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Title: Rivers of London (#1 Rivers of London)
Author: Ben Aaronovitch
Published: August 2011 – Gollancz
Format: Paperback – 392 pages
“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?”” – Rivers of London
Hello Hello! How are you?
Today I am bringing you (finally) my review of Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch that I read a few months ago with some buddies from the TWR Gang. I have wanted to start this series for years and I’m so glad I did because we are just gearing up to start the 4th book and I am in love with the series! It is such a fabulous set of books and I’m loving reading them so much, so keep on reading to find out my thoughts!
Probationary Constable Peter Grant dreams of being a detective in London’s Metropolitan Police. Too bad his superior plans to assign him to the Case Progression Unit, where the biggest threat he’ll face is a paper cut.
But Peter’s prospects change in the aftermath of a puzzling murder, when he gains exclusive information from an eyewitness who happens to be a ghost. Peter’s ability to speak with the lingering dead brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, who investigates crimes involving magic and other manifestations of the uncanny.
Now, as a wave of brutal and bizarre murders engulfs the city, Peter is plunged into a world where gods and goddesses mingle with mortals and a long-dead evil is making a comeback on a rising tide of magic.
Trigger Warnings: alcohol and alcoholism (mentioned), blood, gore, graphic decapitation, graphic murder, violence, child death, bones, car accident (mentioned), racism, hallucinations, murder, occultism, drugs, ghosts, profanity, possession, attempted hanging, fire, flood.
Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch is the first book in the Rivers of London urban fantasy paranormal mystery series. I am currently reading this series as part of The Folly Readalong set up by Fiona from Fi’s Bibliofiles. Quite a few of the TWR Gang buddies are reading this together and I am so grateful to Fiona for having convinced us to read this series, we are all loving it so far!
If you would like to read this series, I highly recommend you read the first part of Fiona’s post, Friday at the Folly – Rivers of London. And if you have already read this book and there is no risk of spoilers, you can read the second part of her brilliant post where she goes over spoilery elements that she enjoyed and discusses them! it’s a great post!
This book is set in London and I enjoyed this part of the book so much. There is so much detail woven into the story, Aaronovitch really has a special kind of writing style whereby I was immediately drawn into this setting and felt like I was walking through London alongside Peter and the other characters.
I’ve only visited London a couple of times and I don’t think I have been anywhere near where this book is specifically set, that is the Folly and Covent Garden, but I could picture everything vividly. On Ben Aaronovitch’s website, there is an interactive map that plots out all the different books, so that is also a really nice touch to this universe.
The Folly is the magical building in which Nightingale and Molly live, and where Peter will live a bit later on in the book. As we meet Peter, he is still a probationary constable and he would really like to work in one of the murder squads on the police force, but after some events, he ends up being drafted by Nightingale to go work for him in the secret magic branch of the Metropolitan Police. The shift from Peter as a probationary constable living in his lodgings to him moving to the Folly was really when things started to change and when the book started to speed up.
The Folly is described as a beautiful building and every time that the characters were there, I really enjoyed seeing new parts of it. I particularly like the library, and I’m sure you can guess why. This setting is definitely one that I would not enjoy usually as I’m not that big a fan of contemporary settings, I much prefer magical and imaginary fantasy and science fiction settings, but I have been getting into urban fantasy lately and this is a perfect example of how real life and real settings can be knit together with magic, science, the paranormal and supernatural, including ghosts, river spirits and more.
Peter: Peter is the main character in this book and the star of Rivers of London. From the minute we met him, his whole personality jumped off the page and I already love him a lot. So far, Peter comes across as an intelligent, witty, sharp and caring person whom I love reading about. You can tell that he didn’t have the easiest time growing up and you learn little pieces about his life and family through this book. Peter made me laugh so many times while I was reading Rivers of London, he has that proper British humour that I adore – and the only one that really makes me laugh. I also thoroughly enjoyed reading about how he discovers that magic exists and even better, that he can do magic! His relationships and interactions with the various other characters in the book were all really well-written.
