Sci-fi & Fantasy Month: Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch
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.
Ben Aaronovitch is a London-born writer who has written for television shows such as Doctor Who, Casualty, and Jupitor Moon, and has also previously worked for Waterstone’s in Covent Garden. Rivers of London (also known as Midnight Riot in the USA) is his first novel published by Gollancz, and was released in January this year. There has been a lot of buzz and hype surrounding this novel and I suppose for me, it’s great to see a fellow ‘Waterstonion’ getting published. With great reviews being published all over the internet, I decided I had to give this a go and include it in my Science Fiction & Fantasy Month on my blog.
So does it live up to the hype? My answer has to be yes….and no.
What I loved most about this book is the fact that it is set in London. It’s refreshing to see a fantasy novel set in an English city for once. What comes across most in Aaronovitch’s writing is his passion and love for the city of London. It is well researched filled with fascinating bits of information that anyone living in England is sure to appreciate. Adding to the English setting is definitely the dry humour us Brits are renowned for which shines through in the character of Detective Constable, and trainee wizard, Peter Grant.
Peter’s life was already complicated enough by trying to climb his way up the ranks in the London Constabulary, but his life turns upside down when he meets a ghost one night in Covent Garden. A whole other magical world opens up to him where he meets Inspector Nightingale who just so happens to be the only wizard left in London. Peter somehow ends up becoming his only apprentice and together they solve a string of crimes that involve the gods and godesses of the rivers of London, vampires, ghosts & a whole host of other intriguing characters. It’s Peter’s voice throughout the novel, however that really steals the show. His dry & very ‘British’ sense of humour and complete lack of ability to focus on anything important is enough to make you laugh out loud.
Where this story loses it for me is the complicated and confusing plot. The story is very jumpy at times – I found that I would start a new chapter and Peter would be doing something that made absolutely no sense to me and you’re not really given any kind of explanation until much later on. Aaronovitch really does make you use your brain trying to get your head around the plot and various characters and fantastical creatures. For me, there’s just a bit too much going on & not enough explanation. Instead of explanations we really need to understand the story, we are fed fact after fact about various historical points in London – don’t get me wrong some of it was fascinating and fitted with the story nicely, but sometimes it did feel like it was just included for the hell of it.
My final verdict of Rivers of London would be that it is a great start to a series, with some fantastic characters. It is fairly original, creative and funny at times, but it just needs something more to pull you in. With a bit of an edit, the plot could have been great. It’s not perfect, but it is a great beginning. I feel that Ben Aaronovitch will deliver more with the next novel Moon Over Soho due for release this year as well. Now that we know the characters, hopefully Aaronovitch can focus a bit more on writing a fantastic plot.
On a sidenote: I read Rivers of London on my Kindle and found some very frustrating errors that very much ruined the flow of the story for me, so I’d say if you can – get yourself a print copy instead.