Here’s one thing you may not know about Ben Aaronovitch, in the late eighties he wrote two episodes of Doctor Who. A second thing you may not know about Aaronovitch is that he was the first writer to allow the Daleks to levitate up stairs to chase the Doctor. This alone qualifies him to write science fiction, and science fiction he has written.
Rivers Of London takes place in the big smoke and follows Constable Peter Grant as he attempts to avoid a life of paperwork for the Metropolitan Police. Thankfully he is touched by magic and after talking to a ghost who is witness to a murder; he becomes an magician’s apprentice and is swiftly sucked into a bizarre world that he never knew existed.
It’s a wonder why Aaronovitch hasn’t written any of the newer episodes of Doctor Who as much of the plot of Rivers Of London would be right at home with the Doctor. I think it’s the first moment when Peter meets a personification of the River Thames that things go from Harry Potter to Saturday evening entertainment. As the title of the book suggests, much of the plot revolves slowly around the rivers within the capital.
On one hand you have Mother Thames and her family of strong women and on the other, Father Thames and his contingent of “travellers”. The turf war between the two families holds a constant momentum throughout the book, but is considered more of a sub-plot. The crux of the novel is Peter’s mission to pursue a killer who strikes in mysterious ways.
Aaronovitch’s writing holds the two plots together nicely as they intertwine each other around the character of Peter. Peter is, seemingly, a regular man. He has fantasies about his female cast members, lives an ordinary life and quips about anything and everything regarding London life. Of course he isn’t regular, far from it; he is learning magic from his Master, Inspector Nightingale.
The chemistry between the two characters is funny and charming and takes on an almost Father and Son relationship as Peter mocks Nightingale gently about his lack of knowledge on the latest technologies. I think many young men reading the novel will see flashes of themselves on the page from time to time and this makes it not only familiar, but easier to read.
In fact the whole novel is very easy on the brain, despite frantic additions to the cast deep into the book. Aaronovitch writes his cast so well that there’s never a need to skip back and re-read details about a character. However, a testament to the author’s talent is perhaps found in the prose regarding the city itself.
Aaronovitch writes about every nuance found in the big city, from the flowing rivers to high street shops, and of course the people who frequent them. A particular highlight is his writing about the London Underground system and how Londoners cope with it on a daily basis. Anyone who has travelled the Underground regularly will revel in the details.
The book has a constant vein of humour running throughout which balances the grotesque brutality of the killings and Peter’s often mundane “regular” life within London. Sometimes it misses the mark a little, but it’s a rarity and thankfully much of the humour is genuine rather than cringe worthy.
The sequel to Rivers Of London is due in April, which shows that the publisher has faith in Aaronovitch’s talent for storytelling. At times it’s a very bizarre tale and there are moments where you find yourself asking how many of the characters are so blasé to the magic world they find themselves in. But I have faith in Aaronovitch, too. This novel is a success and for me at least, April can’t arrive soon enough.