Book Review – Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

books, reviews

Rating: 3 out of 5.

One of the biggest problems with buying so many books in a year is that I tend to forget about them. I put them on my shelf with every intention of reading them later but, inevitably, they get lost amongst the rest. In some cases, I end up buying the book again but, thankfully, that’s a rarity. Mostly they just sit there gathering dust. In order to get my every increasing TBR down, I’ve taken to buying or borrowing the audiobook version as well. I’ve grown to really enjoy listening to an audiobook at work, so it means I can cross a few off in a particularly good week. In the case of this book, I ended up listening to it by accident. I knew that I’d bought a book a few years ago that had “of London” in the title. Turns out, that book was The Ashes of London instead. Ah well, I borrowed this one and might as well give it a listen. It’s one of those books that I see everywhere but didn’t know much about. Maybe it would be a new series for me?

 I’m not a big fantasy reader these days, so I’m never sure how I’m going to feel when I pick one up. I do have a bit of a soft spot for urban fantasy though. Especially when it’s set in good old London town. This is the kind of story that grabs your attention immediately. Peter Grant is a probationary constable in the Metropolitan Police Service and is called to the scene of a murder. A body is found without a head. Grant manages to get a witness statement at the scene. The only problem is that his witness is a ghost. This encounter introduces Peter to a secret branch of the police force that deals with all things supernatural. He also becomes a trainee magician under the tutelage of Inspector Nightingale. In his first few days on the job, Peter has to deal with vampires and the warring Mother and Father Thames. Although, that’s nothing compared to the mystery surrounding several acts of violence that are cropping up all over London. Can Nightingale and Grant find the killer and stop them before anyone else gets hurt?

Ultimately, this is a fun fantasy novel that doesn’t take itself too seriously. I enjoyed listening to it and getting to see all of the supernatural elements of London. There is a definite humorous element to the story that keeps it from becoming a tired cliche. I do like the fact that the story is so tied to London and the geography of the city. Yes, you’ll find a lot of name-dropping o streets, tube stations and landmarks. I don’t think that would stop anyone who isn’t familiar with the city from enjoying it. You get a good sense of where you are but it doesn’t really matter if you don’t. The book gives a good sense of the city and its character. This is what helps drive the story along.

The pacing of this novel is pretty fast, which helps keep you engaged. It also means you don’t get much of a chance to catch your breath. I would have preferred a bit more time getting to know people and learning about the magical world. We see Peter learning the basics but it feels like it’s over pretty quickly. Maybe it’s a personal choice, but I would have enjoyed reading more of Nightingale teaching Peter. As for the rest of the novel, there’s quite a lot going on. The book juggles two main storylines that end up overlapping obviously. Both of these strands are interesting but it all gets a bit much. There are so many things going on that everything feels a bit rushed. I wish it had been a bit simpler. Especially as it’s the first book in the series and had to set up the world. If there had been a tighter focus, I think the novel would have been more enjoyable. 

Unfortunately, I didn’t really warm to the protagonist of the novel. Peter is kind of annoying. Not only does he have very little personality but I found his attitude towards all of the female characters positively creepy. I get that he’s a young, red-blooded male but seriously. It’s so tiresome hearing him talking about tits all of the time. He really is an appalling police officer because it takes no effort to distract him. I can only imagine how much better this book would have been had his colleague Leslie been the one to make contact with the ghost. She was a much more interesting character and a much more accomplished detective. It would also have been good to get to know Inspector Nightingale a bit more. Although, it is only the first book in the series, so I imagine that will happen over time.

It’s not that I didn’t enjoy this book but I wasn’t exactly blown away. I’m guessing that it could just be because there was a lot that it needed to do. You get the sense that a lot was being kept back for future instalments which is why certain elements feel very thin. Then there was the fact that it needed to introduce us to this world and the people in it. There’s just so much to get through. I didn’t feel as though I particularly cared about either of the main plot lines or any of the characters. So, whenever anyone was in peril, it didn’t feel very high stakes. I might carry on with the series but not straight away. The little preview that I got of the sequel didn’t exactly leave me with a great desire to get stuck in immediately, But we’ll see. 

3 thoughts on “Book Review – Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

  1. Thanks for the review, lbut I’m glad I came across it after I’d begun reading the book. I have t read science fiction for decades and have never been interested in fantasy (the exception was Asimov’s ‘the gods themselves’) I read a more glowing review Online and on the strength of it I downloaded a digital copy of Rivers. (That’s the way to avoid dusting 🤭) you’re right, Aaronovitch is setting things up in this introduction to a series, but you expect that. It’s a nice thought that if i like it, I’m quarter of the way through, I’ll get to revisit the universe and the characters.


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