Book review: ‘Rivers of London’ by Ben Aaronovitch

“As a typical Londoner, Gurcan had a high tolerance for random thoughtlessness; after all, if you live in the big city there’s no point complaining that it’s a big city, but even that tolerance has its limit and the name of that limit is ‘taking the piss’.” 

Ben Aaronovitch, Rivers of London

I was given the book ‘Rivers of London’ (‘Midnight Riot’ in the US) during the month I was writing my dissertation. And this book was just perfect for taking my mind off from my academic reading and writing. ‘Rivers of London’ is a fantasy book with police officers as wizards who try to solve grim murder cases. I mean, it is a mix of crime and magic FOR ADULTS. What can you ask for more?

The book main character, Peter Grant, is a young police officer who I found very likeable. During a crime scene investigation, Peter encountered a ghost who claimed he witnessed the murder. What more, the death was so gruesome and mysterious. A man was beheaded, and the body was found in Covent Garden. The CCTV record showed a man in a mask passed by and hit the victim with a bat.

Later, Peter was recruited by Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, under the equivalent of FBI’s X-Files department. Nightingale is a wizard and, he is looking for an apprentice – the first after decades – and he chose Peter.

What makes ‘Rivers of London’ interesting is that magic is not a secret – some important people in the Metropolitan Police and the government know about the existence of magic, wizards, goblins, vampires, and spirits. In fact, they have been dealing with them for centuries. In Harry Potter, only the Prime Minister knows about magic and wizards – but in ‘Rivers of London’, dealing with the magical beings is a daily business for some police officers.

Another thing that makes this book so enjoyable for me is London references. Peter lives in Kentish Town (where I used to live), and he describes Camden so well (where I live now). This one really cracked me up.

‘Used to be a fucking paradise,’ shouted the ranting drunk. He couldn’t be talking about Camden Town which, despite the markets, had never really aspired to much more than shabby respectability.

Although I really liked the book and planned to read the second in the series, I also realised that it had the potential to be a bit confusing. There were so many characters in the book, and not all of them were related directly to the crime. In fact, there was another issue involving ‘the rivers’ of London that has nothing to do (directly) with the crime. The plot is excellent, but it jumps from one scene to the other in such a disorienting way. This often confused me: why Peter has to be in a certain place or talk to a certain person. Furthermore, there is a lack of emotion. We got a glimpse of Peter’s feeling when he talks about his father – but not so much about anything else. Including when he realised he was just recruited to be a wizard, or when his friends were in danger.

Still, a very entertaining read.

This edition of ‘Rivers of London’ is published by Gollanz an imprint of Orion Publishing Group

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