Thursday, December 01, 2011

Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch

A salient feature of fantasy novels is world building. Doing it well is tricky and it’s often where a good idea turns into a not-so-good book. It’s also been the weak link in the fantasy novels I’ve read recently (Kraken by China Mieville and Shades of Grey by Jaspar Fforde). Here is the dilemma: if an author concentrates too hard on world building, he or she can end up with too much explication and not enough action. Not enough world building and readers are baffled by the mysterious rules of an unknown universe. I have found that authors usually err on the side of too much rather than not enough but in the case of Midnight Riot the opposite is true.

However, given the choice, I’d go with not enough. Reading always includes some element of suspension of disbelief; if the world building is a tad incomplete it’s just one more thing to not think too hard about. Aaronovitch’s enthusiastic foray into a magical London is just delightful, even if I didn’t always follow the action, exactly.

His protagonist Peter is a newly minted London constable who, to his great surprise, finds himself assigned to assist Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale in his investigations of crimes involving magic: ghostly witnesses, brawls among minor dieties, riots caused by long-dead provocateurs. It turns out Peter exhibits some aptitude for magic and throws himself eagerly into his new job. He’s a funny, warm-hearted, totally modern protagonist who cheerfully suspends his own initial disbelief, so is it too much to ask that we do likewise?

Aaronovitch’s sly references to contemporary vampire fiction and Harry Potter only enhanced my enjoyment of this book. I didn’t actually, in the end, understand the whole plotline concerning a lethal reenactment of Punch and Judy, but so what? It was still a really good read and I am thrilled to find another book featuring Peter and DIC Nightingale is already available (Moon Over Soho) and a third is coming in May 2012.

(Book 36, 2011)


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