Review: Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

This is actually the first book I’ve read in 2012 and since I’ve finished another four books since then, it should tell you how much I’ve been struggling with this review. It’s a bit of a strange book to write about really – I enjoyed it’s inventiveness but at the same time it was occasionally an effort to continue reading. On the bright side, this is the first book to be knocked off my TBR Challenge – only forty-nine left to go!

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. Which, I don’t mind telling you, would involve a hell of a lot of paperwork

Wow. That’s a long blurb. It still doesn’t really describe the central theme of the book though, because it’s way more complicated than that. I can’t quite decide if it’s spoilery or not to mention it, so I won’t bother for now; just know that it’s not even hinted at in the summary. It is quite creative and original though – I’ve don’t think I’ve ever seen an even vaguely similar idea in a novel before.

I picked up Rivers of London expecting to fall in love, but unfortunately I just didn’t. Perhaps it just suffered from the weight of my too-heavy expectations, but the best I can say is a profound ‘meh,’ if that’s not too much of an oxymoron. The characters seemed all completely flat and one-dimensional – even Peter Grant’s voice is lifeless and he’s supposed to be the main character. The others all seemed to run into each other – there were no distinct personalities to really make you sit up and go ‘Hey, I like her!’

There are some wonderful, wonderful ideas in this book and a few of the jokes made me giggle out loud. It’s funny without consciously trying to be, so it doesn’t stumble over its own awkwardness. It seems to have a very British humour and I loved the references – he mentions minor shops in London (especially Covent Garden) that really are located where he says. I remember them from my last visit and I will admit the knowledge gave me a small twinge of smugness.

“I gave the prescribed Metropolitan Police “first greeting”.
“Oi!” I said “What do you think you’re doing?”
However, the fundamental point I have to make with this book is how much I struggled to follow it. It’s possible I was having one of those weeks where you’re just a bit slow on the uptake, but I’ve seen a few other reviews that say the same thing (see Katie’s Book Blog here). More specifically, there were a few leaps of logic and plot twists that had me flicking back a few pages to see what I’d missed. Even now I’d have a problem trying to outline the plot to you. The basic gist? Sure. But no more than that. Lapses of concentration are highly prohibited here.

Despite that, the premise and humour was enough to prompt me to have already purchased the second book, Moon Over Soho. Hopefully Mr. Aaronovitch will have brought some of the same brilliant ideas to the table, but perhaps slow down enough to explain them properly.

Visit Ben Aaronovitch’s website here, or read my review of the second book in the series, Moon Over Soho.


  1. Bose says:

    The actual underlying concept in the book is amazing, i have read it once and still happy to share the story with others!Witness Statement Form

    1. Hanna says:

      Oh definitely, the brilliant concept is why I ran out and bought the second! It'd be a perfect series with a few tweaks 🙂

  2. Detective Constable? Trainee wizard? I'm sold, right there!
    Too bad it sounds a bit confusing in places.
    Thanks for your honest review.

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