At the risk of revealing myself as terribly uninformed, I had heard people comment positively on Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London, but had, for some odd reason, formed the opinion that it was some sprawling non-fiction epic which chronicled the history of England’s capital. I think I might have got mixed up with the works of Edward Rutherfurd—but enough of my silliness.
Rivers of London is, in its own way, a history of London—but of a secret, magical history unbeknown to most of the everyday, ordinary citizens that pile into its tube stations by the hour. It seems obvious to say, but even very early on Aaronovitch’s novel reminded me of the works of Neil Gaiman—particularly the magnificent Neverwhere. It’s easy to see why: both deal with the unknown, unseen magical creatures that lurk in the shadows of the sprawling metropolis that is London.
In Rivers of London, we meet Peter Grant, a London Metropolitan Police constable trying to climb the ranks and prove himself to his superiors. Called to a murder near Covent Garden, he suddenly—while waiting for his friend and fellow officer Lesley to go get coffee—finds himself taking a witness statement from a ghost—and if that isn’t weird enough, it isn’t long before he is being inducted into an off-shoot section of the police force purely formed to study the supernatural goings-on in London. With him, it now contains two members.
Aaronovitch’s novel is a riot, and is clear that as we race through the city’s teeming streets that the author has a real passion for London; there is a feeling that the capital isn’t just being described, it has instead come alive. Peter quickly embarks upon a journey to a much higher calling, and his character is wonderful; his light, self-deprecating humour is a treat, and a perfect compliment to the Aaronovitch’s soft and often hilarious dialogue.
So why, do I hear you ask, have I rated this only three stars? Sadly, despite how good the cast of characters was—and I cannot wait to read more of them in the subsequent sequels—the plot did not hold my attention enough. It was far from confusing and not particularly difficult to follow, but I will be hard-pressed to recommend this book, purely for lack of a gripping, memorable storyline. Sure, the narrative was suitably quirky and entertaining, but it was mainly Aaronovitch’s interesting and eccentric characters that kept me flipping the pages.
Rivers of London is light and fun—a quick read even at just under 400 pages. It has an original premise, has been lovingly crafted, and will leave you laughing aloud often. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of other similar fantasy novels containing the supernatural—such as Gaiman’s Neverwhere—but it is definitely worth a read.