Written by Ben Aaronovitch, Andrew Cartmel | Art by Lee Sullivan | Published by Titan Comics | Format: Paperback, 32pp
The first issue of the Night Witch arc was slightly odd in that the main characters of the book, PC Peter Grant and his boss Inspector Nightingale, barely featured. A lot of time was spent in setting up the building blocks of the story, of Russians, Russian witches, and Russian supernatural beings. But all in England. A very rich Russian businessman had had his daughter kidnapped, apparently by a Leshy, a Russian forest demon, and had approached a seemingly ageless Russian witch, Varvara, who was living under protection in London, to help but she refused. He was, however, pointed in the direction of wizard trainee Lesley May, who just happens to be the ex-partner of…. PC Peter Grant. See what they did there, with that whole six degrees of separation thing. Very nice.
This issue starts with May assuring Yakunin that they can get Grant and Nightingale to help them, but obviously with some other secret agenda at play. Grant is busy researching the Leshy with Varvara’s help, and Nightingale is skulking around Yakunin’s estate in Kent for further clues. Lots of plot threads being juggled, and all sitting alongside each other nicely, all pulling together at the right time and in the right order. Comic relief comes in the form of the Russian mob’s attempt to kidnap Peter’s girlfriend, Beverley Brook, not knowing she is actually a river goddess with some nifty magic abilities herself. The kidnapping becomes a house cleaning and tidying up session. Really.
Nightingale’s investigation unearths a local woodland sprite, but not one capable of doing anything beyond a little scare or two. Nightingale and Grant begin to suspect there is something much more complicated going on. This issue has a lot of things going on, both in the foreground and background, yet all are juggled fantastically well, and we are left with several mysteries that will carry over at least until next issue. Not least of which is who is the mystery voice directing Lesley May, Peter’s now not so friendly former friend, and what is so bad that Nightingale can be blackmailed and captured so easily? This is great writing, and I was genuinely disappointed to reach the end of the issue, so completely was I drawn in here.
In contrast to the first Rivers of London arc, which chose to focus very much on the fun magic aspect, this arc after two issues is a much tighter affair, focusing far more intently on the characters themselves. Character driven stories are always a risk, as the characters need to be strong enough to bear the weight of the narrative, and to be defined enough that we actually care about what happens to them. All the main characters here have not only their own voices, but have very clearly defined pasts and, more often than not, secrets. There is plenty for us as readers to get our teeth into, and to speculate about.
I almost feel guilty looking over Lee Sullivan’s art, as it is always so good I have started to take it for granted. This is due in part to the fact Rivers of London takes place mostly in modern, average settings like contemporary buildings, countryside etc. There is simply not much opportunity to cut loose with big eye-catching dramatic action splash pages, so Sullivan concentrates on doing all the little things well. The body language of characters, the use of expression without dialogue, plenty of background detail, and toying with panel size and layout to get the right pace to the story. Not flashy, but very professional and very good.
I really enjoyed this issue, took last issue’s promising start and pushed on nicely. It could be accused of being a bit of a slow-burner, as Cartmel and Aaronovitch tease as much as they deliver, but for me that is all part of the charm.
Pick this book up, you won’t regret it.