Rivers Of London by Ben Aaronovitch – book review

Dalek man has capital idea

Author: Ben Aaronovitch
Publisher: Gollancz * 384 pages * £12.99
ISBN: 978-0-57509-756-8
20 January 2011

SF fans – and particularly Doctor Who fans – have long memories. Even though it’s been 23 years, and he’s notched up plenty of other credits in the interim, author and ex-TV scriptwriter Ben Aaronovitch is still best known as the writer of the Who-revitalising 1988 classic “Remembrance Of The Daleks”. Now, however, he’s made the gear-change into non-spin-off fiction writing, and his first novel for Gollancz is a slice of thoroughly entertaining and genuinely urban fantasy.

It’s the tale of Peter Grant, a no-nonsense police officer who’s new to patrolling the streets of London, and understandably surprised when he has a night-time encounter with a ghost in Covent Garden. It turns out that city life is a hell of a lot stranger than he expected, leading him to end up as assistant – and apprentice – to the mysterious Chief Inspector Nightingale. He’s soon educating Peter in the use of magic, as well as helping him solve a series of bizarre and seemingly random street attacks…

Witty, imaginative and gripping, Rivers Of London is a great example of how it’s not always about having an astoundingly new idea. After all, this is essentially the same “normality vs supernatural strangeness” formula the entire Urban/Dark fantasy subgenre is based on; it also strongly echoes Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and China Miéville’s Kraken. However, Aaronovitch makes it all feel fresh, cleverly using the accumulated history of London while giving the book a unique perspective via his inquisitive but always level-headed protagonist. An engaging (if occasionally violent) mix of magic and police procedural, this is a great kick-off to a very promising series, as well as the most satisfying fantasy thriller to hit bookshelves in quite some time.

Saxon Bullock