Literature: Rivers of London aka: Whispers Under Ground
"A police whistle on Bow Street. For a moment I felt a connection, ... with the night, the streets, the whistle and the smell of blood and my own fear, with all the other uniforms of London down the ages..."
Rivers of London is a series of books which follow the career of Peter Grant, Police Constable and apprentice wizard, as he tackles supernatural crime in London along with his superior officer, and Master Wizard, Detective Chief Inspector Nightingale. Written by former Doctor Who writer Ben Aaronovitch, the series comprises four books so far. Aaronovitch has been commissioned to write a further two.The books are:
Rivers of London, or Midnight Riot in the US
Moon Over Soho
Whispers Under Ground
With its realistic London setting, it's a good example of Urban Fantasy where the Masquerade is maintained by a combination of stealth and public indifference.There is a website where you can read about the background of the novel, including a Character Blog.http://www.the-folly.com/As of June 2013, the series has been optioned for television.
The books contain examples of:
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Tropes A to K
Above the Influence: Peter turns down a very drunk Leslie about halfway through Whispers Under Ground.
Also justified in that it's implied that the sewers' and Underground's original excavators built all that extra space on purpose.
Alcoholic Parent: Peter's dad is a serious and habitual heroin addict. He isn't a bad parent but just a bit ineffectual, although Peter's mother being an Apron Matron probably means she did all the parenting stuff anyway. As of the end of Moon Over Soho he's clean, and remarks that of all the drugs he quit, nicotine was the hardest.
Altum Videtur: The magic spells are all in Latin, but only because they were written down by Sir Isaac Newton (who used the language of Scientific Gentlemen of his day).
The would-be rapist whose victim has a Vagina Dentata. No efforts are spent in trying to confirm this though.
All the other victims in Soho fall squarely into this trope too.
Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!: Leslie claims Peter is too easily-distracted to be a street cop. In his defense, Peter argues that if he were as focused as she'd like, he'd overlook vestigia and other subtle hints of the uncanny.
Awful Truth: Whatever it was Nightingale saw and did at Ettersberg (now known as Buchenwald).
Battle Discretion Shot: When Nightingale faces the Night Witch, Lesley and Peter have to take cover behind a Range Rover. They catch the roof of a barn literally blowing off the top, before the whole thing comes down. Shortly after that, a nearby house gets torn in half. Since they don't really get to see much of the action, just the after-effects and then the aftermath, it's almost like an in-universe Offscreen Moment of Awesome.
Beauty Is Never Tarnished: An extreme aversion with Leslie, whose beautiful face literally falls off at the end of the first book. As of book 3, reconstructive surgery has restored her speech and ability to eat solids, but she still wears a mask to avoid grossing people out.
Beneath the Earth: Whispers Underground eventually introduces us to "The Quiet People"/"The Whisperers" a society of fair folk who live underground, also there is an literal underground nightclub in an old military bunker frequented by members of London's magical society.
Big Bad: Mister Punch in book one, the Faceless Wizard in book two.
Bitter Sweet Ending: Sure the Big Bads get stopped, but book one ends with Lesley's face falling off, book two ends with the suicide of Peter's love interest and her sisters when they realise what they are.
Black Eyes of Evil: Molly gets these when she nearly attacks Peter after the hemomancy rite.
Black Mage: During World War II, the Russians created all female squads of these called the Night Witches. One of the surviving members shows up in the fourth book to have the a wizard vs. wizard duel with Nightingale, which is coincidentally the first time readers get to actually see the man cut loose. He's apparently so good that the Night Witch herself is impressed at the end of it all. The Germans had squads called Werewolves to combat enemy magicians. They were magic users themselves, but may or may not have been actual werewolves.
Body Horror: The victims of Punch. Those of the Pale Lady surely qualify, at least for male readers.
Bookcase Passage: Not a bookcase, but there's an equally-cliche secret door into the subterranean navvy community in Whispers Under Ground. Played with when Peter presses a convenient brick simply to get the cliched notion it'll open the door out of the way, and is amazed that it actually works.
