This is the first part in my New series – Friday at the Folly. The Folly is the name of the magical home of the magical branch of the Metropolitan police in Ben Aaronovitch’s series Rivers of London. Rivers of London is by far one of my favourite series of all time and when a group of bookish buddies decided to read it together I had to jump at the chance to revisit it. I have decided to note down my thoughts as I re-read it and post them in a discussion type post.
If you are interesting in following along you can find my Introduction to the re-read project as well as the reading order I will be undertaking etc on my Rivers of London Page.
Title: Rivers of London (Midnight Riot – North American title)
Author: Ben Aaronovitch
Series: Rivers of London
Probationary Constable Peter Grant dreams of being a detective in London’s Metropolitan Police. Too bad his superior plans to assign him to the Case Progression Unit, where the biggest threat he’ll face is a paper cut. But Peter’s prospects change in the aftermath of a puzzling murder, when he gains exclusive information from an eyewitness who happens to be a ghost. Peter’s ability to speak with the lingering dead brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, who investigates crimes involving magic and other manifestations of the uncanny. Now, as a wave of brutal and bizarre murders engulfs the city, Peter is plunged into a world where gods and goddesses mingle with mortals and a long-dead evil is making a comeback on a rising tide of magic.
My Spoiler Free Thoughts
Rivers of London is the First book in the Rivers of London series and to me it is an epic Introduction to a series. It gives us a real feel for the main character Peter, his job, his personality, and all the other characters in his life. The Magic system is just beautifully crafted, its Science based and just falls seamlessly into our world. It is jam packed with British humour and references that just make me giggle, definitely one for the geeks. The police procedural elements are engaging and informative and really carry you along on a fast paced and fun paranormal mystery.
I Love that each book in this series focuses on a different area or aspect of life in London. They are little love stories to London. The Cast of characters is truly diverse with Peter being mixed race himself, we have characters from every walk of life which highlights the diversity of the city. If you are not familiar with London you can find a map on Aaronovitch’s website with the locations so you can explore. This book is centred on Covent Garden and you can clearly tell how well Aaronovich knows this area of the city (he was a bookseller at the Covent Garden Waterstones) as it is there in all its beauty on the pages. We get so much of the cities history too. It just makes it even more interesting and entertaining.
I also have to mention, while I chose to read the book physically on this occasion I have read it multiple times as an Audiobook as well and the Audiobook is outstanding. It is narrated by Kobina Holdbrook-smith who is just such a talented narrator. He brings Peter to life with such an ease that you will believe you are just chatting to a friend in the pub as they tell you, slightly exaugurated, tales of their life. He also managed to make it feel almost like its a full cast audio with excellent voice work for all the characters. I really recommend reading these books in this medium.
My Spoiler filled Thoughts
I am so excited to be starting this again. I must have read this first book both physically and via Audiobook at least 20 times over. From the very start I just love Aaronivich’s and therefor Peter’s narrative voice. It just gives Peter so much personality, being both matter of fact, particularly when discussing police work ,and funny. To me its the same tone as when you are listening to a friend tell a story, they may exaggerate but its fun, when they talk about there work it is with confidence and clarity but they still add the humour and embellishments to make it entertaining. Peter’s voice just feels like that to me.
The above example, while we jump straight into the procedural aspects there is still a lot of the humour and lightness in the story telling. I really enjoy the switch in Peter’s narrative tone into the procedural elements too. Its almost like he is giving a report of a senior officer or trying to prove and demonstrate his knowledge which to me makes him a kind of cute character. We know he isn’t the best police officer, he admits it himself in this first section of the book. Worried he is going to be pigeon-holed into the gang violence unit because of his skin colour and then his disappointment in being placed in a data entry roll, he comes across as really just wanting to prove himself and that he can do his job. I think it also due to Lesley being a real counter balance to Peter, she seems effortlessly good at what she does while still being a good friend to Peter. Peter tries hard but is easily distracted.
I still don’t know what is written on the Lions bum! That’s another thing I love is all of the asides and little bits of history and information about both London and Peter himself. We get to know so much about Peter’s life, his friendship with Lesley but also about the history of police work in London, of the Areas, streets, buildings we visit in London. I know Covent Garden well and it really shines through on the page for me when the area, its streets the actor’s church are described.
I love the reveal of Nicholas Wallpenny, the ghost, and how it propels Peter into this unknown part of his world. How Peter just clings to this weird experience as his way to get the career and life he wants while drunk and that ends up with him meeting Nightingale. I love Peter’s first impression on Nightingale and how embarrassed he is to admit he was ghost hunting to a senior officer before realising that senior officer was ghost hunting too. I have always imagined Nightingale as looking like Paul McGann it just seems to suit the tone of voice he is given so well. He has a command to him but also a sort of quiet and mysterious quality.
*Squeak!* The description of Vestigia. It is just such a cool concept. It really plays on that feeling of the uncanny valley, the hairs raising on the back of the neck, sensing something that isn’t there. Peter equating it to Jazz and music really speaks to me, it really gives you something tangible to compare it to. I love that this is also how we get introduced to Toby the Dog. We get the first glimpses of Nightingales magic which is exciting and then get a little bit of cute comic relief with the introduction of an unlikely animal side kick in Toby.
