Review: RIVERS OF LONDON by Ben Aaronovitch (Gollancz)

Aaronovitch-PG1-RiversOfLondonUKThe first Peter Grant novel…

My name is Peter Grant and until January I was just probationary constable in that mighty army for justice known to all right-thinking people as the Metropolitan Police Service (as the Filth to everybody else). My only concerns in life were how to avoid a transfer to the Case Progression Unit – we do paperwork so real coppers don’t have to – and finding a way to climb into the panties of the outrageously perky WPC Leslie May. Then one night, in pursuance of a murder inquiry, I tried to take a witness statement from someone who was dead but disturbingly voluable, and that brought me to the attention of Inspector Nightingale, the last wizard in England.

Now I’m a Detective Constable and a trainee wizard, the first apprentice in fifty years, and my world has become somewhat more complicated: nests of vampires in Purley, negotiating a truce between the warring god and goddess of the Thames, and digging up graves in Covent Garden . . . and there’s something festering at the heart of the city I love, a malicious vengeful spirit that takes ordinary Londoners and twists them into grotesque mannequins to act out its drama of violence and despair.

The spirit of riot and rebellion has awakened in the city, and it’s falling to me to bring order out of chaos – or die trying.

I finally got around to reading it! I actually pre-ordered this before it came out, and promptly… didn’t read it. (And somehow lost my first edition hardcover, which is most annoying…) I was going through a phase when I didn’t want to read anything set in London and then got distracted by myriad other things. As I am wont to do. Anyway. I’ve now begun the series, and I will certainly be reading the rest of it. This was a lot of fun, and a must-read for all fans of urban fantasy.

There’s not much that hasn’t been written about Ben Aaronovitch’s mega-selling debut urban fantasy. So does the internet really need another review of Rivers of London (also known as Midnight Riot in the US)? Perhaps a short, quick one? First of all, long-time readers will have noticed that I am not widely read in urban fantasy. Therefore, I cannot really comment on how well this adheres or not to genre expectations. What I can say is that it’s an excellent blend of police procedural and supernatural. The publisher calls it “CSI London”, which isn’t a bad descriptor.

What jumped out at me right away was the voice: it’s welcoming, amusing, quite British (though in no way exclusionary, as some reviewers seem to have thought), and well-paced. It doesn’t rattle along at breakneck pace, but nor does it plod. There were a couple of dips in pace, but they were short and we quickly moved on. Grant’s introduction to the supernatural world is well-done, sudden, and refreshingly calm. Some readers may find the ease with which certain characters accept the presence of magic, gods, ghosts and so forth a little unusual, but it works here. Aaronovitch asks us to accept it, move on, and get on with enjoying the novel. Which is exactly what I did. The overlap between real-world cop thriller and supernatural is good, and while there are certainly lighter moments, Aaronovitch doesn’t skimp on the crime side of things: there are killings, they’re brutal, but not gratuitously described or lingered over.

The characters are well-rounded, realistic, and their interactions are frequently funny. The magic system is interesting, and by no means easy or deus ex machina. The mythology the author has created, in terms of bestiary and for the city of London, is great. We’re not given everything in one go, and the strangeness and quirks are presented to the reader as-and-when its required. I can only assume that this will continue with the series (the fifth book in which is out this month).

As a debut, there are a couple of niggles, but these by no means derail the story. While I was slow in reading this, I was not slow in acquiring (and hoarding) the other books in the series, so I will no doubt be reading them in the near future, starting with Moon Over Soho.


Update/Addendum: The series is also being adapted into a comic series, to be published by Titan Comics, which I think is very cool. I’ve managed to dig up the cover for the first story-arc, “Body Work”:


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