Book #104: Rivers of London (2011)

riversauthor: Ben Aaronovitch
language: English
length: 593 minutes (9 hours 53 minutes)
finished listening on: 25 May 2016

For some reason I kept seeing this in fantasy sections of bookstores and so on for ages, before I actually took the plunge and downloaded it on Audible recently. I’m glad I did.

It’s said to be the story of if Harry Potter joined the Metropolitan police in London, although obviously that’s a gross oversimplification. Some of the same basic elements are there – magic is in fact present in something close to the real world, hidden for hundreds of years by secretive wizards, and the main character undergoes magical training.

The rest is pretty different – the book makes significant use of the London setting and there’s an undercurrent of social issues like race that Rowling never quite managed to properly work into Harry Potter. Rowling seems to like retroactively declaring, for example, that Hermione might be black or that Dumbledore is gay without ever mentioning it in the series, while Aaronovitch comes straight in with a mixed-race main character, called Peter Grant, and lets it roll from there.

The title of the book comes from the various characters who are personifications of the various rivers of London, including a feud between Father Thames, a druid from pre-Roman times representing the upper stretches of the river, and Mother Thames, an African matriarch representing the modernity of metropolitan London, that the main character is tasked with sorting out. It gets weird from there. Needless to say, London as a place is essential to the book, and it’s described very vividly.

Another big difference with Harry Potter is that the mechanisms for producing magic are described in detail, and it’s obviously not just some innate ability whose complications and implications are not really expounded upon much. In fact, the main character tries hard to study magic scientifically, and doesn’t get very far into working out what it actually is – presumably later books in the series will go into further depth with that.

I enjoyed a lot of the characters in the book, and I found that the narrator of the audiobook (Kobna Holdbrook-Smith) is very skilled with using accents, especially those native to London – which is good when they’re also central to the narrative. It’s important to be able to hear the difference between Peter and his “master”, for example, who has a clipped old-fashioned RP accent. I’m still not sure that people in the real world say “guv’nor”, though – I’ve only ever heard this when there’s some kind of Victorian plot. But I can sort of forgive it here because of all the ghosts and olde worlde plot.

The plot gets a bit weird towards the end, with the introduction of the main mystery plot, which actually isn’t directly related to the Rivers of the title – having concurrent plots like this is a gamble by the author, but he manages to make it work. The ending is good, and develops some of the characters in very unexpected ways. A love triangle running through the book is almost completely smashed at the end for the strangest of reasons, and it works.

It’s funny, it has good characters and a fast paced plot, and it was so steeped in UK culture it made me feel a connection with home again, and I appreciated that a lot. I’d recommend it.


One Response to Book #104: Rivers of London (2011)

  1. Pingback: Book #105: Moon Over Soho (2011) | reuoq

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: