Title: Rivers of London
Paperback: 390 pages
Publication Date: 25/08/2011
A London-set urban fantasy novel that blends magic with elements of crime fiction and the police procedural. Even before starting to read Ben Aaronovitch’s debut novel, Rivers of London, I knew that it was the prefect book for me. After all, I make no bones about quite how much I love London [something that my friends will – wearily – attest to!]. And one of my favourite novels is Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere – a book that has irrevocably changed the way that I view a number of London’s great [and not so great] landmarks and locations.
Although this intense affection for the city I have grown up in means that I am also quite demanding when it comes to fiction set in its environs. Luckily though, within only a few pages of starting Rivers of London and being introduced to young PC Peter Grant through his first-person narrative, I knew that I wasn’t going to be disappointed. Rivers of London is a long love letter to London and the city is brilliantly realised – one of the main reasons why this book works so well.
Peter Grant is saved from a life of boring paperwork in the Metropolitan Police when he gets a tip-off on a recent bloody murder. The only problem is that the witness is a ghost! His almost-but-not-quite girlfriend [Peter fancies him, but she seems oblivious to this fact] – who has just received a plum posting to the Murder Squad – is profoundly sceptical [but then, who wouldn’t be?]. But for Peter it is his first glimpse into a new, and unseen, world. And soon he finds himself apprenticed to the last working English wizard, Thomas Nightingale [who also works for the Met].
But this is a real apprenticeship – where results are gained through hard work and bloody-minded persistence, rather than waving a magic wand around and spouting made-up words. And the way in which the police procedural elements are woven into the plot feels convincing – Aaronovitch has obviously put a lot of thought into how a magical division would slot into the Met and the combination of scientific and procedural-led investigation with the utilization of magic never feels too jarring.
And, as in all of the best urban fantasy, what makes Rivers of London work so well is the confident way in which Aaronovitch juxtaposes the ‘real’ London and its oblivious inhabitants with the unknown, ‘other’ side to the city that is just below the surface. So there are vampires, trolls, a ghostly magistrate, a nymph, and warring river spirits – who are brilliantly personified and seem to be influenced by their locations.
That’s not to say that Rivers of London is perfect as a novel. There were a few sections in which there was slightly too much exposition, certainly for my liking, and a couple of the plot resolutions didn’t entirely make sense.