Monday, 29 August 2016

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review

Review of Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

First off, I apologise if this review is rambling and confused; I've only been back from my honeymoon in Canada for a couple of days and I'm still incredibly jet-lagged. I'm actually writing this to try and stay awake.

I meant to review Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch (Gollancz) ages ago but it somehow got lost on the list. It was one of the books that I won in my crime book bundle from Orion and I read it a few months ago now. I was reading the second of the series, Moon over Soho, on holiday and realised that I never got round to reviewing this one.

Which I'm now rectifying because I thoroughly enjoyed it, I haven't read such an original book in a long time.


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 (and as the Filth to everybody else). My only concerns in life were how to avoid a transfer to the Case Progression Unit - we do paper work so real coppers don't have to - and finding a way of climbing into the panties of the outrageously perky WPC Leslie May. Then one night, in the pursuance of a murder inquiry, I tried to take a witness statement from someone who was dead but disturbingly voluble, 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'm fairly late to the party on this one as Aaronovitch has already written several sequels in the Peter Grant series which is very popular.

I was particularly interested to read Rivers of London because of the mix of genres; fantasy and crime. I can't think of many other authors who have successfully done this (please let me know in the comments if you can suggest some), apart from Terry Pratchett's Vimes books in the Discworld series.

Rivers of London is a bit like Terry Pratchett, but at the same time not at all (I told you this wouldn't make much sense). It's not set in a fictional universe but in our very real London, it just happens to be a London with vampires and ghosts in it.

It's hard to compare Rivers of London to anything, which makes it so unique. If I were to try I would say it has the magic of Harry Potter, the action of a Die Hard film and the dry humour of a Ben Elton novel, with a dash of Red Dwarf 'smeg' attitude.

In truth, it's a genre all of its own and can't be compared.

Rivers of London is a very British novel, not just because of it's London setting but because of the dry humour and 'take it as it is' writing style.

London is not just the setting but the living heartbeat of the novel. Clearly Ben Aaronovitch, like his main character Peter Grant, knows London inside out, both its beauty and its flaws. On occasions Rivers of London can read like a history book with Grant dipping into London's past and rambling on for several pages, but he does it with such fun that you don't mind.

Grant is truly the success of the book. He tells the story of his discovery of ghosts and magic with a matter of fact manner that takes in his own bafflement as inevitable. Again, it's very British.

He is every bit a Londoner with his keep calm and carry on attitude. Once over his initial surprise of discovering a ghost at the crime scene, he follows his training and takes a statement from him.

Grant is also blankly funny, especially in terms of his fellow countrymen's view to his mixed race heritage. He is British, born and bred in London, but others aren't sure where to place him, and Grant has got used to people eyeing him in fear when he's travelling by public transport.

As well as Grant there is a great cast of supporting characters, ranging from the thoroughly human to the very much not so. What I like is that the characters, even (or especially) the magic ones, are well drawn. Aaronovitch humanises mythical characters.

The whole book takes on a thoroughly no-frills view of the mythical and magic. So if the thought of fantastical creatures and magic spells sends you running, don't worry; at heart Rivers of London is a crime mystery, with a thoroughly satisfying , twisty, turny plot that keeps you guessing.

There is just one point about this book that I did want to raise, though I think I've only noticed it because I've read the second one, so this is in retrospect: it is very much a first in a series book. It introduces characters, gathers background information and sets up the story. The next one does flow a lot better, mainly because the characters and universe are already established.

But that's really my only quibble, otherwise Rivers of London was one of the best books I've read in a while.

My Rating: 4 Stars

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