Stamatios's Reviews > Rivers of London

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch
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it was ok

The books starts off quite promisingly, with a mysterious murder in the centre of London, only to change its focus almost immediately and take us through a boring and totally mundane sub-plot about two opposing factions of rivers, whose petty conflict nobody cares about, least of all the reader. Apparently, they disturb "The Queen's Peace", so a scuffle amongst youngsters in Richmond is more important than a beheading in Covent Garden. Go figure...

So for the better part of the first half of the book we get introduced, in painstaking detail, to Mama and Papa Thames and an ensemble of characters that are irrelevant to the story. Yes, you heard me right. The title of the book has practically nothing to do with the main plot, with the exception of two elaborately orchestrated deus-ex-machina moments.

The story spans over a few months, but surprisingly little happens. The fun returns about three quarters into the book, but by then it's too late. Until then, the two protagonists, members of the London Met police, go about their own business instead of investigating the case. Nightingale (the master wizard) admits somewhere in the middle of the book that "we have no idea what's causing this". One chapter later they get a lead. But alas, not thanks to good old police-work, but by pure coincidence.

This frustrating lack of urgency is complemented by the weird casualness with which all the characters discuss murder and magic over a pint at their local pub. Everyone talks like a bad soap opera actor. And despite being under oath of secrecy, Peter Grant (the apprentice wizard) can't stop blabbering about his training to everyone he meets, as if this "great" secret was common knowledge.

Besides acting like puppets, the characters lack any likeability. Peter is clever, but has the sexual maturity of a 13-year old. He stares at boobs and gets an erection whenever a woman touches him. Nightningale, who is at first presented as a secretive, century-old, powerful wizard, turns out to be an old man completely out of touch with the times and a hopeless teacher who is so old that he has forgotten his own lessons.

The author's only good idea was to portray the art of magic as music, with spells as notes that can be combined to create more complex spells, and the sense of magic itself as feelings/memories. But in his attempt to merge magic and science he drives himself into a corner to the point where Nightingale (again) has to admit to his apprentice that "nobody really knows". Readers don't want to have magic explained to us. We just accept it as it is. The last time someone tried to explain magic in scientific terms he coined the term "midichlorians". And we all know how that went down with the fans...

I was very surprised to find out that Ben Aaronovitch is actually an accomplished script writer, since this book reeks of amateurism (his or his editor's). Peter speaks Latin before he admits that he doesn't know any, he uses the name of a spell before he learns it, and so on. Characters come and go without impact and certain events happen out of nowhere with no follow-ups. It's as if a large portion of the book has been edited out.

I can't help thinking that readers who liked this book have set the bar too low. If great urban fantasy set in modern London is what they're looking for, then I advise them to read Neverwhere by the far superior (and a personal god of mine) Neil Gaiman.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
March 22, 2012 – Shelved
March 22, 2012 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-8 of 8 (8 new)

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Eric Great review! I am so annoyed by this book. Gaiman's Neverwhere was indeed way better.


Vasso Couldn't agree more! Well said!


message 3: by Pia (new) - rated it 3 stars

Pia Roeh. My thoughts exactly!


message 4: by Guillermo (last edited Jan 31, 2019 03:01AM) (new) - added it

Guillermo Hang Couldn't said it better!


Haley Wow you took the thoughts straight from my head. I kept thinking that it was like a bad version of Neil Gaiman books too!


message 6: by Mike (new) - rated it 1 star

Mike Totally agree. Well meaning but missed the mark.


message 7: by Rob (new) - rated it 3 stars

Rob Webster He uses the spell's name before he learns it because the book is recounted in past tense. i.e. Peter the narrator knows the spell's name, Peter the character doesn't.


Missistnbl Totally agree. I listened to the audiobook - and struggled


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