8 Rated Books Book Reviews

Book Review: Rivers of London/Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch

Title: Rivers of London (UK)/ Midnight Riot (US)

Author: Ben Aaronovitch

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Publisher: Gollancz (UK) / Del Rey (US)
Publication date: Jan 10 2011 / Feb 1 2011
Hardcover: 400 pages

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.

Stand alone or series: First book in a new UF series

How did I get this book: Review copy from Gollancz

Why did I read this book: I had it on my radar for aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaages because of the awesome cover.

Review:

Has Peter Grant, a probationary constable of the Metropolitan Police, gone bonkers? Because that is the only way to explain the fact that a ghost has approached him at a murder scene with information about the crime and he actually took a witness statement. It’s either that or all that paranormal shit is real – vampires, ghosts, magic and whatnot – which is what Peter comes to learn soon enough. His willingness to accept all that is the reason why he ends up being co-opted by Inspector Nightingale, the last wizard in England and sole member of a secret department (much like the FBI’s X-Files), to become his apprentice and work under his orders.

As they investigate the crime that brought them together and the ensuing escalation of violence that might point to a vicious spirit taking over the minds of innocents, Nightingale and Peter also have to navigate the murky waters (ha) of the embodiment of the Rivers of London who decided that now is a good time to fight over territories. If that wasn’t enough, Peter needs to learn all he can about practicing magic in a short period of time, take care of a dog that seems to have adopted him and try not to get caught in department politics whilst simply trying to be a good copper.

Whereas I can’t really say that the premise of Rivers of London is original (i.e. the tale of The Unsuspecting Protagonist Thrust in a New Situation Whereupon He Learns That There Are Supernatural Beings Around And That He Too Has Powers He Must Learn To Control), the execution of the plot, the setting, and Peter’s voice more than make up for it and are what made reading this book such an extremely fun experience.

Plot-wise, Rivers of London is a mix of whodunit and politics placing its protagonist in a position of having to play detective and diplomat. The first part takes place as he deals with the horrible crimes that are happening all over London – and the answer to this mystery and who is behind the killer is AWESOME and I can’t really say more about that to avoid spoiling the fun. But it is certainly very theatrical and I loved that part. But not as much as observing Peter having to deal with the embodiment of the Rivers of London – Mother Thames, Father Thames and their daughters and sons (smaller rivers and minor estuaries) – and the mythology created around them. Both arcs are quite clever and expertly handled by the author.

Equally clever is how the setting, the city of London is incorporated into the story: not only its rivers and its history come to life (literally. No, seriously) but Peter makes his way all over the place. Living in England and having visited London countless times, it is great to see a place that I love on paper and with such vivid colours too. And if there is one word that I would like to use to describe the book it would be: britishness (Microsoft Office, I do NOT mean brutishness). Rivers of London is filled to brim with it: it permeates the setting, the writing, the humour and above all, its main character, Peter.

The story is narrated in first person by Peter and he too, embodies something and I think it is the contemporary brit. He represents the diversity that exists in England with its immigrants – his mother is from Sierra Leone and Peter himself is Black and the potential problems that this might represent (I particularly enjoyed this one scene in the tube in which he knows he is being observed) . His choice of profession is a mixture of the highly traditional (I love that Peter is constantly analysing and thinking about what does it mean to be a copper, what kind of clothes to they wear and why, how to they represent themselves in public and to their superiors) and ubber advanced in terms of technology which seems to define Britain so well.

Similarly when it comes to magic, there isn’t simply an acceptance. He questions everything although the lack of answers is frustrating to him (and the reader). But the questioning is welcomed and fascinating to me (even if sometimes it sounds a bit like info-dump) and it comes from a place of Science too. When one of his lessons leads him to create light, he muses:

“The laws of thermodynamics are pretty strict about this sort of thing, and they say that you never get something for nothing. Which mean that the joule was coming from somewhere – but from where? From my brain?”

Peter has an inquisitive mind that reveals that there are consequences to the use of magic, which I imagine will come into play as Peter grows stronger.

I liked Peter as a narrator and as a flawed character. His voice is funny, sort of ironic and he is a well-balanced blend of effectiveness and cluelessness. I don’t very much care for the way he thinks about the female characters although that is certainly part of the “flawed” character bit and probably part of his personal arc. Because of that, he remains in the “like” category rather than the “love” but there is a lot of potential there for growth since our relationship only but started.

In any case, Rivers of London is top notch Urban Fantasy and I can’t wait to read the sequel, Moon Over Soho.

Notable Quotes/ Parts: a bit of Grant’s philosophy:

Sometimes I wonder whether, if I’d been the one that went for coffee and not Lesley May, my life would have been much less interesting and certainly much less dangerous. Could it have been anyone, or was it destiny? When I’m considering this I find it helpful to quote the wisdom of my father, who once told me,’ who knows why the fuck anything happens?’

Additional Thoughts: On the subject of covers and titles, can someone explain to me WHY the US title is different? And the covers are SO different too: the UK one in my opinion is unique, and fun too – also very, very accurate and representative of what’s inside. It also has a major spoiler but you won’t know that until you read at least half of the book and THEN you notice. I am cryptic on purpose, yes.

