Before I even took the plunge with listening to Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch, I had looked at the book previously and decided against reading it; it’s more of an urban fantasy as opposed to my preference of an epic fantasy. When it comes to audiobooks I am definitely more flexible on genre then I am regarding physical books. Don’t ask me why – maybe it is the different medium that makes it easier for me to listen to? I don’t know, but anyway I’m glad to say how wrong I was about passing up reading this book at first!
The fact that I went on to ‘read’ the next four books of the series in a three month period should tell you a lot! I’ve only really given it a rest so that I could enjoy listening to some different books for a change and so I haven’t caught up with the series. Then I’d be left waiting too long for the next instalment… and that just won’t do!
Would you like to find out more details about the book?
Rivers of London – Ben Aaronovitch
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.
Not reading or listening to Rivers of London would have been a huge mistake. To try to encapsulate the book in one sentence, I would summarise it like this – the plot is interesting and easy to invest into, the characters are frankly hilarious and the narrative style of the book makes sure you never want to put it down! That’s a big sentence and full of praise but I can assure you that it is justified.
My favourite aspect of the novel has to be Peter Grant’s character. As I have said he is absolutely hilarious; I get on with his sarcastic wit – typical British humour – and his eye for detail. Through his perspective we get a lot of information and description of the city of London as Ben Aaronovitch has sculpted it. From the foundations of London as we know he has built a whole new city within London. Magic and history of the magical and mysterious who dwell the municipality are chronicled and shared in captivating detail. Those who know me know that this is a big plus for me – the more detail the better in my eyes! What’s also relevant is that the information is relevant to the story. It doesn’t feel like it’s been added as filler and given that there is a mystery element to the book you never know which parts actually becomes relevant until later so you pay attention to it all. For that reason I’m always looking at those details to try and fit them into the wider picture.
One of the other things I love about Peter Grant’s character, and the wider book in general, is that his character ticks box for multicultural inclusion… without actually making a point of being a multicultural inclusive book. Now hear me out, I know that might sound a little bit contradictory. I love that this book isn’t a typical British magical realism with white race characters dominating the scene laced throughout. I think sometimes being ‘British’ can be inadvertently stereotyped as that. However, more so than ever Britain is far more multicultural and Peter’s family history being diverse, but not heavily made a point of makes our character feel far more relevant in the modern world. I love that it doesn’t scream its inclusion of multiple ethnic groups from the rooftops as if it’s a huge thing – because while to an extent it is, the fact is it shouldn’t be! It’s perfectly commonplace. I personally think Ben Aaronovitch got the tone just right with this one. Are some of the characters stereotypical in their writing? Undoubtedly. Other people may disagree with me, but I enjoyed how they are written into the book.
As this is an audiobook review it’s only fair to also comment on the narration. Kobna Holdbrook-Smith narrates rivers of London (and the rest of the series I have listened to to date – again a big plus in my opinion) and I think he does an excellent job of bringing the character of Peter Grant to life and telling the story through his eyes. As a character I think Peter is quite expressive and Kobna does a very good job of portraying this. I don’t know how to put it into words other than to say that he doesn’t just read what’s in front of him. In my days of studying performing arts we would call it ‘getting into the character’… and Kobna has definitely done this!
Last, but certainly not least, it is clear from the narrative and events from the book that the author has a detailed knowledge of London and a vivid imagination in building the events of the book into the city. It isn’t so much that the setting of the events is a coincidence; London is built into the heart and soul of the story – it just wouldn’t be the same anywhere else! That definitely shows. No landmark is too big and no sidestreet too small to have escaped the notice of Ben Aaronovitch; each winding alley has its history carved into the book. I am not going to pretend that I know London well – truth is I’ve only visited briefly twice. That being said, it didn’t impact my enjoyment of the book at all. I don’t think it matters if you know the geography of the city because ultimately that’s not the point. It’s how this comes together with the story of Rivers of London to create a fun, quirky urban fantasy novel that paves the way for a fantastic series! Does it help? Quite possibly, but equally it doesn’t matter if you don’t.
So perhaps now you see why I binged the next four books of the series within three months after listening to Rivers of London. If you haven’t read it yet, or question whether it might be your cup of tea I ask you to throw your misconceptions out the window. I am certainly glad I did!