on 12 June 2012
I probably need to start with the admission that I have no idea of what "urban fantasy" is.....reading other reviews I don't think that is going to make me that popular.
What I do know is that this book was extremely entertaining from start to finish. I am shocked that Ben Aaronovitch has no policing background because, despite a few discrepancies, it is an impressive (albeit comical) insight in to both the inner machinations of policing the metropolis and also cop/gallows humour. Whilst, generally speaking, it is very witty there are some spectacular laugh out loud moments that leave you looking around the tube with a slightly apologetic look on your face and hoping that no one in the carriage has the power to section you.
Ben's passion for London is also extremely apparent and makes the journey all the more interesting. A real bonus is that, if you know the locations already, it is like rediscovering them all over again.
I really enjoyed this book, it captivated me very quickly and I find myself missing being involved with it now that I have finished. Great work. I hope you enjoy it too.
on 15 March 2011
It is always such a pleasure for me to find an author who manages to write a book that piques my interest and holds my attention. Both are true here because Ben Aaronovitch created something new for me. Normally when I read an urban fantasy book the plot requires that all those involved in that world are aware of the magic components active all around them. In this book that is not the case. Probationary PC Peter Grant had been left to guard a crime scene when he met a ghost. Not just any ghost either, no, this one was a witness to the crime. In very short order PC Grant finds himself assigned to a unit of the Metropolitan Police which up until he joined it had only one other member, a wizard. Peter is now on his way to becoming an apprentice wizard, learning magic and trying to help solve the crimes of completely unexplained violence which are breaking out all over London. Peter's best answer is to use his interest in scientific knowledge and experimentation in conjunction with the magic to explain some of the things that are happening.
I really enjoyed this book for its humor and the unusual combination of scientific investigation paired with utilizing magic. It put a different spin on the plot for me by having the entire London scene be so solidly in the present time, with the citizens of that great city completely unaware of the magic or the horrors within their city. I also enjoyed the great amount of research this author has obviously done regarding the many rivers around London. And to have each of them portrayed as an individual character was quite a successful undertaking. I also want to compliment those responsible for the artwork map on the cover of this book. No matter how many times I look at it I keep finding names of areas or a street that I recognize. I have to admit that, as an American, there were just a few times when I felt a little lost because I didn't understand some of the English slang or references, but it was certainly not anything that kept me from enjoying the novel. Book two, Moon Over Soho, is next in the series and if this one is anything to go by it should be another fascinating reading experience.
on 9 May 2014
This quirky, highly original thriller is a vividly evocative novel of extraordinary wonder and exquisite depth. Full of dry wit and irony the entertaining narrative swept me off into a darkly sinister, supernatural world of wonder and enchantment! The truly inspired concepts within Ben Aaronovitch's remarkable debut captured my imagination; blending together chilling crime and archaic magic within a 21st century backdrop. London is my home and so I felt at ease exploring the iconic places and landmarks, which were so acutely captured on the page with that added touch of mystery. I was ever so impressed by such a refreshingly innovative literary masterpiece of pure genius and substance, which I confidently predict becoming a new bestseller for this genre.
RIVERS OF LONDON is the first instalment within the new PC Grant series; a book that blends together the author's love of London with touches of tension set within a spellbinding, mystical backdrop. Aaronovitch provides an exclusive glimpse into the fascinating and fantastical underbelly of the city of London that feels entirely believable and convincing. As chaotic events unfold to shock and surprise, I undertook both a Geography lesson as well as a riveting read of memorability and magical moments. The richly detailed, sweeping narrative I felt was reminiscent of Deborah Harkness' book `A Discovery of Witches' as it similarly contained those elements from classic fantasy fiction within a modern setting.
As I surveyed all of London before me from high up on the royal opera house balcony that faces Covent Garden market, I could clearly envisage in my mind PC Grant's shadowy underworld just waiting to be discovered...
I was compulsively addicted to this terrific tale and glued to the pages for many hours on end, to both my astonishment and overwhelming delight! I cannot wait to pick up book 2: Moon over Soho from my local bookstore.
*I won a paperback copy of Ben Aaronovitch's novel `Rivers of London' through a Goodreads, first-read giveaway. I would like to thank Gollancz Fiction (Orion publishers).
