Riots and Rivers: A review of Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch

Midnight Riot (or Rivers of London, if you have the UK version) is a wild ride for an urban fantasy/police procedural, with stops all around London. Ben Aaronovitch is known for doing work with BBC’s Doctor Who, and brings his experience as a screen writer along with his sense of humor to the table on this one. His realistic characters, style, and innovative use of London mythology make Midnight Riot a refreshing and enjoyable read for anyone who enjoys urban fantasy.

The story begins as Peter Grant, a mixed race Probationary Constable, is about to end his probation period and be assigned his position in one of the different branches of the Met. Because of a chance encounter with a cockney ghost while watching over a crime scene, he is eventually introduced to the mysterious Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, who also happens to be a wizard. From there, Peter begins down his path of apprenticeship with DCI Nightingale; a winding path that will take him all the way from irate puppets to beautiful river spirits, and even maybe to something more fulfilling than doing data entry for the “real coppers.”

Peter is a truly well developed character, with realistic flaws and attributes, and a very likeable hero for the series. His constant striving to be more than a “valuable contribution” to the Met, only slightly masking his desire to drive cool cars and wave important badges, makes Peter feel like “just another one of the guys,” and provides a better connection to the reader. He’s believable. Combined with a supporting cast that runs the gamut of personalities and temperaments, Aaronovitch easily draws you into his own version of London.

Throughout the book, Peter narrates the story from a definite police perspective. Whether describing the events of a brutal murder, or an encounter with an ages old god, the procedural feel is constantly there. It’s definitely more pronounced when Peter is on the case and describing a specific crime, which was a change of pace for me at the beginning. I’m not used to reading something so heavily procedural, especially with terms and titles I’m unfamiliar with since I’m not British, but it didn’t take long for me to fall into the current and ride the flow of the book. Aaronovitch clearly lays out everything for you through context or straight explanation, so there never was a need for me to put down the book and look up something I was completely lost on.

One of the truly refreshing aspects of the book was Aaronovitch’s take on magic. He blends scientific method and natural philosophy with the traditional ideas of magic in an interesting way. Some of the workings behind magic can be explained much like science, but a good portion is still unknown and mysterious. This is also the case with the myths and legends surrounding London. Vampires, werewolves and ghosts exist, but only a select few know that. These few have more than just a knowledge of their existence; they have a basic knowledge (or at least theories) on how they can do what they do. Still, though, how they do it, and why they exist, is unknown, leaving these creatures and their abilities firmly grounded in fantasy.

The two titles, US and UK, both approach the major themes within the book, but from two different perspectives. Either way you look at it, Aaronovitch creates a compelling and very enjoyable story by blending real characters, a superb style, and a rich mythology. Whichever version you pick (both versions are the same book) you’re going to love the book all the way through.

[tags]reviews, literature, fantasy,Urban Fantasy[/tags]

2 thoughts on “Riots and Rivers: A review of Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch

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  1. Tim — I’m delighted to see this! I loved Midnight Riot. Mythology fascinates me, and since I like British crime fiction too (thinking particularly of Ian Rankin here, but there are others) — this was right up my alley.

    Very cool to see the two covers on here. I like the UK covers for books a lot; they often seem more alive to me.

    Have you read Moon over Soho yet?


  2. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s high on my list. I really like Ben Aaronovitch’s work so far, so I’m really looking forward to it.

    I’ll be sure to post my review of it as soon as I’m done reading it.


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