Friday, 30 October 2020

THE RIVERS OF LONDON by Ben Aaronovitch - and more! Review by Penny Dolan

Rivers of London (novel) - Wikipedia

THE RIVERS OF  LONDON is the first title in an interesting, best-selling fantasy crime series, written by BEN AARONOVITCH who also, as a scriptwriter, has contributed scripts to Doctor Who TV series.

Important point. As the Awfully Big Review blog usually suggests titles for young children, MG or secondary school readers, thie Rivers of London series comes with an Awfully Big Warning: these crime novels are fantasies aimed at adult readers. 

However, they also have an energy, enthusiasm and attitude might appeal to older young adults too. Please read the books and judge for yourself first.

I am recommending the RIVERS OF LONDON because the whole series - completed through a few loaned copies from a friend - saw me through the six lockdown months in a way that the reading of literary, contemporary or other novels rarely did. Escapism was better during long nights than reality!

Aaronovitch's writing and plotting has acknowledged echoes of Terry Pratchett's fantasy style - which I already enjoy - but with added sex, violence and large explosions. 

Being unable to visit my old home town of London right now, I really appreciated  the London-centric so,  I enjoyed being reminded of that huge city.  Moreover, the ingenious plots roam away from reality and go riffling through London's  hidden geography and back story.

TMoon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch | Orion - Bringing You ...

The main character in these first person novels is Peter Grant who starts as a probationary PC in the Met, straight from the police college at Hendon. Peter is mixed race: his admirable, disciplinarian mother is from Sierra Leone while his disreputable father is a white, often-stoned jazz musician. 

Across the whole series, Aaranovitch's character "casting " - without being heavily issue-led - draws on the diversity of London's population and cultures today, which is a strong factor behind my recommending these books for the oldest young adults:

Whispers Under Ground - Wikipedia

That diversity is echoed in supernatural inhabitants of the city. In the first book, while investigating a weird murder in the precincts of Covent Garden, Peter discovers that he can sense the presence of magic and spot the often invisible magical population, who over the series range from viciously sharp-toothed, man-hating vampires, to unicorns, ancient kinds of lost tribes, goblin markets, untrustworthy fae and even the dreaded Faceless Man.

Chief among this cast, we soon learn,  are the members of the powerful River "families" - the jealous, inter-related gods and goddesses of the Thames and its tributaries - with whom Peter becomes ever more closely embroiled. 

Broken Homes (Peter Grant Series #4) by Ben Aaronovitch ...

As the only magical police officer in London, Peter is sent to a secret, wonderfully-gothic police station, known as The Folly. There, through the enigmatic patience of the gentlemanly ageless wizard known as Nightingale, Peter gradually masters the Newtonian magical arts and defences, while solving mysterious murders and magical power-grabs around and beyond London and at times - oh, Peter! - loving unwisely and well.

What I also welcomed was that, during the course of the series, Aarnovitch's plots rest on interesting "real history" events and locations. Each novel unfolds around a different broad scenario: Soho's once-thriving music & nightclub industry, the development of the Metropolitan Underground Railway, "architectural" tower block re-developments around the Elephant and Castle, secret woodland hideaways for wealthy magical scientist in the Chilterns, through to the ancient hanging tree of Tyburn. And, possibly, worrying incidents around the Vale of Health. ( A location last met in Lissa Evans's "Old Baggage" historical trilogy.)

 The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch | Thriller Books at ...

Although the Rivers of London titles are already a much-praised series, not everyone has come across them, or been lured in to the pages, so they seemed worth mentioning.

So, if you might feel a sense of "vestigia" in an old building or object, admire the art of throwing a werelight, and are not too alarmed by crashing doors and collapsing buildings and a touch of gruesomeness, you might enjoy reading the Rivers yourself.

Then, maybe, recommend them to any other readers who would appreciate wild supernatural fun, humour and excitement.

Especially if times continue grim.


Penny Dolan


Here is the current list of Aaronovitch's novels: THE RIVERS OF LONDON; MOON OVER SOHO; WHISPERS UNDERGROUND; BROKEN HOMES; FOXGLOVE SUMMER; THE FURTHEST STATION; THE HANGING TREE, LIES SLEEPING; THE OCTOBER MAN and FALSE VALUE. (There are also several graphic novels and short stories and a TV series is currently being developed by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost)


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