Review: Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

Review: Rivers of London by Ben AaronovitchRivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch
Series: Peter Grant #1
Published by Gollancz on 2012-07-01
Pages: 416
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Purchased myself
Add to Goodreads

This is London as you've never seen it before.
A city of wonders and terrors.

London is a city full of ancient secrets, a city haunted by its past. A city where you are never far away from the magic.

And now meet the person who will show you the city you never suspected...

My name is Peter Grant, and I used to be a probationary constable in that mighty army for justice known to all right-thinking people as the Metropolitan Police Service, and to everyone else as the Filth.

My story starts when I tried to take a witness statement from a man who was already dead.
There is something dark at the heart of the city I love...

Thoughts: Rivers of London was very nearly great. The quote on the gorgeous cover says “What would happen if Harry Potter grew up and joined the Fuzz” and it is exactly that.  Our adult-HP-hero, Peter, has the same not-a-genius-but-rather-savvy way about him. He also has a fantastically dry, English sense of humour which constantly made me chuckle. Add to that the wonderful, spot-on London setting, and we should have had the makings for a fantastic book. And while there were times when I loved it, it did drag. But before I move on to that, I’d like to share a few fantastic lines from the book:

“On the minus side, Covent Garden had nearly burned down, but on the positive side there weren’t any major bus routes or tube lines affected.” – p. 337

“I have an idea,” I said.
“This better not be a cunning plan” said Lesley.
Nightingale looked blank, but at least it got a chuckle from Dr Walid.
“It is, in fact,” I said, “a cunning plan.” – p.249

‘It’s a myth that Londoners are oblivious to one another on the tube: we’re hyper-aware of each other and are constantly revising our what-if scenarios and counter strategies. What if that suavely handsome yet ethnic young man asks me for money? Do I give or refuse? If he makes a joke do I respond, and if so will it be a shy smile or a guffaw? If he’s been hurt in a fight does he need help? If I help him will I find myself drawn into a threatening situation, or an adventure, or a wild interracial romance? Will I miss supper? If he opens his jacket and yells ‘God is great’, will I make it down the other end of the carriage in time?

All the time most of us were devising friction-free strategies to promote peace in our time, our carriage and please God at least until I get home. It’s called, by people over sixty, common courtesy, and its purpose is to stop us from killing each other.’ – p.244

So, as you can see, Aaronovitch knows how to deliver the funnies. Rivers of London is filled with snark, sarcasm and genuinely insightful humour. Aaronovitch also really understands London – the people, the streets, the transport, everything. His descriptions of the city kept me reading and really made me want to love the book.

But when it came to everything else – the plot, characters, the universe – the novel dragged. I mean it seriously dragged – picking it up every night required concerted effort on my part. I never grew attached to any of the characters, as I never actually got to know them. While I enjoyed Peter’s snarky remarks, I couldn’t quite work out what he was all about. Was he a damaged, traumatized kid-in-a-uniform? Or was he as confident as he snark made him seem? I never found out. And then there was the story, which had some 12 unrelated plot-strands floating through it without any obvious overlap. I never quite understood what was going on – and even when I did, nothing was work staying awake for.

Bottom line? Londoners should find Rivers of London amusing and rather touching – but non-Londoners won’t be able to see past the faults. But I think Aaronovitch will improve with his next book, and am willing to stick around to find out.

P.S. Although the English cover is gorgeous, the US cover should be avoided like the plague.