriguing was a non-white main character. Peter Grant’s mother is from Sierra Leone and he is sometimes able to use what he calls his “ethnic-ness” to his advantage. I couldn’t help but love Peter and his devotion to both London and to policing, as well as his skeptical approach to wizardry.
I loved Aaronovitch’s ability to describe things economically—as when he describes Peter’s parents’ kitchen as a potential training site for the mess staff of a Trident submarine. You immediately envision how tiny it is, while smiling about something that wouldn’t normally cause happiness. This is a statement of high praise coming from me, a person who often dislikes humourous writing. I’m not good an interpreting humour on the page—I most often need to hear it spoken in order to properly appreciate it. But I stayed with the program throughout this novel, an unusual and pleasant experience.
I look forward to reading future adventures of Peter Grant and seeing how he continues to apply his police training and rudimentary scientific skills to his study of magic and to Magical London.