Oh the scene with the Baby! I forgot how much impact that scene has. We go from joking and jovial to fast paced and focused action in a second which just makes it such a tense moment in the book. The panic and description of autopilot that Peter, Lesley and Nightingale all fall into is fantastic and then the after effects of the shock and how both Peter and Lesley deal with that is great to see. They really feel the fall out of it all.
More New characters too. Dr Walid is one of my favourites and not just because he is Scottish. The cheeky trainspotting quote. I love how much he encourages Peter’s inquisitive nature, both of them eagerly and excitedly proposing theories much to Nightingale’s chagrin. He is a fun juxtaposition to Nightingale, and more science added into the mix. Peter has joined the Folly and its a Science based Magic System!!!! I have always mentioned how much I love a science based magic system, the fact that the Folly’s teachings were based around Newton’s third Principia – the arts of magic!!! – just made me soo happy. The following line made me giggle more than it should but that’s because my undergrad was in Plant Genetics so I could totally imagine what a lair of dangerous plant geneticists would be like.
We meet Mama Themes and learn her story! I adore the concept of Genii Locorum and how much power radiated from them. the description of Mama Themes just radiates power, especially how she plays with Peter.
We also get a little glance at Aaronovich’s take on Vampires. It is such a dark scene. How they work is kind of harrowing. That they draw life out of everything, every bit. We never get to find out what happened to the children in the house. I really like how different this concept of Vampires is compared to others I have read. I also really enjoy how much it sparks Peter’s inquisitive nature. discovering that the vampires had sucked the energy from electronics and all his subsequent experimentation is kind of awesome.
Peter finally gets to do magic! its great that he doesn’t get it perfect on his first try, I like the build up of the skill and even at the end of the book he is still stumbling to control exactly how he does magic. I like that there is a really evident learning curve to it. I also like that its obvious Nightingale is out of touch when it comes to acting like a teacher. That he wants to teach Peter correctly but finds Peters questions etc a bit irritating as they throw him off his stride. It is just such a nice relationship between them a little bit professional a little bit personal. This is really apparent in one of my favourite scenes in the book where Peter has permission to modernise the couch house and has Lesley and Beverly round only to find the whole gang together and its just this cute awkward found family moment .
I will say at this point I do feel Beverly is reading a lot younger than she is. I think Ben Aaronovich ages her up quite a bit as she does read quite young, 17/18 ish, in this book instead of ages with Peter. I like her friendship with Lesley, how they have a really nice rapport and instantly pick up on the teasing of Peter. I also like that she seems to take a bit of control in the debate between the two halves of the River. She seems to grow and age a lot in that scene. I wasn’t that much of a fan of Beverly in my first reading I had Peter and Lesley as my OTP but re-reading I can see why that was. she just isn’t as well developed in this book as she is in the later books in the series she seems very superficial at the start but ends up playing a much bigger role in the story. So her development and depth appears a lot later in the story than other characters.
Chapter 9 – End
The visit to Tyburn is curious, it really allows us to see the power of the rivers when they want to exercise it, but also it shows how much Peter has grown, how he can spot and resist it and can start taking charge in these magical situations, no matter how badly this encounter went, it kind of shows us a little of why Nightingale chose Peter.
At this point in the story you can really feel it ramping up to the end game. We know about Henry pike and how the revenant is following the script of the story of Punch and I loved the plan of following along with it and all the magical details that brought up. A ghost magistrate and a dodgy one at that is such a fun idea. That the ghosts feed on the energy of the spells as payment, and that Nightingale has contacts all over the city that know about the magical world is also a fun idea.
I was completely shocked when nightingale got shot. I had completely forgotten that had happened and how that hampered Peter. I like how Peter put it all together that It must have been one of the Police or even Himself that had be sequistrated. I like the build up in panic and urgency as he realises it could only have been Lesley. This really started the building of tension towards the ending.
I love all the theatrics of the ending, The grand stage giving Pyke his big moment on that stage, the riot of the upper class, and the utter chaos of it all is just so well described and it has a bit of a farcical tone to it. It is showy and over the top and I really like that. We also get to learn a lot more about Beverly’s power, and the power of the River’s in general. I do also like how it leads to Peter holding his own against Ty in front of Mama Themes.
The underground scene always makes my skin crawl! Aaronovich is really good at building these really atmospheric scenes. This one just has an oppressive nature about it. you can feel Peter’s exhuastion, the heat of the carriage all of it is just so real on the page that it kind of makes me feel a little ill almost travel sick after reading this section. Even though it is such a small scene it really sticks with me.
Molly’s hemomancy I think must be one of the coolest scenes I have read in a book. I love the race through both the London streets and through Time itself. The incorporation of the Roman aspects of London’s birth and seeign a little bit of Father Themes’ past is also really cool. The defeat of Punch, finding out that Wallpenny was Pyke all along was also such an awesome twist that again I had forgotten, when and how that reveal happened. The whole scene makes you really curious about Molly, she seems completely terrifying once Peter returns to consciousness but Toby saving the day is kinda fun.
I feel so sorry for Lesley and for Peter and the exhaustion. Lesley really does get the raw deal out of it all, just due to being friends with Peter. The solution for the agreement between the Rivers is a bit disappointing, I don’t know why Beverly is being moved out of the books by being moved out of London. It seems like Aaronovich didn’t really know who he wanted Peter to be with and the solution was to move both potential romances out of Peter’s reach. Though Ash is an interesting character and the set up of the second book is really fun!
So those are my the