Lesley: Lesley is Peter’s friend and fellow probationary constable right at the start of the book. A little ways in, she becomes part of the murder squad on which Peter really wanted a spot, and although these two aren’t properly working together after this point, they still remain very close friends. You can tell that they fancy each other and there is a bit of unresolved sexual tension that actually comes across as quite funny. Lesley was definitely a very intriguing character. I can’t say much more but I felt sorry for her at the end, she really got the short end of the stick, but I’m hoping that things will improve for her in the following books.
Nightingale: Nightingale is Peter’s boss and the only other wizard in England. He is also my second favourite character in this series so far. The way we are introduced to Nightingale was hilarious and I laughed out loud numerous times while reading interactions between Peter and him. I have a feeling that even after all we have learned about Nightingale, there is still much more we will find out in the next books. I really like the relationship between Nightingale and Peter, how he is teaching him all about magic and just how real of a character he is.
Molly: Molly is kind of the in-house maid, cook, cleaner and general helper at the Folly and wow, what an intriguing and unique character. We have barely seen Molly and we barely know anything about her, but what I can say and what you will see right from the start is that she is a supernatural entity and she is very powerful. So far she is sweet, but I think she can definitely be un-sweet if needed or provoked, so I’m really looking forward to finding out more about this character. On a side note, seeing her perform hemomancy with Peter was utterly fascinating and maybe one of my favourite scenes in Rivers of London.
Mama Thames and Old Man Thames: These two characters are also exceedingly interesting and I have never read anything remotely close to them and what they are. Just like Molly, they are also supernatural beings, specifically genii locorum (I’ll let you Google that if you wish, but I urge you to go in blind and find out what it means while reading – unless you already know!). I was fascinated by these two and especially Mama Thames. They both exude so much power and knowledge, I would not like to get on their bad side. There are lots of other characters that are like them, but I won’t talk about all of them, only Beverley!
Beverley: So Beverley is also a genii loci and although we see quite a few of these peculiar beings, I think she and Oxley have been my favourite so far, other than Mama Thames whom I adore. Beverley is funny, witty, a little bit crude and not at all a prude, which is really refreshing. She is also insanely powerful which you will see for yourself in the book. I liked her relationship with Peter and how she just kind of drifted into the investigation of all the murders going on in and around Covent Garden and the Actors’ Church. I hope we will see more of her soon.
Dr Walid: We haven’t seen much of Dr Walid yet but I already love him. He is basically the pathologist who works with Nightingale and Peter on deaths caused by supernatural forces, or as Stephanopoulos keeps saying in Moon Over Soho (book 2) “other means”. I love all the parts that include the dead bodies, the mortuaries, Dr Walid explaining the cause of death and the investigations with him. I am aware that makes me sound quite morbid ahah!
As you can tell from all my gushing about the various characters, if Aaronovitch is good at one thing it’s making his characters believable, real and relatable. Except for the baddies, I have enjoyed reading about every single good character, seeing their interactions, learning some of their backstories and seeing how things unfold for them in this book. I’m really looking forward to learning more about them all, especially Peter, Nightingale and Molly.
A mystery with supernatural elements and beings: I love mystery in books and I am quite picky about my mystery. I much prefer actual murder mystery with dead bodies and police investigations which is exactly what this book is – and it makes me very happy. I also adore the fact that in Rivers of London we have SO MANY supernatural elements and beings. I’ve really been getting into urban fantasy lately and I have been thoroughly enjoying it, this was a great choice! This one has elements that are going to really surprise you, a lot of very original takes on some supernatural creatures and I love that magic and science are interwoven.
Science-based fascinating magic system: This is one of my favourite bits about the book and I think it is only the second or third instance of a science-based magic system that I have read about which is something I actually really enjoy. Had I been better at maths, I would probably have studied some kind of science, so seeing here and that magic and science go together, one explains and impacts the other is so great. Aaronovitch has created a fantastic magic system that we are only learning about very slowly but which I already know is one of my favourite magic systems. It is great seeing Peter learning about magic, how he doesn’t always get it right first try, but I think a lot of these scenes really attest to how clever Peter is, and along with magic I know that one day he will be formidable. I also really like that the author has created a system to detect magic usage on people and objects called vestigia which is fascinating.
