Hello, and welcome to the latest installment of boozy books, where we attempt to promote drunkenness and elucidate upon the nature of literature (but not really the first one, guys–ALWAYS DRINK RESPONSIBLY–and, well, not really the second one, either, ’cause half of what we do isn’t terribly literary). You know what? We entreat you to read while you enjoy a nice adult beverage! There we go. Anything to get the kiddies reading. (Note for kids: these drinks are not for you. Wait for the legal age of your respective nations, please.)
The warnings vis a vis drunkenness and underage drinking are actually apropos for once, so I’m going to pretend I did those on purpose instead of just flailing my fingers about a keyboard without any discernible self-editing process. This is because the books I have chosen this week are the Peter Grant series, aka the Rivers of London books (or whatever you want to call them), by Ben Aaronovitch. Taking place in a pretty much everyday London, these books feature Police Constable Peter Grant as he is recruited into the Folly by the last wizard in England: Inspector Nightingale. So now he’s England’s newest wizard apprentice (so close to getting Mickey Mouse up in here!) and responsible for solving cases of a special bent.
(Book one of the series. It’s called Midnight Riot in the US, for some reason.)
You see, as in so many Urban Fantasies, the world is more than just what we see about us. There are creepy things afoot in England, and it’s always been the Folly’s job to solve them. A secret division of the Metropolitan Police (both on and off the books, to be truthful, because no one really wants to talk about them), the Folly has been around since 1775–when there was rather more than one wizard–lurking about in the shadowy portions of the world that no one notices. As its newest member, Peter is now responsible for carrying on that tradition under the watchful eye of Inspector Nightingale (who is a lot older than he looks). Being a duly trained member of the force, he combines both the latest technologies available to the police and his slowly growing wizard-y abilities in order to solve crimes. And try to figure out how magic works.
See, the thing about magic in this world (or at least the kind Peter finds himself learning) is that it was invented by Isaac Newton, and it seems to have something to do with physics. Use it too much and your brain turns to mush in an attempt to convert the energy. But how it works and why isn’t really understood, even by Nightingale (not that he really cares). Peter, being of a modern bent and trained to investigate, spends a great deal of time trying to figure this out…mostly because he wants to understand if it will kill him. Which seems reasonable to me.
The absolute best thing about these books is Peter himself. He is both intelligent and hapless, a gentlemen and a bit of a lech. He is good at investigating, but better at asking questions, and damn good at the legwork of a case. His magic skills are passable according to Nightingale (who thinks he lacks discipline), but he has managed to invent a couple of his own spells (which Nightingale berates him for). Peter has imagination and heart, and yet he sometimes has bit of hangdog suffering. Best of all is his snarkiness. In fact, this whole series in infused with a dry wit and sardonic take on the world that makes for a very amusing story.
Oh yeah, and he’s the son of a jazz man and an African immigrant, which gives him a different view on the world than your typical POV character. It’s not often we get POC in leading roles, especially when they’re written by white authors, but Peter being black forces him to interact differently with the force and within his world. He faces stereotypes that other people don’t, and gets to share quite a few eyerolls with other minorities. London gets to be as colorful as it really is, too, which is not something that often gets touched upon.
All-in-all, there is very little this series gets wrong, and those tend to be very subjective. It’s written well, has good characters, the crimes aren’t so easily solved, and the supernatural elements blend seamlessly with the mundane (and the English). There’s even a posh boarding school for wizards (though it’s defunct now, being that there’s only one left). The fact that the author used to write for Doctor Who helps, too, because you can’t really get much more English than that.
Now…what to drink? I thought long and hard about this, but ultimately went with the first thing that popped into my head: a shandy. Now, stay with me. Peter is an English cop; he spends a lot of time drinking beer down the pub. Beer seemed the way to go; it’s such a part of English culture, and reflective of the every day lives of this world. But! There’s a twist to this England: the supernatural. Thus was a twist on the go-to needed to accurately reflect this world where the strange mingles with the mundane so readily. A shandy is basically beer mixed with something else, typically non-alcoholic, in a 50/50 mix (or to taste). My choice for mixer is ginger beer, which has been brewed in England since the 18th century and just seemed appropriate, but you can mix that beer of yours with just about any mixer you want (lemonade is often popular). Note: it’s probably best not to attempt a shandy with a stout…it might not work out well.
Now, if you like to drink something mentioned in the book, there’s always Star beer, which Peter uses to bribe Mother Thames. He delivers…a lot of Star beer to her place beside the river. So much. If you want, turn it into a shandy. Trust me, they’re good.
To buy the book (American version):
To buy the booze:
(This is a premixed lemonade shandy if you want to buy an all-in-one version instead of making it yourself. Otherwise, just buy a beer you like, some ginger beer or ginger ale, and mix it about 50/50 or to taste.)
This has been boozy books! Tomorrow…SHAKESPEARE! (And, yes, we’ll get around to pairing the plays. Eventually.) Ciao!
Also…Boozy Books is now OPEN FOR SUGGESTIONS AND REQUESTS! If you want to see something paired, let us know and we’ll see about getting it done.