I finished reading Midnight Riot yesterday and am dismayed by how long it took to get through this thing. Well, it has been on my to-be-read Himalaya for years. Finally, I said to myself that was quite long enough and forced myself to make it the next selection. I was really expecting to like it because so many other readers whose opinions I trust had very good things to say about this. Sadly, I was disappointed.
Midnight Riot is the USA title of Rivers of London. It is the first book in the series that is also named Rivers of London. I guess the publisher felt that having “London” in the title would be a detriment to USA sales. I really am not thrilled when publishers do that. I have enough to remember and think about without adding alternate titles. Anyway, this was first published in 2011 and is the first of five (as of this date) novels in the series. I do own the other five. (A fellow reader gave me the whole set.)
I am a second-generation American and I have never been to England. I have been to Italy and Greece. I thoroughly study the Continental intelligentsia. If I were to be transplanted from the USA to somewhere in Europe, I would likely acclimate the best in Poland. Almost everything about Great Britain is a mystery to me. Everything the British do seems complexified without necessity.
I am sharing this to say that this lack of familiarity and understanding of things of the Empire did affect my enjoyment of this novel. In order to really be engaged here, the reader should have a rudimentary knowledge of British schooling, law enforcement, and the general layout of London. Charing Cross and the River Thames are two locations/geographies that readers really need to have a concept for and about. I did not. I still don’t, if I’m being totally honest. I think if I knew anything at all about the Thames, I probably could have done a little better with the novel.
Finally, the slang and nicknames – if you don’t know the official, standard things about England, certainly the slang and such will have no relevance to you. And that is what I experienced. Granted, most of the meaning can be gotten via context, but honestly, having to use context to read an urban-fantasy/action thriller kind of kills the writing.
The writing is a bit different than the slew of urban-fantasy novels we have been bombarded with in the last five years. Aaronovitch does attempt to make his main character intelligent, resourceful, and studious. The magic system in the book is, for better or worse, “scientific.” And there is a dose of history, physics, and religion to add to the depth. However, the main character (Peter Grant) was not as funny as he thinks himself to be. Many of the reviews I read suggested that Peter is just so funny and that this book is witty and humorous. Well, it is mighty clear which parts such reviews are referencing, but I did not find them all too funny. I found most of them trying-too-hard-to-be funny. The sarcasm and the wit was forced, as if the author said: “I have to have a snarky line here.”
The storyline is okay. Nothing great. Frankly, it should have been better. There are many points where it gets lost or muddled. In fact, at the end the villain got to be too convoluted for me to really, truly follow. Who is this ghost now? What are they doing this for, again? I guess ghosts are a bit strange and perplexing, but I should be able to identify the main villain. At the end, I feel like we defeated the bad guy two or three times. And thinking about it, Peter did not really do much except run around. In the end, he did not really FIX anything. Novel writing 101: The Resolution….. was absent.
A final complaint I have is that there are parts that are a bit more dark and/or vulgar than I think was necessary. I am definitely not looking for sanitized and pretty stories. I am, however, trying to avoid vulgarity that is purposeless and darkness that is incongruous with the rest of the book. All of this being said, I will probably try again with book two in this series. Nevertheless, I was disappointed with book one and I really wanted much better.