The London Library: Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

We’re starting up a new idea here in the London section of CUB where we discuss books that directly align themselves to our awesome city. Now, whilst we could begin with classics such as Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, or Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, we open in the modern world of fantasy, with Ben Aaronovitch’s magical series, ‘Rivers Of London’.

In brief summary for those who haven’t heard of it, ‘Rivers Of London’ is a series, currently standing at four books, that tells the story of Peter Grant, a Met police officer who discovers that all the ghosts, vampires and wizards from the story books are alive and kicking in jolly old London Town. It is then up to him, and his superior officer, the last wizard in England Inspector Nightingale, to protect and serve the people from said magical dangers. Without any real spoiler, it’s a story of alarmingly charming water goddesses, horrifying vengeful spirits and tedious Metropolitan police formalities.

The greatest element of this book is its connection to London and its wonderfully honest depiction of the place. With each book being centred around a specific place in the city, the first being set in the Covent Garden area, the amount of detail is part of what makes it so enchanting. There is something about a book that is this amazingly well researched that really shows, and this is a series that can demonstrate this in its descriptions of the various alleyways by The Royal Opera House alone. It is so rare to see this view of London, where you can trace the route of the car chase that’s jumping off the page on a map in front of you, and you feel moments of its plot echoing in your head when you’re out on a particular street or at a particular shop. It’s also a very warts and all portrayal, which brings the beauty of Russell Square in direct comparison with the multitude of migrant workers in Piccadilly Circus and the hoards of tourists swarming around Covent Garden. Whether you’re a born Londonder, or you’ve only just arrived, you will appreciate the very human view that Aaronovitch gives to the city.

Views of modern London in literature do have a tendency to polarise in either a gritty view of a town of murder, horror and dismay, or as a terribly English place of exclusively tea and crumpets. However to see such a vivid true to life portrayal of London in a modern series is a really refreshing change from this, and Aaronovitch should be celebrated for it.

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