Books, General

Rivers of London | Review

Title: Rivers of London

Author: Ben Aaronovitch

Rating: 5 Stars

Dates read: 18 Jun 18 – 23 Jun 18

Publication date: 10 January 2011

Publisher: Gollancz

Genre(s): Detective; Murder Mystery; Fantasy


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 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.

Do you ever read a book because you’ve heard the name or seen the cover and you have no idea what to expect, or in fact anything about the book at all? That was me with Rivers of London. I kind of knew it had detectives, and I think my friend once mentioned that there was some sort of fantastical element to it, but I really had no idea what the story would entail, what would unfold, and ultimately, how much this book would completely capture me. I chose it for a challenge during a readathon, I’d plumped for the audiobook in the Audible Daily Deal sale, and I just thought why not? Best bookish decision I’ve made in a while…

This review is going to be rather short and sweet. It’s not because I have nothing to say about this novel. It’s not that the writing style was average, the story run of the mill, or the narration boring. It’s because there is nothing that I can ever say that will quite encompass how wholly unexpectedly wonderful this book actually was. I also don’t want to ruin the (literal) magic that can be found within the pages and the words of this story.

The lead characters are rich with culture, knowledge, and humour, and complement each other with precision, clashing with hilarity. They’re weird and wonderful, and for the first time in a long time, i felt like the characters in this book represented real life. They weren’t the best there ever was at their job, they worked hard, got drunk, and didn’t always get the best results at the end. Their relationships were genuinely complex and enjoyable, rather than forced and imaginary, and their interactions felt like those you’d experience in your own day to day life.

Well…I say this…it’s of course applicable before the magic happens. The introduction of all of the fantastical elements in this novel are done with as much delicacy as a pan to the face, but the comical writing style softens the blow into a uniquely clever, and utterly immersive reading experience. I love that we see the novel through the eyes of Peter Grant. The magical elements are as new to him as they are to us, and I can’t help thinking that feeling, seeing, experiencing these developments through him is the best way to be introduced to such a complex world.

I often read novels and feel like they passed me by, and I think, had I read this as a physical book rather than e-book, this might have been one of those stories. Kobna Holbrook-Smith is a master narrator. His London accent brings Peter to life, and he executes perfect comic timing and astonished reactions to what is a completely new world to the character. He added a new dimension to character interactions, and his narration raised this from very good to spectacular.

I want to keep reading, listening, to this series. I want to shout from the rooftops and tell you to experience this for yourself, for it’s not quite like anything I’ve ever read before.

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