Book Review – Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

Gollancz / 384pp / £12.99 / 3rd January 2011
Rating: * * * * *

SF fans – and particularly Doctor Who fans – have long memories. Even though it’s been twenty three 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 SF publishers 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, who’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, and also strongly echoes Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and China Mieville’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.

Along with two upcoming Rivers of London sequels, Aaronovitch is also returning to the world of Who, co-writing (with Andrew Cartmel) the upcoming Big Finish ‘Lost Stories’ release Earth Aid.