British Coppers: This page is required reading, the book goes into detail about London ranks and practices.
Britain Is Only London: Well, London and Thames Valley. Lampshaded in Moon Over Soho; Nightingale tells Peter that there's more to life than London, and Peter replies "People keep saying that, but I've never actually seen any proof".
Cannibal Clan: Peter and Nightingale spook each other by speculating they might find one of these in Whispers Under Ground, mostly because they'd both seen the same schlock-horror movie about subterranean cannibals. Subverted, because the subterranean-adapted navvies raise albino pigs to eat instead.
Cardboard Boxes / Fruit Cart / Sheet of Glass: Peter wishes that he could be lucky enough to encounter such obstacles while "going blues and twos" to a crime scene, instead of multi-ton street-sweeping machines or idiot drivers who won't heed the siren and get out of the way.
Cat Girl: mentioned in Soho, as well as a Catboy, who is more 'western', being covered in fur from (at least) the waist up, and has a decidedly feline face. The fact that many people consider them Fetish Fuel is deconstructed.
The blurb on the UK version tries to sell the book as a Harry Potter clone. Anyone who bought the book on the basis of that is in for a shock. The US version has its own problems, downplaying the whimsical aspect of the novels and selling them as thrillers.
The blurb on UK version of Whispers Underground gives the impression that Agent Reynolds' "deep religious beliefs" are going to cause her to come to blows with Peter. In the book itself, her religious beliefs are mentioned twice: when she asks Peter not to take the Lord's name in vain and when, at the end, she's mentioned to have found a local evangelical family to spend Christmas with. Neither has any impact at all on the plot.
Creator Provincialism: Ben Aaronovitch has admitted on his site and in his Author descriptions to absolutely adoring London and not wishing to live anywhere else. Peter is very much in the same mold, some people do try to call him out on this however.
Cruel and Unusual Death: In the fourth book, a man is burned alive from the inside out. His bones end up catching fire, his eyes are boiled, his mouth his charred, but his clothes are unharmed.
Cute Monster Girl: Molly the Maid. Mostly human looking, but has a snake like tongue, a smile that is just a bit too wide and too full of razor sharp teeth.
Death Glare: Given by Tyburn after Peter blows up her fountain, trashing her garden. In his defence she had just been trying to Mind Rape him.
Debate and Switch: At the end of SohoSimone and her sisters are revealed to be inadvertently feeding off of other people's lifeforce to stay alive. Nightingale is for summary execution as per historical treatment of similar creatures. Peter says they have rights under law, Nightingale counters that it would blow the Masquerade wide open to go through the courts, and it looks like they have a major dilemma on their hands. Then the sisters commit suicide because they cannot live with the revelation solving everything neatly.
Destructive Saviour: Peter, naturally. This runs from the mundane, like hijacking an ambulance and causing twenty-thousand pounds worth of damage, to the magical, where Nightingale jokes that Peter's ''signare'' is the tendency to make things explode.
Domestic Abuse: The Ghost Magistrate is fine with this, all women are shrews after all.
Face-Heel Turn: At the end of book four it is revealed that Lesley is working for the Faceless Man when she tasers Peter to help him get away. Disturbingly we have no idea for how long she has been a double agent, but the victim at the start of the book was killed as part of the Faceless Man's research into magically creating a new face for her.
Fair Cop: Lesley May. Shame about that run-in with Mr. Punch's Dissimulo spell.
Gender Reveal: Ash Thames discovers during sex the woman he picked up in a bar in Soho is a very convincing crossdresser. It turns out not to bother him, he was having too much fun to care. Peter is a little discomforted by the revelation though.
Improvised Weapon: The murder victim from Whispers was stabbed to death with a shard of broken plate.
Infant Immortality: Nightmarishly averted within the first few chapters of the first book, just to give the reader an impression of the kind of ride they're in for.
Insistent Terminology: When Peter and Nightingale discover they're up against a black magician in book two, Peter points out that the term "black magician" is problematic, particularly since Peter is of African descent and is thus, in a sense, himself a black magician. Thereafter he uses variations on "ethically challenged magical practitioner" instead.