Books in order -
1. Rivers of London
2. Moon over Soho
3. Whispers of the underground
4. Broken Homes...coming soon!
Ben Aaronovitch is a successful screenwriter who has worked mainly in the fantasy and science fiction genres. 'Rivers of London' is the first novel in the series of the same name. It's probably best described as urban fantasy.
The city in question is London, and the fantasy element arises in the intersection of the modern, gritty London we all know and another, more shadowy city in which magic is an alternative form of knowledge and the contemporary streets overlie deep strata of history, legend and myth and hidden circuits of power. Aaronovitch brings these threads together in the story of a young mixed-race constable in the Metropolitan Police who must somehow operate in both worlds to solve mysteries and crimes with a supernatural element.
Aaronovitch's style will be immediately familiar to anyone who has followed British fantasy writing over the last decade. More sophisticated in the writing than J. K. Rowling, 'Rivers of London' still has a rather young-adult feel when compared to the best writers who have taken London as a rich hunting ground - I'm thinking here of Iain Sinclair and Peter Ackroyd in particular. Perhaps more pertinently, I also found it less interesting than the work of China Miéville and Neil Gaiman.
As one might expect from a novelist with Aaronovitch's professional pedigree, there are few of the typical first-novel problems. The book is carefully plotted and maintains interest throughout. Given the nature of the story, which moves fluidly between the late eighteenth century and the present day, there is a lot of research-based detail. This is woven into the texture of the narrative in a reasonably unobtrusive manner, but it's fair to say that it's Aaronovitch's fellow Londoners who are most likely to appreciate it. This London is buzzing, theatrical, multi-ethnic and relentlessly up-to-the-moment, but I felt that Aaronovitch's heart lay more in its past. There is a certain flatness in the depictions of the present-day city, as though a new set of clichés familar from recent television had supplanted the old 'cheeky Cockneys, friendly bobbies' stereotype.
'Rivers of London' is a pleasant, engaging read from a writer who promises better. Fans of modern fantasy will certainly enjoy it. It will be interesting to see how the series develops.
on 7 May 2013
Rivers of London is the first of a series of books in the style of urban fantasy. Having read and enjoyed several highly recommended urban fantasy novels lately, I decided to take a chance on this author, who is new to me. I am so glad I did. The storyline is refreshing with some interesting twists on the normal take of magic in present day setting. It came off as very real and unpredictable. The main character is a young PC constable called Peter Grant, who is described as mixed race and native of London, England.
The narrative is clearly by someone who knows London well through living there, which meant that as a fellow Londoner, I did not need to be distracted by inaccuracies in the geography. I liked the way the author did not descend into stereotyping of characters but rather kept the characters as people. London is a melting pot and so a typical Londoner would reflect that. Because of the refreshing viewpoint, this meant the reader needed to make up their own minds about what is likely to happen next without the aid of cliches to guide them. I did not notice a single "little did he know that in a few hours time that information would save his life". Dan Brown could learn a lot here.
Things I especially liked;
There are various side jokes and ironies such as "The father ready to defend himself from two stereotypes" when describing the black plainclothes PC constable and companion about to rescue the German tourists in Covent Garden. Some of these made me laugh out loud.
The magic in the plot was refreshingly played down rather than being the main plotline, consequently the main themes where about the thought processes of the main character as he stumbles (quite intelligently) through the new experiences he discovers in the world of magic. There were both tragedies as well as triumphs, which kept it real, yet satisfying. No one in the story seems to know everything or be able to predict the future, so this felt more like real life.
I finished the book wanting more, which is clearly a good sign, and I have already bought the next book in the series. I would highly recommend this book if you like urban fantasy and you don't like too much predictability.
Peter Grant's a probationary policeman with poor career prospects (his boss wants to assign him to the Case Progressions Unit where he'll shuffle paper instead of doing proper police work). But everything changes when he and fellow probationary officer, Lesley May, have to guard a murder scene in Covent Garden after a man is brutally beheaded. There Peter's approached by Nicholas Wallpenny who claims to have witnessed everything. The problem is that Nicholas is dead and the statements of ghosts rarely stand up in court.