Dark, gory and graphic scenes: I love a very atmospheric book and while I didn’t feel like this one was consistently at a level of atmospheric feels that I love, it does have a lot going for itself. This is definitely a book that is on the darker side and I would not recommend this to very young YA readers. I’ve always read books that aren’t for my age (I read Les Misérables when I was 12 aha), but I think I would put this one at 16+ at least, if not older. There are also some very gory and graphic scenes, so if you are sensitive to these topics, I would steer well clear because some scenes make you feel a little bit ill.
London, as you’ve never seen it before: As I said above, London is the setting of this book but it is also a very prevalent theme. It is not just the place where events happen, it is also events in themselves (this is kind of gibberish, sorry!). As Fiona put it in her post I linked higher up, this book and series is kind of a love letter to the city and I couldn’t agree more.
A diverse and fantastic cast of characters: I also really like and appreciate just how diverse the cast of characters is. Nowhere on earth are there people who are just one thing, or one nationality, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, identity, etc. The world is full of such diverse people, with no two the same, it only makes sense that books would reflect that as well. London is a very diverse city and Aaronovitch did an incredible job of bringing forth this diversity, of showing the reality of this place and life. His cast is fabulous, I love the characters and the fact that they are so realistic really makes this book special.
A great start to an urban fantasy paranormal procedural mystery series: I have to say, I am a very big fan of series, I love when stories continue on for more than one book and I get so invested in the plots, the worlds and the characters. This is one such series that I know I will be full invested in and the fact that it mixes urban fantasy, procedural mystery and paranormal elements is just perfect. I love genre-bending books and this is one such instance of a very well thought out and written book that will start a series I’m bound to love.
Proper British humour: Finally, after all that waffle I get to another of my favourite points of this book. I’ve mentioned this a few times before, but I hardly laugh while reading books, I just either do not get the joke and try to find an explanation to it (yes I’m that annoying person), or the joke just goes over my head. However, I have been reading more books lately that have had me in fits of laughter and Rivers of London is one such book. If you don’t know what British humour is, look up Only Fools and Horses, The Royal Family (the TV show not the actual family) and Tommy Cooper. I genuinely laughed so much reading this book, it is all quite subtle and tongue-in-cheek humour, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it felt very nostalgic to me.
MY THOUGHTS AND RATING
Overall, I’m sure you can tell that I really did love this book. I had heard so much about the series in the last couple of years and I have always been a little bit sceptical to start it for some reason, but I really shouldn’t have because once I got past the first chapter, and got into the swing of this book, I was hooked.
You know that I’m not a fan of long chapters, and while this book does have fairly long chapters, I don’t think I ever got bored and I never found it to be lagging or dragging along. I think that shows just what great pacing and plot this book has because I whizzed through it and didn’t mind having 30+ page chapters.
The writing style is so sharp, there is so much humour and it is so well executed that you can’t help but love it. Again, just as Fiona said in her wonderful post on Rivers of London, it does feel like you’re talking to a friend because Peter’s voice is so real and jumps off the page. I feel like I know him in real life and it is just such a fun and engaging reading experience. So far, I am really enjoyed Aaronovitch’s writing style and I’m sure it will only get better as the series goes on.
I gave this book 4.5 stars (full ASPECTS rating below) and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I don’t know why I waited so long to read it because it was honestly one of the best first instalments in a series I have read. I can tell this series is going to be well-loved by myself and many other TWR buddies I’m reading it with.
If you love books that mix genres, specifically fantasy, mystery (procedural) and paranormal, then you will want to check out this book. With a great and diverse mix of characters, some fabulous British humour that really makes the least humorous person (myself) laugh out loud, a unique and engaging plot along with a beautifully crafted magic system, there is greatness to be found in this series and I will at once endeavour to go find more of its brilliance in the next books!
That’s all for now, I hope you enjoyed reading this very long post (once again, I am so sorry for all my waffling).
See you soon, stay safe,
Atmosphere – 7
Start – 7
Pacing – 7
Ending – 7.5
Characters – 8
Theme – 7.5
Style – 8
Total = 52
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If you would like to purchase this book, you can find it here: Amazon UK – Amazon FR – Amazon US – AbeBooks – The Book Depository – Audible FR – Waterstones – Barnes and Noble – Audible UK – Blackwell’s – BetterWorldBooks – Wordery