‘Rivers of London’ by Ben Aaronovitch: Book Review

“Being a seasoned Londoner, Martin gave the body the “London once-over” – a quick glance to determine whether this was a drunk, a crazy or a human being in distress. The fact that it was entirely possible for someone to be all three simultaneously is why good-Samaritanism in London is considered an extreme sport – like base jumping or crocodile wrestling.” 

When a friend gifted me this book for my birthday, it came highly recommended, so I was very excited to start reading it.

Rivers of London (or Midnight Riot if you’re in the US) is the first book in Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series, and merges elements of urban fantasy with crime. The main character, Peter Grant, is a probationary constable in London, whose eyes are opened to some of the city’s supernatural inhabitants when in the aftermath of a brutal murder, he finds himself face-to-face with a ghost as an eyewitness. This brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, a detective specialising in magical crimes, who enlists Peter to help him solve the wave of unusual murders that is spreading across London.

This book was an almost effortless read, and I liked it a lot. It’s written in an accessible way that makes it appealing not just to seasoned fantasy readers, but to fans of police procedurals and crime, and even to people who are new to both the genres it blends together. It’s this mixture of crime and urban fantasy that makes the book really unique. This is an unusual combination, and one that’s handled flawlessly in this book: somehow, all the strange supernatural events in the book fit really well with modern-day London.

A major highlight of the book for me is its humour. From the first chapter, the characters are witty and don’t take themselves too seriously, taking every opportunity for dry humour (my favourite kind) amongst all the strange goings-on. It also really lightens the mood of the book, and prevented things from feeling stuffy, or too serious, which is often a danger in both fantasy and crime.

“If you find yourself talking to the police, my advice is to stay calm but look guilty; it’s your safest bet.” 

This book feels driven by the plot and by ideas. As the main plot progresses and Peter struggles to solve the murder cases, readers are introduced to a number of different types of supernatural beings that live in London and along the River Thames. This helps to build up an idea of the setting and exactly what kind of magical beings and events readers can expect to find later in the story. A lot of the book is taken up by introducing readers to this setting and these characters, which reminded me a little bit of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. 

The plot itself moves along relatively quickly, and while it wasn’t the thing I found most exciting or interesting about the book, it still kept my interest and really picked up towards the end of the book. Personally, I enjoyed the book more for the strangeness of it, and for the ideas and humour, rather than for the mystery itself.

Another thing I enjoyed in this book was the fun the writer has had with the setting. Anyone familiar with London will recognise plenty of the landmarks Peter visits in the book, and there’s something very fun about reading a book that says there are goddesses, ghosts or vampires living near somewhere you visited a couple of days ago.

“Like a lot of London, Richmond town centre had been laid out back when town planning was something that happened to other people.”

I only have a couple of complaints about this book, and neither of this were things that spoilt my enjoyment in any major way. I didn’t feel much of a deep connection to the characters, but I think that rather than being relatable, they were made to be humorous and vibrant, so I don’t think this is a big issue for this book. I also found myself getting a little confused towards the end of the book, when a lot of different names are mentioned, and I found it hard to keep track of the various ghosts and criminals, so having finished the book, there’s a part of me that still isn’t entirely sure what the villain’s motive was.

Despite these small flaws, this book was very enjoyable. It was easy, accessible, fun, unique, and it made me laugh. I would definitely recommend it for anyone who is looking for something a little different, and likes their books to be entertaining, rather than emotionally draining, and particularly to any Londoners, who I think would enjoy the references. This is one of those books I would classify as a good holiday read – it’s a quick read compared to a lot of fantasy novels (under 400 pages), and lighthearted compared to a lot of crime, making it perfect to keep you entertained on a long journey without weighing you down.

“‘I never worry about theological questions,’ said Nightingale. ‘They exist, they have power and they can breach the Queen’s peace – that makes them a police matter.’”

Rating: 4/5

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