Okay, considering that I thoroughly enjoy The Dresden Files, I suppose it shouldn’t come as a shock that I enjoyed Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch. Another first person urban fantasy, magical detective novel, but this time set in London. For anyone reading in American it’s possible that you’ve seen it under the guise of the title: Midnight Riot. (As a side note, I personally much prefer the British cover for Rivers of London, for some reason the Midnight Riot just strikes me as the kind of cover you’d find on a children’s magic spy novel. But maybe that’s just me!)

I mean, take a look at it. It’s a superb cover

The story follows Peter Grant, a probationary constable as he finishes his two year probationary period and as he deftly avoids becoming a member of the Case Progression Unit (to quote Aaronovitch “we do paperwork so real coppers don’t have to”) ends up being apprenticed to Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, the only wizard in Britain.

I think I got an extra dimension of enjoyment out of this book because I work in London. So whenever there was mention of somewhere I recognised, have walked past, or even the tube line I got a little thrill of excitement (it’s silly I know). And also because it seems to have some nice self-deprecating humour in it, and what good British citizen doesn’t enjoy some of that?

Anyway, I know you’re here for one reason and one reason only, you dirty scoundrels, for a book review! So let’s get to it!

Firstly, I want to talk about what stood out to me for this book, and that’s the writing style. It’s a first person narrative and isn’t overly verbose, if anything it’s the opposite. Slightly jarring at first, Aaronovitch’s writing style doesn’t dwell on every little detail, it doesn’t take the reader by the hand and guide them through the story with exquisite detail and imagery. The writing style is closer to what you would get if someone were actually telling you a story. I would like to say now, this is definitely not a bad thing and very well suited to the character and the story, it just took a little getting used to.

What I mean by that is that occasionally you’ll read sentences or paragraphs that skip over a sizeable chunk of time filled with activity. In a lot of books the reader might feel that this is cheating them of the narrative, but I think that in this particular book Aaronovitch has used this technique in a rather dashing fashion. But why? Because being a police officer often isn’t fun, isn’t adventurous and is in fact rather dull. Of course I don’t want to belittle what people involved in law enforcement do in any way, but it’s just not the sort of thing you want to read about in a story. So instead of reading laborious passages in which Peter Grant, the main character, sifts through CCTV footage or logs in to computer systems or what have you, Aaronovitch just gives us what we need to know. We don’t need to know what video files he was looking at, or which folder he delved into, but we find out what he did and what he found.

As well as this, Aaronovitch scatters his writing with humour and it all comes off in a deliciously wicked way. There are definitely chuckles to be had along the way as we follow our main character through London, the underground and dealing with supernatural creatures of one sort or another. Aaronovitch, I think, manages to capture something of British humour, the kind of thing that makes you give everyone a wide, cautious berth whilst simultaneously having a sense of fierce camaraderie.

The London that we find ourselves exploring along with Peter Grant is a fascinating mix of almost forgotten London mythology along with the exciting or humdrum life of mundane London (and by mundane here I don’t mean boring, it’s definitely not boring, just not magic). But within Rivers of London we only really get a glimpse of the magical London that Aaronovitch has created. On the rounds with Nightingale, through Peter Grant’s eyes we see ghosts, trolls and other magical beings that can’t be cleanly categorised. And with Peter Grant’s feet firmly planted within both the magical and the mundane world by the end of the novel, I most certainly look forward to seeing how London transforms itself in the coming books.

Conflict is key to most stories, and Rivers of London is no different. We are thrown straight in with it as the story begins with Peter Grant as he looks after a particularly grisly crime scene when all the other coppers have left. And then almost before anything else has a chance to happen, Peter Grant is whisked away under the wing of Inspector Nightingale to embrace the strange and uphold the peace. Aaronovitch keeps the story rolling and definitely picks up the pace as the story comes to its conclusion.

Overall, I would say that Rivers of London is a thoroughly amusing and enjoyable read with a little adventure, lots of suspense and plenty of action. Although the writing style can jar a couple of times in the first few chapters it quickly and easily facilitates the story and is an apt style to portray British ambivalence in all its forms. Of course due to the first person perspective there is a lack of overt dealings with the other character’s motives, but Aaronovitch is skilled enough to throw us hints via body language and Peter Grant is clever enough to suss out how people are feeling.

You will immediately be drawn into this story as the strange and supernatural immediately jump out from the page and draw you to the next chapter. The pace is always increasing as storylines intertwine, jump free and twist and turn all over place. I would strongly recommend this book as it is a thoroughly enjoyable read with unique story and a witty approach. 

So that’s it for now scribblers! I hope you enjoyed this review, and we’ll be back with some more excellent content soon! I know that the blog has been review heavy of late so hopefully is the next week or two we’ll be back to giving you a mix of tips, reviews and other thoughts!

In the meantime; be well, be kind, and have fun!

Rivers of London Review
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1 thoughts on “Rivers of London Review

  • August 14, 2013 at 2:54 pm

    I’ve just finished reading the third book in this series. Having not really expected to like RoL I suddenly found myself devouring all three of them and having to sit on my hands to prevent myself buying the fourth (hardback doesn’t work when you have to carry your reading material everywhere)!

    Like you, I’m based in London so I loved all the references to places I know and the witty observations about London life and the very British humour. I loved the writing style, it made me feel like Peter was an actual friend and I really lied that he glosses over all ‘the boring stuff’ connected with police work without pretending it doesn’t happen. Lots of crime books have everything wrapped up in a few hours so despite it being a supernatural story I think some of it was more realistic than a lot.


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