Peter's experience brings him to the attention of Chief Inspector Nightingale, the last wizard in England, who takes on Peter as his apprentice. Now Peter has to master magic, navigate the internal police politics that go with being a wizard, negotiate a truce between the warring gods and goddesses of the Thames and catch an evil ghosts that possesses Londoners and forces them to commit horrifically violent crimes.
Ben Aaronovitch's novel, the first in a series, is a delightful mix of fantasy and police procedural - think THE DRESDEN FILES meets THE BILL.
London's central to why this book works so well. There's a fantastic sense of place here, both in the descriptions and in the way Aaronovitch brings the Thames to life in the form of the warring Mother Thames and Father Thames, each representing different aspects of the river and each encroaching on the other's territory. I really enjoyed the scenes where Peter visits their respective courts, especially those with the dangerous Mother Thames and her daughters, notably the bubbly Beverley.
The way Aaronovitch weaves in the police procedural elements feels convincing and he's clearly put a lot of thought into how a magical division would slot in. You don't learn a great deal about Nightingale, but I liked that and the fact that the magic underlies but doesn't dominate the story. Peter's essentially an ordinary bloke who never really lived up to his potential and his family background, notably the relationship between his drug addicted jazz musician father and black mother gives an interesting dynamic. Most heartening though was his relationship with Lesley, their friendship isn't ruined by the fact he fancies her (and I loved the fact that she's better at her job than he is).
It's a thoroughly enjoyable read with a great set up for the sequel and I can well understand its deserved success.
on 13 July 2011
For once an urban fantasy that actually is an urban fantasy, with not a poxy Doc Martened elf in sight, thank god: part very well researched police procedural, part Sorcerer's Apprentice - and this is a real apprenticeship, where results come from sheer slog and perseverance, not from waving a magic wand - part gruesome murder hunt, part otherworldly politicking, and part - and this is my favourite part by far - a carefully detailed map of Central London, written by one who knows and loves the place as it should be loved, all of it narrated by likeable Everyman Peter Grant, an adequate enough probationary constable who's just a bit too curious for his own good (while his colleagues are breaking up a riot in Trafalgar Square, he stops to check what's written on the lions' bums). Peter crosses the line between one world and another and, in the process, is saved from a future of data entry in the Case Progression Unit, one cold morning in Covent Garden, when he's left guarding a crime scene and a witness steps forward from St Paul's Church - a witness who has been dead for considerably longer than the body under investigation.
Rivers of London isn't perfect - there are a lot of open questions left hanging, and some of the plot resolutions don't entirely make sense - but it is bloody good, and one of the best things I've read in many years. Good enough that I went straight out and bought the sequel. In hardback.
Ignore Diana Gabaldon's stupid cover blurb, by the way. I'll do her the credit of believing she was misquoted.
Don't expect to learn too much about the actual lost rivers of London, though. That's a fascinating topic in itself, but one for another book entirely.
on 16 July 2015
I don't understand how on reading the reviews the fact that the book dealt in magic escaped me as it is abundantly made clear.... so imagine my disappointment when I took it down from the shelf recently, thinking I was about to read a classic murder mystery, when I realised I had to deal with Harry Potter turned policeman.I thought I was the only one to blame as I am not a lover of magic/fantasy writing at all. I still decided to give it a go and remembering how dearly I had loved Tolkien's 'The Lord of the Rings' thirtyyears ago thought that if the writer was gifted all wasn't necessarily lost. Unfortunately for me , in a murder mystery, I like a good tight plot, with clues strewn about and a seamless story which progresses logically from what the reader is being fed. All the better when I miss those clues only to understand at the end how vital they were and why I never got to the solution by myself. Reading 'Rivers of London' was a painful experience and although I decided, unlike some other reviewers, to stick with it to the bitter end I must say it was with a great sense of relief I finally turned the last page. And let me say it's not merely the magic that irritated me thoughout the book. Had there been a good plot I could have dealt with a few spells cast here and there. But I have seldom read a story where the reader is so lost as to why things happen, as there is no logic whatsoever in the unfolding of the narrative. Everything is remarkably random and seems to stem only from the author's whim to go where he pleases. Add to that a complete inability to draw convinving characters and a style of writing that is at best mediocre and you end up with a book whose only good point is its' relative' shortness. Too bad if other readers feel incensed by what I've written, I can only share my own sincere experience as a reader. That some readers loved it is clear , that others disliked it just as much as I did is nevertheless true. The best thing is to make up your own mind after having borrowed rather than purchased ' Rivers of London'.
on 1 March 2012
I'm a fast reader so getting through a book in two days isn't a problem, except for the fact that I'm easily distracted, so life often gets in the way and books often take much longer to finish than their length would suggest.