The US cover on the other hand, ay mama. It is SO generic and bland with the gun and the glowy light thingy. I guess though it is a good thing that they didn’t whitewash it, right?

Rating: 8 – Excellent

Reading Next: To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

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18 Comments

  • Jennifer @ An Abundance of Books
    January 11, 2011 at 4:58 am

    Peter sounds like the type of character that I get frustrated with, but your review has interested me and I’ll check it out.

    On the covers – I wonder if they changed it hoping to attract more male readers? (I like the UK cover much better)

    Jennifer (An Abundance of Books)

  • Tweets that mention The Book Smugglers » Blog Archive » Book Review: Rivers of London/ Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch -- Topsy.com
    January 11, 2011 at 7:10 am

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by The Book Smugglers and Jon Weir. Jon Weir said: RT @jberlyne: Another stunning RIVERS OF LONDON review – http://tiny.cc/39gyq […]

  • Rachel Randall
    January 11, 2011 at 8:06 am

    Oooh, I’m a huge Mike Carey/Felix Castor fan, so the promise of more excellent London-of-that-ilk makes me very very excited indeed. Thanks for the review!

  • Rana
    January 11, 2011 at 8:07 am

    Great review!
    I agree with the thing about the covers and titles. The US one looks like one of those cheap, sleazy books. Something that I would never look at twice. The UK one looks complicated and interesting.

  • Ginny
    January 11, 2011 at 9:07 am

    Sounds a little like the Harry Dresend series, which I love, but with Britishness! Yay! I’ll have to give it a go.
    & maybe they changed the cover & name because they thought that American readers would be put off by the London setting. I’ll admit when I first saw the cover & name I was thinking more historical or literary fiction than urban fantasy.

  • Nancy McGregor
    January 11, 2011 at 9:29 am

    Looks interesting and a UF set in the UK really appeals to me especially by a British author. I love American UF but I find a lot of the time I struggle to relate to characters. I’ve got to say that I don’t like either cover and I definately wouldn’t have picked this up if this blog hadn’t highlighted it.

  • mb
    January 11, 2011 at 10:08 am

    This book looks interesting! I’ve put it on my to-read list. It sounds like a mix of Felix Castor + Neverwhere or American Gods + Bryant & May.

    I very much agree with you about the superiority of the British title and cover art. The American one sounds and looks very generic. Frankly, it was the British illustration and title that pulled me in and put this on my radar. I wouldn’t have given a second glance at the American version.

  • Weasel of Doom
    January 11, 2011 at 10:17 am

    With you on thumbs-up to British cover & title and thumbs-down to the American ones.

    I won a copy of “Rivers of London” from LibaryThing, and it still hasn’t made it’s way to me! *cries* Really hope it’ll arrive soon!

  • Kate @ Candlemark
    January 11, 2011 at 11:06 am

    Wow, I really hate that US cover. I may just order my copy from AmazonUK as a result. But order it I shall…!

  • sakura
    January 11, 2011 at 2:03 pm

    I haven’t heard of this title until I read your post:) I’m into my supernatural kick at the moment so this book looks great. Interesting premise especially as it’s set in London (with all its history).

  • Cara Marie
    January 11, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    I kind of prefer the US cover, ugly as it is, in that it actually indicates that this is the kind of book I would like. The UK cover might be nicer, but it looks like a literary fiction cover, so in store I’d probably never pick it up. Which would be sad, because this sounds like something I’d really enjoy!

  • Lisa
    January 11, 2011 at 10:01 pm

    Good review.. Great site for book recommendations – myBantu.com. Take a look.. 🙂

  • Erika (Jawas Read, Too)
    January 12, 2011 at 12:26 am

    As soon as I find a place where I can purchase the UK edition, I will because the US cover is dreadful. 🙁

  • Laly
    January 12, 2011 at 2:03 am

    Thanks for your rewiev. I interested on this books. Do you think we’ll see a film based on the book?

  • Jennygirl
    January 12, 2011 at 11:52 am

    Thanks for the review. You are spot on about the covers because I would so not pick up the U.S. version based on cover alone. However, due to your review I will be hitting the bookstore soon. I love me a good mystery 🙂 Thanks gals!

  • Miss Piggy
    January 15, 2011 at 7:04 am

    Covers: Author Christine Hinwood, US: RETURNING and UK BLOODFLOWER both to be released in June.

  • Midnight Riot (aka Rivers of London) by Ben Aaronovitch – Review
    March 18, 2011 at 7:58 pm

    […] The Book Smugglers say: […]

  • Jodie
    June 1, 2011 at 5:12 am

    I’m about 100 pages in and not so impressed. I’ll keep going because I’m wondering if maybe this is one of those books that picks up at a certain point when some things become more clear, but omg all the constant ‘let me make sure you understand exactly what street in London we are in’ stuff is driving me crazy. But if it doesn’t work out I’ve a Pratchett book in hand, so I can follow it with something else comical and fantasy like.

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