All the previous Rivers of London books, I’ve read pretty promptly after I was made aware of them. But when this one came out as a teeny weeny novella… it still cost loads in hardback compared to the number of pages you got, and I was Stubborn, so I’ve only got round to reading it now that someone has kindly let me borrow their copy. Which came with a warning that the contents weren’t a direct sequel to The Hanging Tree, and were kind of orthogonal to the plot generally. Which was, indeed, very true.
That wasn’t the main issue with it, however. The main issue is that it is actually just too small, and you’ve got what could very nearly be the plot of a whole novel squidged down into a novella… a fairly slim one at that… and so by necessity a lot of the connecting the dots and so on is skimmed over and it just doesn’t hang together very well. Like, the idea is great. But I got to the end and was sort of hazy on how various bits actually related to each other, because you never really got shown exactly, or not in the nice, comprehensive way you do in the full novels. And I kept thinking of more bits where I’m not really sure where it went… threads that just led nowhere. It was really quite unsatisfying.
That being said, I did still giggle a couple of times. It hasn’t stopped sounding like Aaronovitch, even if it is half-assedly cobbled together.
So the idea is, ghosts have been showing up on the Tube, freaking people out, then disappearing from memory. Peter Grant wants to know why. So far, so mystery, so normal. And it does proceed as normal. We get some collaboration with the BTP, some Grant-esque thinking outside the box, some in depth descriptions of London landmarks with a side order of side-eye for the realms beyond the M25. But that’s kind of where it stops being good. Because the seeming is all there, the feel of a Peter Grant novel… but once you get to the bit where the action starts to happen and they start to unravel the mystery, it all falls apart because there just isn’t the space in the book to do the work to tie it all together. We’re talking about getting to a bit of the reveal and me going “wait, what, when did they join those two up?” and having to skim back, and honestly still not finding it. Like, I can figure it out by implication, but it’s just not there. And the resolution, even if you’re happy to rest on implication to get there, isn’t all that satisfying either. It’s all a bit too… convenient coincidences.
So I don’t really see why he made it a novella? It’s not like the publisher is going to refuse to let him do another book at this point, is it? I mean, case in point: Lies Sleeping. So why is this one a short? Layer it in with some background hijinx and it could totally have made a whole novel. The only reason I can think of is that it doesn’t tie in to the Faceless Man plot arc, and so he felt he couldn’t have a whole book taking you away from that storyline. Which is fine, as far as it goes, but if the result is so… unsatisfying… I’m not sure it’s a worthwhile logic anymore.
It’s not that I object that it’s a tangent from the plot – I would have been happy with a book of “some other stuff happens” and accepting that. It just feels like there was a whole novel and chunks have been ripped out of it for the sake of expedience, and we’re left with this bleeding ruin that doesn’t have kidneys or a ribcage anymore.
Which makes me a little concerned for the other novellas he seems to have planned.
The internet tells me there’s one going to be about What Abigail Did On Her Summer, which, cool, could go either way. There’s one about whatsername the American liaison, which, again, cool. And then… and then… there’s one about magic in Roman Londinium and one about Nightingale. And I genuinely made an embarrassing squeaky noise when I found both of those out… so knowing how badly this came out makes me genuinely worried about them as novellas. I admit, unashamedly, to absolutely adoring Thomas Nightingale as a character, human being and general dispenser of Latin grammar based shade… so for the love of god don’t give him a mangled novella. It’d be like taking Good Omens and making a tv show out of it, but giving the guy playing Aziraphale hair that looks like they dunked his head in a bucket of bathroom bleac- oh wait shit. I forgot, the world is a terrible, terrible place.
Maybe I’ll wait until someone else has read the Nightingale novella before I touch it. I’m all for writing scathing reviews (honestly, they are more fun, and definitely easier to write) but I possibly don’t want anyone to see the level of anguished emoting I’d get about Aaronovitch fucking up Nightingale. Or Romans.
Possibly I need to rethink my priorities in life. Who knows.
Anyway. I’m glad I read this one, if only in a completionist sense, but it really is a shambles of a book. I’ve got Lies Sleeping on the go next, and it at least so far looks like we’re back on form in terms of writing a coherent narrative and filling in all the plot holes with community policing and forms filled out in triplicate. Fingers crossed things stay that way… and that he decides actually Nightingale needs his own full series of seven books or so… ideally where he solves crime in a cosy and historical manner. A girl can dream.