Rivers of London  - Ben Aaronovitch image
Following the resounding success of my Locus Quest, I faced a dilemma: which reading list to follow it up with? Variety is the spice of life, so I’ve decided to diversify and pursue six different lists simultaneously. This book falls into my FINISHING THE SERIES! list.

I loves me a good series! But I'm terrible for starting a new series before finishing my last - so this reading list is all about trying to close out those series I've got on the go.

In 1963 Lawrence of Arabia won the best picture Oscar – and deserved it!
But what’s that got to do with Rivers of London?

That same year, Dr. Who made his debut on British TV – and he’s still going strong.
But what’s that got to do with Rivers of London?

Before launching his hugely popular Peter Grant series of urban-fantasy police-procedurals, author Ben Aaronovitch wrote TV scripts for Dr. Who. I know there are also plenty of fans in the USA and around the world, but in the UK, Dr. Who is cultural landmark. Here in Cardiff, we have a whole tourist attraction called “The Dr. Who Experience” – and I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who wouldn’t know what I was talking about if I said ‘exterminate’ in a nasal, robotic voice. Anyone who’s worked on Dr. Who is sprinkled with fairydust (or should that be tardis-dust? No. That just sounds like his tardis needs a dusting).

My point (I think) is that Ben A comes into the picture as a writer already well steeped in fantastical fiction, British idiosyncrasies and prime-time TV entertainment – and Rivers of London does not disappoint. That’s not to say it’s perfect, but as far as new series go it’s pretty damn promising.

The obvious reference point here is Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. If you’ve never heard of them (where have you been?) they’re a phenomenally successful, fourteen (fifteen now?) book series about a wise-cracking, private-dick, wizard in Chicago.

Rivers of London is about a copper in London. I’d like to say an ordinary copper in London, but Peter Grant realises he ain’t exactly ordinary when he interviews a ghost as a witness to a murder. Things only get weirder from there on in as he gets recruited into the Met’s special branch for weird-sh!t , meets a family of river goddesses and goes toe-to-toe with an ancient spirit of anarchy.

So let’s play compare’n’contrast: Harry is a lone-ranger, Peter is part of the police force. Harry comes in a fully-fledged wizard, Peter is just learning his first spells. Harry is loud and American, Peter is dry and British. Harry is white, Peter is black. While these two series are in the same ballpark, they’re a very different kettle of fish.

London is becoming a bit of a hot-spot city setting for urban fantasy: there are two strong urban fantasy series (Peter Grant and Matt Swift) set there, and several great stand-alone urban-fantasy novels (Neverwhere, Anansi Boys, Kraken, King Rat, Un Lun Dun). Of them all, it’s Aaranovitch’s which feels closest to a real sense of modern London. This isn’t a fantasy thru-the-looking glass (like Neverwhere or Kraken) these are fantastic adventures in the London we know and love. Whereas the Matt Swift series is about an urban-sorcerer, below-the-radar, magic-in-the-gutters , type scenario – Peter is an upstanding officer of the law, flashing his siren in pursuit of magical evil doers. It’s all very above board, level-headed and in the light of day. That’s... extremely refreshing as an angle on urban fantasy.

Peter himself is, of course, the star of the show. No amount of clever magic or imaginative use of location can carry a series if the lead character isn’t loveable – and Peter really is. He’s funny in a dry, sometimes whimsical, observational fashion – no slapstick or gags. His family is unconventional but still believable, and his relationship with them rings true. His flaws are all very believable for a lad of his age.

I saw a review which said “this is hardly deep and meaningful reading” – hell no, it’s not! This is very much page-turning, popcorn-munching, pure-pleasure, fun reading!

So why didn’t it get five-stars?

It’s actually quite hard for me to put my finger on. I think Rivers of London was trying to do a lot as the first book in a series – introduce our boy, Peter, to a whole world of magic at the same time as tackling a big case and a complex sub-plot... it was perhaps a little too much to keep cohesive and ended up a bit disjointed. It wasn’t a huge problem – every chapter is great fun, but the overall story didn’t quite have enough punch in the climax to clinch that whole-hearted “whoop-whoop!” response that I look for in a five-star. It drops down to the next rank as “a damn fine book” instead.

After this I read: A Game of Thrones