Not this one. I began to resent having to do other stuff as it was stopping me from reading this book. Its very well written but not in an obvious way so was not hard to read and the ideas were compelling enough and the mystery interesting enough to pull the reader into the world. It is also very humorous but manages to not to be absurd so avoids comparison to other speculative fiction crime writing like the Dirk Gently books which could be read as more of a parody of the 'crime/detective' novel.
I've not really ventured into the 'urban fantasy' or 'paranormal romance' sub genres much yet and the massive profusion of titles and the current popularity of the sub-genre has put me off. I have been intrigued by the Laurell K. Hamilton and Jim Butcher books and more recently I stumbled across this book.
The reason this caught my eye was that I recently saw a documentary on the 'Rivers of London' which revealed there are a number of subterranean rivers, tributaries of the river Thames, still hidden below the streets and that concept made me interested in what an author, especially a speculative fiction one, could do with such information.
Well I wasn't disappointed. What the author has given us is a crime procedural from the viewpoint of a lowly police constable, but one with a twist in that Scotland Yard also has a department for dealing with crimes which have a supernatural element and our hero find himself apprenticed to a Wizard but still a part of the great metropolitan police. Where the author succeeds is that he handles the mundaneness of police work with as much relish and detail as he does the supernatural plot elements of the story. I also really enjoyed the secondary plot about the rising tensions between two factions involved in a turf war led by Mother Thames and her daughters and Father Thames and his sons all of whom are river deities. The plot of which gives the book it's title.
Having worked in London for 6 years and having familiarity with the areas where the main story occurs, I can say with some authority that the author had captured the places wonderfully well. He imbued the book with a sense of a new modern brash city but with those old side-roads and areas which haven't changed quite as fast and the sense of the history and strangeness of some of those places which are just off the beaten track setting the perfect mood for this supernatural police procedural. For that alone I was disposed to love this book ensuring I will recommend it to others for years to come.
on 6 February 2012
In Rivers Of London, Aaronovitch takes young London copper Peter Grant, whom, it is hinted at is somewhat inept, and places him at a the scene of a murder guarding it overnight alongside Lesley, a colleague he wishes to be more than just friends with, when he is approached by one Nicholas Wallpenny who claims to have witnessed the crime. During Peter's attempt to take a statement Wallpenny dematerialises revealing himself to be a ghost.
Thus begins a tale of ordinary London policing interlocked with a tale of vampires and wizard police officers, sequestration and ghosts, and a dispute between two powerful water spirits. This book shouldn't work, it really shouldn't, the crime genre, the magic genre, and the vampire genre are such well worn avenues of late that they have become truly pedestrian. With all the elements of recent popular fiction thrown in together this book should have been bad, a bit needy, trying to cover all bases and be liked. In some ways it's a bit annoying that its not, because it makes you wonder how he managed to pull it off.
The main strength of the book is that it's entertaining, the prose is vivid and comical, it has a real caper feel to it, with Peter spending most of his time wondering how the hell he ended up involved in yet another disaster. The main storyline of the crime itself is clever and probably, if I knew much about the history, very well researched. The second storyline the resolution of a dispute between two water spirits each claiming to own the Thames has a very mythological quality, and if it reminded me of anything it was of Neil Gaiman's American Gods (but not enough to consider it plagerist) which from me, is a huge compliment.
All in all, if you are into the new "vampire genre", or "magic genre", fantasy books, like Terry Pratchett say (of whom I have to say I've never been a great fan) or if you don't mind crime that's a bit silly and tongue in cheek, you'll like this. If however, you prefer gritty realism with your crime like Stuart MacBride say, or Peter Robinson, you would probably find this annoying. Personally, I really enjoyed it and will definitely be reading the recently published sequel 'Moon Over Soho' 9/10