Zack gets offended when Peter calls him a goblin, grumbling that people who don't know what it means shouldn't call other people that.
Instant Sedation: Peter wants something that does this, Dr Walid explains there is no such thing (although he can come up with something that will work reasonably quickly at the expense of common sense and basic safety). That would be etorphine hydrochloride - an opioid derivative a thousand times stronger than morphine, commonly used as a general anesthetic for large animals and perfectly capable of causing fatal respiratory arrest in very small doses. Dr Walid helpfully supplies Peter with auto-injectors of Narcan (an opioid antidote) as well as a card to give paramedics in case of accidental exposure.
Said card reads: "Warning. I have been stupid enough to stick myself with etorphine hydrochloride, the following is the list of heroic measures that will be necessary to save my life:"
Jurisdiction Friction: Averted. Peter notes that unlike in the media, the police services all work fairly well together and do not get possessive over high-profile cases. If anything, the opposite is true, police departments will actively work to transfer responsibility to other departments because of the massive cost and time involved in murder investigations so that it doesn't come out of their budget.
Lesbian Cop: Detective Sergeant Stephanopoulis, described as a "terrifying lesbian". She's also an Old-Fashioned Copper and the only joke ever told about her sexuality is "do you know what happened to the last sod who made fun of Stephanopoulis? Neither does anyone else, they haven't found the body yet".
Molly acquires more than a bit of this trope in book two. As long as she is cooking traditional Victorian style food she is top notch, but when she tries branching out into anything else it all goes a bit wrong.
Peter's mother also qualifies on grounds she believes that anything that is not on the verge of spontaneous combustion does not have enough chilli peppers in it.
Living Memory: Ghosts are apparently memories and personalities imprinted on the residual vestigia of a location, rather than the actual disembodied souls of dead people. They gradually fade over time as the vestigia dissipate, suffering Ghost Amnesia and eventually disappearing entirely.
The unfortunate Larry The Lark, head chopped off, served up on a silver platter at a banquet in the sixties...and and still kept alive by ethically challenged magic until the conclusion of Soho. Just to add to the Humiliation Conga it was dressed up in a turban and used as a fortune telling machine.
Victims of Mr Punch tend to suffer this as well, though it's a fifty/fifty chance whether you'll have your head whacked off by blunt trauma or blown apart by magic.
Mad Libs Catch Phrase: Peter, narrating, will occasionally come out with a surprisingly erudite bit of historical knowledge, always followed by "I knew all this because..." ...it was on a plaque he read once to relieve the boredom of guard duty. Or ...Nightingale makes him read Tacitus in the original Latin as part of his magic homework. Or it came up while he was watching Doctor Who or playing D&D as a kid.
The Magic Goes Away: Subverted in-universe: Nightingale and his surviving colleagues thought magic would fade away in the wake of Ettersberg, and it did weaken for a couple of decades. Then it started coming back and seems to be rising faster as of book four.
Maid Of Moe: Molly, always wears the full Edwardian-Victorian maid outfit, and to quote the narration in Moon Over Soho.
Molly glided into the room like the winner of the all-London Gothic Lolita competition.
Magic was believed to be declining after the events of World War II. Apparently it's been making a comeback since the 1960's.
In Broken Homes it seems this process is accelerating. Particularly given the conclusion where a massive magical collection device is discharged over London.
Magic Staff: Nightingale's cane is one. The fourth book reveals that they used to be forged by an order called the Sons of Weyland, but the order no longer exists and Nightingale may be the only one who knows how to make one now - in England at least. They can be used to store up magical energy that a magician can call upon when he needs it.
Magic Versus Science: Magic is an EMP type here. Notably it does have the same effect on human brains as it does on technology, just electrical technology is more sensitive and will short out before your brain does.
