Pagan and the Pit(bulls)

The political musings of a Pagan and her dogs.

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Influential Books: Rivers of London


The last of my Influential book series: Rivers of London. If you can’t read the small print on the image, it says “what would happen if Harry Potter grew up and joined the Fuzz”. And this is 100% true. It’s awesome.

It’s full of the playful magic with a powerful undercurrent that I’m irresistibly drawn to. The next book in the series comes out in November, and let’s just say my body is ready. Not only is the cast fairly diverse and semi-aware (man-of-color and hero Peter Grant has to explain why he isn’t calling Thomas Nightingale “Master”, and the goddess of the Thames is a Nigerian immigrant), the description of how magic works is accurate in the real world (you practice the forms until it works, and some forms work better for different people).

It’s those goddesses of color in a traditionally white male sphere and the mechanics of magic that make the books worth the price of admission.

Through the course of the series, Nightingale explains that Old Father Thames (white dude, old, tons of sons) was the original god of the Thames River. After the Industrial Revolution, London becomes too polluted and Old Father Thames abandons the city. Mama Thames from Nigeria takes over the river in the 1950s and, with her army of daughters, proceeds to run London. The way that local gods are born and made out the environment is a theme that runs through the series. It’s delightfully polytheistic the old gods leave, the new take their place, and the new gods are reflections of the world they’re born into. The best example is Lady Tyburn, the lady of the river by the hanging tree. Each river goddess has a vestigia, a magical sense of what they are that appeals to one of the senses. Lady Ty is a new river goddess, born in the 1950’s. Her modern vestigia smells like wealth and money; but underneath that is the sound of creaking wood, straining rope, and a bloodthirsty crowd. The way that the Rivers interact with the world is philosophically intriguing, on several levels.

From a technical aspect, the magic lessons have useful theory. Our hero Peter Grant has a tendency to get sidetracked easily with new questions, but when Nightingale can bring him back to the point, there’s solid theory. Each spell has a hand movement and a word that goes with it. Nightingale explains he can do complex spells without the movement and words because he’s practiced them over and over and over again. This is very similar to casting a circle, there are movements and tools and words that make casting a circle easy. But if you practice it long enough and over and over, then you don’t need those things you can just cast a circle. Nightingale also harps on starting small and working up to complexity. To a degree, this is assumed in books where the hero learns something. But it’s stated explicitly clearly in Rivers of London.

I love this series, and I highly recommend it to everyone: to the people who learn magic from fiction like I do and to the people who just want a rollicking good read.