Rivers of London – Ben Aaronovitch

“It started at one thirty on a cold Tuesday morning in January when Martin Turner, street performer and, in his own words, apprentice gigolo, tripped over a body in front of the West Portico of St Paul’s at Covent Garden.”

I think it’s fair to say I’m always on the hunt for a ‘new¬†Dresden Files‘, which is a terrible expectation to put on any book/series. I think, though, I might just have stumbled across something pretty close, with the added benefit of a droll British sense of humour ūüôā

PC Peter Grant isn’t too happy that he’s about to graduate¬†from ‘thief-taker’ training to a dull police clerical role, when an encounter with a strangely see-through witness at a murder scene propels him into a rather more secretive department. Yup, the London police force has a supernatural branch! It’s a bit less X-Files – well, okay, it’s a lot like the X-Files, come to think of it, given that it’s one rather strange bloke not taken all too seriously by his¬†peers.

We follow Peter’s initiation into the ranks of magic¬†while two cases require juggling: the inciting murder and a wave of violence that seems to spread out from it in a rather familiar kind of a pattern, and a bit of a disagreement between old Father Thames and sexy newcomer Mamma Thames. Yup, those ‘rivers of London’ have actual personifications, and they’re certainly not damp squibs!

I thought the two threads balanced each other wonderfully, and really allow for Peter’s role to start to form. The magic system is excellently introduced: not too powerful, definitely not easy, and with a down-to-earth approach to the big questions like, “Do magic and science interact?” (yes, not always well), and “Why are magic spells always in Latin?” (because the people who wrote them down were trying to sound clever, more or less ;)).

If there’s a single thing I’m not sure about it’s the sweeping statements about a culture not the author’s own (or mine, so my opinion isn’t hugely valid). As a wannabe writer I’m well aware of the need for diversity in books, but¬†I do wonder a little at what point it veers dangerously close to stereotyping. This added just a mild discomfort for me at certain points, but your mileage may vary.

That said, I thought this was a brilliantly fun romp. Usually books so London-centric as to make the city a character are a bit of a turn off to me (as a non-Londoner Brit, it can be wearing!) but the author’s love of the city comes over well without all that centre-of-the-known-universe smugness. Just a lot of giggles, a bit more gore than I was expecting, and a well developed story. More, please – and oh, look: book 6 is just out. Excuse me while I go catch up ūüôā

Kindle: 400 pages / 14 chapters
First published: 2011
Series: PC Peter Grant book 1
Read from 7th-15th November 2016

My rating: 8/10

A City Dreaming – Daniel Polansky

“It would help if you did not think of it as magic.”

A City Dreaming is less a novel and more a collection of vignettes centred around our ‘hero’, known only as ‘M’. M is, in his own words, “in with the management” which very loosely translates as ‘wizard’. Not that he goes around performing magic (unless he¬†has to), but without effort he finds luck goes his way, most of the time. For instance, traffic lights will always be green for him,¬†jobs and money and places to stay appear when needed – that sort of thing.

Over the course of the book, M experiences a number of scenarios, some rather familiar, most more innovative. I particularly liked the train that could take you to stops not on any map, or another time when a walk through familiar neighbourhoods took an entire day through realms unknown Рthere was something of a Narnia-esque feel to these, I think.

Not that this is for younger readers, by any stretch! M spends his abnormally long life chasing pleasure in all forms, so there’s a fair amount of drinking, drug taking, and (off camera) sexual activity. M is just a¬†regular kind of guy, in many ways, and not always a particularly lovely one. It put me in mind of Harry Dresden, if perhaps he¬†had no interest in morals or quests to do the right thing – just, went about life as any of us might if an unknown number of centuries had made us a little on the selfish, hedonistic side. This is a great strength of the book, for me at least: this grounding all the magic in total normality.

Except, of course, there’s nothing normal about walking out of a pub and finding yourself and your friends in a medieval role playing scenario – for real! The format of short episodes makes it easy to put down and pick back up later – which is good and bad – and the¬†broad range of scrapes M finds himself in means that if one segment doesn’t wholly appeal, the next will be entirely different.

Of course, the real star of the piece is the city – New York, but of course! – and how there is that layer of magic just under the surface of everyday life. If you’re in with the management, that is ūüėČ

NetGalley eARC: 304 pages / 32 chapters
First published: October 2016
Series: none
Read from 28th September – 18th October 2016

My rating: 8/10

Now You See Me 2 (2016)

What does a group of magicians do after pulling of some of the most successful illusions of all time, fooling the FBI, the nay-sayers, and serving up justice to the crooks? A year has passed, and the Four Horsemen are still in hiding, growing increasingly restless. So when the chance to out another huge conman with their tricky skills, they jump at the chance Рonly this time, the illusion is being pulled on them. Press ganged into pulling of a heist for a shadowy tech genius, which side is ultimately going to pull the bunny out of the hat?

The original¬†Now You See Me (2013) was something of a surprise pleasure for me – I really enjoyed it, and even knowing the twists and turns, I still like watching it again. There’s something… offbeat, perhaps? Something a little quirky and different, and just fun.

And so, despite mediocre reviews, I was looking forward to seeing the second (of three) installment. Unfortunately, those mediocre reviews are pretty spot on. Away from the freshness of the original, there’s just a sense here of¬†trying just that bit too hard, and it falls short of the¬†sense of fun.

I was also deeply unsure about some of the new characters.¬†Most obvious is the switch-out of Henley (actress Isla Fisher being a little too pregnant, although she’s due back for Act 3) for newbie Lula (Lizzy Caplan) who again is just trying that bit too hard, although she’s largely likeable. Adding a twin brother for one character, though – urm, no thank you. Really did not get or like that one! And while there is a¬†smile to be had from Harry Potter himself (Daniel Radcliffe) playing in a movie about the ‘other’ kind of magic, he’s only so-so in the role, imo.

It’s not all bad, though, and it is a pleasure to see the 4H staging some impressive feats of prestidigitation and misdirection. I did think the card flicking scene was about twice as long as it needed to be, or just not showy enough for the ‘main’ scene, and while we’re shown the ‘how’ of most tricks, there is one that just seems impossible without movie magic – slightly annoying! ūüėČ

Alas, the ending is a bit… hmm. Still, I will¬†be buying my ticket for Act 3 when (if?) it appears, like magic!

Released: 4th July 2016
Viewed: 22nd July 2016
Running time: 129 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6/10