The novels as a whole avert this though. The organised study of magic originates in the setting with Isaac Newton, and Peter frequently attempts to fit magic into an empiricist, rationalist framework. Magic shorts out modern technology not because magic is inimical to modern science but because, it is speculated, modern culture has made technology quasi-magical in itself.
Male Gaze: The books are from Peter perspective so it's Justified.
Mega Neko: The Ethically Challenged Magician creates real catgirls and catboys.
Merlin Sickness: Nightingale was born in 1900, aged normally until the 1970s, and then for reasons that are still not clear began getting younger again. The effect is only on his biological age, however; his memory works normally. The fourth book reveals that he's not the only one who this happened to.
Mugging the Monster: Sending a skinhead around to collect a debt may have worked if the person he went to intimidate wasn't a goddess capable of mind controlling him.
My Grandson Myself: Mention is made in Moon Over Soho of Nightingale having pretended to be his own son in order to attend an old colleague's funeral without raising awkward questions. Mostly, though, he gets by by keeping to himself and not having protracted interactions with anybody who isn't part of the Masquerade.
National Weapon: Peter thinks the pickax handle should be enshrined as the traditional "cultural weapon" of the London police.
Nature Spirit: Given the nature of the series it was inevitable that an actual dryad would show up in the fourth book albeit as the spirit of a plane tree.
Noodle Implements / Noodle Incident: Whatever happened to Peter and Leslie during their probationary training, that involved "the dwarf, the showgirl, and the fur coat".
The Obi-Wan: Nightingale fulfils this role to Peter. Although he verges on Obsolete Mentor a couple of times, especially when it comes to modern police methods, and this is a particular bone of contention at the end of Soho when the issue of Inhumanable Alien Rights and due process through the courts, versus just killing sentient non-human possible criminals comes up.
Obliviously Evil: The ghost of Henry Pyke doesn't seem aware that the people harmed by Mr. Punch's antics are being hurt for real, not just pretend.
Personal Raincloud: Nightingale creates one that follows Peter around for half an hour, after Peter complains about only being taught basic spells and never getting to see any really elaborate magic.
Police Procedural: The books are as much procedural as they are Urban Fantasy. Only the coppers have to not only apply the law of the land to the non-human community same as they would with regular humans, but also maintain The Masquerade too.
Post-Modern Magik: While magic itself will to destroy any technology equipped with a microprocessor, it's not uncommon to find supernatural beings who have embraced the modern world. So far we've seen:
Local goddesses with mobile phones, university degrees, and Wikipedia pages.
The equivalent of dwarves who carry Sten guns, wear sunglasses and donkey jackets, get their groceries from Tesco, and are fond of the music of Queen.
Technologically savvy magicians using the internet to translate parts of grimoires.
Certain modern plastics hold magic residue nearly as well as stone does. The fourth book introduces a council estate that contained a device for capturing magical energy and also had a dryad living in its copse of plane trees.
Cat girls created with magic and possibly with the assistance of modern science as well.
One of Nightingale's school chums speculated about whether a Genius Loci could emerge within the subway system or telephone network.
Powder Keg Crowd: The patrons at the Royal Opera. Mr. Punch, mind-controlling several police officers via the ghost of Henry Pyke, incites the crowd to riot and burn down most of Covent Garden.
Remember When You Blew Up a Sun?: Thomas "Tiger Tank" Nightingale once took down two of the aforementioned vehicles during the second World War. Considering that Peter has trouble aiming properly at paper targets, and can at most burn through a door, the tank thing is pretty damned impressive, and Peter makes sure that the reader knows it.
Running Gag: People whom Nightingale or Peter are telling about the supernatural for the first time promptly ask if aliens are real, too. (When Peter himself asks his new boss this, Nightingale says: "Not yet".)
Scars Are Forever: Lesley's horrific injuries at the end of Rivers do not get any better in Soho. As of book 3, she's getting better at letting people see her without her mask, but things have not improved much.. Nightingale is still suffering from his wounds too, keeping him firmly in the background and as support. Oberon - despite being some sort of Fae - still bears the scars from his days as a slave a few hundred years ago.
