“Typically, a constable only sits in the commissioner’s anti-room when he’s been very brave, or very stupid, and I really couldn’t tell which one applied to me.”
Rivers of London is an urban fantasy story set in modern London. After constant recommendations from my dad, and then my brother recently, I decided to finally dive into this popular series. Thank you to them for pushing me into this read.
Rivers of London is a unique story that is full of dry humour, engaging plots, unique characters, and a wonderful setting. Listening to this on Audible, I was often laughing out loud, earning some strange looks from my family in the process. The narration by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, who has won an Olivier Award for Best Actor, was absolutely fantastic and really elevated the story, which by its own was already great.
“On the plus side, there were no rioters in sight but on the minus side this was probably because everywhere I looked was on fire.”
Ben Aaronovitch has a prose that just seems to click with me. It is engaging, and perfectly crafts the tone that he appears to be seeking. Regarding prose, I thoroughly enjoyed the slight shift in syntax that was implemented in different situations to mirror our protagonist’s thoughts. From the more clinical, efficient, tentative process when working, to the more decisive and more tangential shift when approaching other spheres of the story. This is something that is not incorporated enough. Our thought processes adapt to our situations, and that is mirrored here. It makes the story more engaging, and also subtly tells us so much about the central character. Loved it! Alongside this is his dry humour, which I said earlier I found hilarious. I loved the historical and pop references, such as the quote below. It is so funny you could put a tail on it and call it a weasel…
“I have an idea," I said.
"This better not be a cunning plan," said Leslie.
Nightingale looked blank, but at least it got a chuckle from Dr Walid.”
Much of what I had heard before reading was that the portrayal of London and Ben Aaronovitch’s world-building was a strong point. This is so true. He obviously knows London inside out, and it is made evident by the easy description and laying out of the setting and tone of urban life. His passion for London is just infectious, and it was really enjoyable to be caught in that as a reader.
Alongside the depiction of London, Aaronovitch adds an underbelly to the setting that is a fantastical world. This reminded me strongly, in a good way, of the vibes of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. The coexistence of the magical world and the ‘normal’ world with the ignorance of the latter is something that we have seen many times, such as in Harry Potter. But it never gets old. Aaronovitch introduces his own spin and gives his own concept that is fresh and new.
"So magic is real," I said. "Which makes you a...what?"
"Like Harry Potter?"
Nightingale sighed. "No," he said. "Not like Harry Potter."
"In what way?"
"I'm not a fictional character," said Nightingale.”
The characters were great as well. Our protagonist and perspective throughout the story is from constable Peter Grant, a given up scientist who begins in total ignorance regarding the magical world, until he talks to a ghost at a crime scene. He is wonderfully flawed and one of the best central characters I have read in a long time. Nightingale was an interesting character, and one that I hope to see more off. His role as guardian and teacher I feel was somewhat limited due to often serving as exposition. It was required for the plot, but I feel like it slowed down the pace and made Nightingale less engaging than his character appeared to initially appear. But, I am sure that he will be developed further on into the series.
Rivers of London introduces us to all manner of weird and wonderful scenarios and monsters. With a chance to view the development of London from the Dark Ages, to meeting the embodiments of the London rivers, to revenants, ghosts seeking vengeance, and troublesome spirits. They were all really unique and I look forward to encountering many more in the rest of the series.
“Keep breathing,’ I said. ‘It’s a habit you don’t want to break.”
Rivers of London is a well crafted story, with fantastic characters, a wonderful world, great prose and wonderful narration on Audible. My only small critique other than Nightingale’s exposition would be that I felt the middle third of the story lost some of its momentum, but that is me being picky, and certainly does not mean that I found it to be a slog at any part. It is just that drop from brilliance that makes me give this a 4.25 star rating. As I have now read the sequel, Moon Over Soho, I can confirm that all the great storytelling aspects of Rivers of London are built and improved on, and this definitely seems like a series that anyone would enjoy, and one I will be recommending even to those who do not read fantasy.