Rivers of London is an interesting series of books by Ben Aaronovitch, sometimes they are paperback novels and some are comics. I am curious how he decides which way to go with the different stories and how the different processes change the story from conception to publication. What I am sure of is, he has a number of fans who love the stories no matter the format.
The Rivers of London books focus on London police officers Peter Grant and Thomas Nightingale, who are also the last wizards in England. Well, Nightingale is. Peter is his apprentice and just learning the ropes. Together they solve magical crimes or criminal magic or any combination of the two.
Titan Comics has released Rivers of London: Night Witch as a trade which contains the five books of the series. The eponymous Night Witch is a Russian woman who was trained in magic by the Soviet Army during World War II. She is being held willingly in an English prison as a protection against the current Russian government. A Russian mobster tries to break her out to solve a special problem. His daughter was kidnapped by a monster from a Russian fairy tale. Once Grant hears of the breakout and kidnapping, he starts his investigation, which makes him a target in the magical mob war.
The book is easily read as a standalone story, without any need to have read any of the other story lines in the Rivers of London series. It is easy to get all the important elements and is mostly self-contained. There are occasional references to other stories, but they are easily ignored. That being said, it isn’t the place that I would choose to start.
This issues are part noir police procedural and part urban fantasy. It has some interesting elements. The Faceless Man is a truly challenging adversary for Nightingale and Grant There are a number of great comic beats where it is clear that the Russian mobsters may be a big threat to the average man on the street, but are clearly unprepared for dealing with magic.
Unfortunately, these moments are undone by the overly complicated plot structure and multiple mcguffins. There is a lot of running around chasing shadows just for the purpose of stretching out what is ultimately a simple story and not much of a mystery. Grant and Nightingale never really seem to be at risk at any point in the story and the kidnapped daughter is often treated as an afterthought by both the characters and the author.
Lee Sullivan (Dr. Who: Prisoners of Time, Infinity Watch) sells much of this through his art. His visual style is able to set the tone of menace in a sunny field next to a stand of trees. He switches up the tones of various scenes without making it a discordant mess. Much of the humor in this story comes through his visual jokes.
For the Aaronovitch fan, this collection is a sure buy. If you are curious about Aaronovitch, you could certainly start here with no problem, but you might be happier with Rivers of London: Body Work.
Writers: Ben Aaronovitch and Andrew Cartmel
Art: Lee Sullivan
Color: Luis Guerrero