In book four, Lesley is revealed to have become The Mole for the Faceless Man, and it's implied that she expects him to subvert this trope and restore her face.
Scenery Porn: Aaronovitch's prose is detailed enough to make this a literary example. Peter trained as an architect (but his draughtsmanship was too poor to cut it) thus why Peter tends to go on about buildings so much.
Schedule Slip: The ever changing release date of the third novel.
Shooting Gallery: The Folly has one for trainee wizards to practice their fireball skills in. As a mark of just how long it has been since it was put to use, all the target silhouettes are still shaped like WW 2 Nazis.
So Beautiful, It's a Curse: FBI agent Kimberly Reynolds dyes her hair a plain brown to avert this trope, as nobody took her seriously as a good-looking redhead.
Social Engineering: Peter's training has equipped him with loads of little tricks used by Real Life police officers, such as asking an unidentified person in a car for their driver's license: if you ask their name they might lie and have a right not to answer, but if they think it's a traffic issue they'll hand their card over without complaint.
Sophisticated as Hell: Used a lot, and probably inevitable in a series that combines streetwise cop-jargon with Latin-based thaumaturgical terminology in the same dialogue.
The Starscream: Tyburn is implied to be one of these to Mama Thames in Rivers and in Soho Nightingale confirms her status, and implies that when the inevitable clash between the two comes that it might be a good time to take a holiday on another continent.
Sufficiently Analyzed Magic: Started by Newton, and Peter adds his own contributions to this when he works out why Magic and Electronic Technology are incompatible.
Supernatural Sensitivity: A magician can sense magic as a flash of sensations. The Rivers are able to literally smell when someone is a magician, even if the magician in question isn't using magic at the time. Toby the dog is also able to sense magic. The Night Witch in the fourth book says that the Germans had units of men - called werewolves - able to "sniff out" magicians. These men may or may not have been actual lycanthropes.
There Was a Door: Played with by Nightingale in book four, when he blows a huge hole in the front of a building, only to slip in the back door while his opponent is taking aim at the resulting dust-cloud.
The Unmasqued World: Hinted at - it hasn't happened yet, but by the end of the third book, magic is crawling out of the woodwork at an accelerating pace and Peter Grant has reluctantly come to agree with Lady Tyburn that the Masquerade can't last much longer. (It's not so much the conclusion itself that he's reluctant about, he just hates the idea of Lady Ty being right about anything.)
Useless Security Camera: In Rivers, the first murder is caught on CCTV, but a key event in the lead-up to it, vital to figuring out who did it and why, occurs just outside the camera's field of view.
Justified in cases when magic fries monitoring devices.
The fact that London's ubiquitous cameras didn't record the victim's arrival at the site of his death becomes an early clue that there are hidden passages beneath the city in Whispers.
Useful Useless Spell: Peter comes up with one of his own by combining aer (gives you "grip" on otherwise thin air) and congelato (causes liquids and gases to solidify). Both spells are fairly useless separate, but together make a handy instant Deflector Shield.
Vagina Dentata: Possessed by the Pale Lady, whose first victim is found at the end of book one, and who plays a signficant part in book two.
Villainy-Free Villain: Tyburn. She's a Rich BitchJerk Ass who really takes far too much pleasure one-upping Peter and while she might be a bit of a Starscream to her mother, her real intentions are to modernise how London (and the rest of the UK) deals with magic, get everything systematised and above board, and do away with the tangles of "arrangements" and "agreements" that have accumulated over the years. Something that Peter himself is pretty keen on, she just goes about it all in a really arsehole-ish ways.
Yellow Peril: One of Nightingale's predecessors at the Folly led the bust of a reputed Chinese sorcerer and white slaver in 1911. A subversion, as it turned out the sorcerer was a Canadian white guy operating under a Chinese name.
You Do NOT Want to Know: Whatever it was Nightingale found in that room during Soho, Peter decides he really doesn't. All we know is that the people who exhume mass graves in Rwanda and Kosovo need to be called to process it and some of what they find is not dead (yet).