“Rivers of London,” by Ben Aaronovitch, has been described as adult-Harry-Potter unexpectedly tumbles into Terry Pratchet’s world, a description that usually means that a book is… really, aggressively bad but convinced it’s clever. This is a book that manages to carry it off, though.
Young Peter Grant is a probationary constable eager to be promoted to an exciting department investigating murders or something. To his dismay, he’s told that he’s destined for a desk job instead. That is… until an Inspector named Nightingale hears he’s waiting around an abandoned plaza for a ghost and decides to take Grant under his wing. It turns out that ghosts exist, magic exists, vampires exist, and more. And Grant, as it happens, has the knack for seeing into this world and interacting with it.
“Rivers of London” covers one of my favorite tropes: hidden rivers. Chicago has a river whose flow was reversed, so it has two currents that run in opposite directions. London has several rivers that were encased in brick, turned into sewers. It has rivers that bubble up out of nowhere, rivers that start out as fresh water and end up as salt. And in a world jammed with ghosts and creatures with vagina dentata, then of course these rivers have gods (as do several other locations/things/groups).
Thrust into this weird new world, Grant has to use all his cleverness to try and catch up to his Inspector’s expectations, learn to use magic and learn to read and speak multiple new languages, research history and spells… as well as solve a magic-influenced murder.
Grant and the other characters are really interesting, minor characters quickly fleshed out and made real, main characters practically breathing on their own. London, a city I’m familiar with only through books and movies, is a character of its own with a strong personality (urban fiction according to the original definition of the word) and feels familiar, like a friend I used to know well but am now catching up with. The murder mystery is also a good one, well written and curious.
The writing over all is excellent, fast paced and flowing easily, a quick read. I started and finished this book in the same day, although that day involved a lot of bus riding and waiting in a dentist’s office. It’s left me eager to read the next books in this series, and glad that a friend lent me this one.
There’s one big drawback, at least for me. Peter Grant is a guy. He’s a guy who likes boobs. A lot. Women have boobs and he likes them. He also gets boners. Will a woman with boobs touch his boner? It is his fondest wish. This kind of breezy guy-writing is a stark reminder that so much of literature is written by men about men for men. Women are not considered the audience, therefore it’s cool to prioritize their titties. Yes, there’s two strong and interesting female characters who are integral to the plot, and even more powerful and amazing women bearing up the story. But at the end of the day, they have tits and give Grant boners and that’s my big take away. You can easily say I’m too sensitive, but this is part of a constant wave of the same thing, one hive next to one hundred others, swollen and sensitive. It’s not unique to this book, it doesn’t make the book BAD, but it absolutely decreases my enjoyment of it… which is a shame. It’s a strong book otherwise.