Magical London – Gaiman, Stross and Aaronovitch

Finding a good new-to-me writer and series is always a delight and I’m celebrating my discovery of Aaronovitch and The Rivers of London by putting them in the context of some books I’ve known much longer.

Charles Stross: The Laundry Files

A mash-up of Fleming – Deighton – Le Carre spy novels and Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos? Why not? And some cubicle-life workplace humour for light relief? Sure. The result won’t be to everyone’s taste but some of us will find it to be great (gory, gruesome) fun.

The Atrocity Archives (2004) and its sequels follow a ‘computational demonologist’ working in the Laundry, a secret British occult intelligence organisation. Magic in this series is dangerous, as are the supernatural entities, but real enough that modern technology can help keep it under control.

Stross’s earliest work was SF, and very good too.

Ben Aaronovitch: The Rivers of London

This series (2011 onwards) is very similar to the Atrocity Archives but lighter. The leading character is a London police constable assigned to a minuscule unit dealing with crimes with a magical aspect. His boss is a magician and he has to be trained in the art himself.

The ‘rivers’ of the title are the gods and goddesses of the Thames and its tributaries; other supernatural entities appear, too. The magical tradition here has descended, master to pupil, from the work of Isaac Newton, and depends on Latin spells, ‘mental forms’ and magical objects. (Do we detect a harrypottery influence? Probably.)

We’re a long way from the classic police-procedurals, in a London which is realistically multi-ethnic as well as magical, but the form works as well as ever.

Neil Gaiman: Neverwhere

If the Laundry Files and the Rivers of London are siblings, Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere (1996) is a second cousin. It’s a hero’s journey set in a contemporary London which has a hidden aspect, London Below, a parallel society invisible to ordinary Londoners. Strange and magical people and creatures live there.

Gaiman flits from comics to books to video to audio with astonishing ease and skill, and many of his works appear in several forms. Neverwhere is a good example. It began as a  (very good) TV series, was published soon afterwards as a novel (which I think is even better) and has also appeared as an audiobook and a comic series (which I haven’t seen). Wikipedia has the details.

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