Midnight Riot (aka Rivers of London) by Ben Aaronovitch – Review

Book Jacket (from the UK cover, because it’s more fun):

My name is Peter Grant and until January I was just a probationary constable in that mighty army for justice known to all right-thinking people as the Metropolitan Police Service (as the Filth to everybody else). My only concerns in life were how to avoid a transfer to the Case Progression Unit – we do paperwork so real coppers don’t have to – and finding a way to climb into the panties of the outrageously perky WPC Leslie May.

Then one night, in pursuance of a murder inquiry, I tried to take a witness statement from someone who was dead but disturbingly voluble, and that brought me to the attention of Inspector Nightingale, the last wizard in England. Now I’m a Detective Constable and a trainee wizard, the first apprentice in fifty years, and my world has become somewhat more complicated: nests of vampires in Purley, negotiating a truce between the warring god and goddess of the Thames, and digging up graves in Covent Garden . . . and there’s something festering at the heart of the city I love, a malicious vengeful spirit that takes ordinary Londoners and twists them into grotesque mannequins to act out its drama of violence and despair. The spirit of riot and rebellion has awakened in the city, and it’s falling to me to bring order out of chaos – or die trying.

You can read an excerpt here.


Midnight Riot is a solid Urban Fantasy debut with enjoyable British flare – it just never quite managed to carry me away.

The premise of this book is certainly one we’ve all seen before – the cop who investigates magical occurrences in our modern day world – but the heart of this book lies in its narrator’s voice. Aaronovitch’s Peter lives and breathes irony, in that wonderfully dry British way, and his cheeky running commentaries on the workings of the world around him, particularly the police force, were highly amusing and easily my favorite part of this book.

As a PBS fan, I do enjoy a good dose of British drama, but while Midnight Riot definitely delivers the British – from exploring London, to the inner workings of London’s police force – I wasn’t satisfied with the drama end. For me, the heart of good drama lies in character, and while Peter is a perfectly good chap, he felt a little colorless to me. Sure, his sense of irony is amusing, and we learn that his Dad is a jazz musician with a heroin habit, but there wasn’t much to him beyond that – frankly, Peter felt flat. There was an emotional disconnect, and unfortunately it’s something I come across regularly in modern British dramas (which is why I always prefer Masterpiece Classic over Masterpiece Contemporary), where I feel like the story is holding me at arms length, and vital components of emotion, of feeling, are missing – and witty banter can only take you so far. In comparing Peter to Sherlock‘s Sherlock, to Life on Mars‘ Sam Tyler, to Kim Harrison’s Rachel, I just can’t help feeling Peter’s lack of emotional coherence, of vitality. That same lack is why Torchwood drives me crazy, why Primeval is downright painful, and why even a fascinating premise like Jekyll & Hyde just can’t quite manage to win me over. I’d like to blame the stereotypical reserve of Brits, but honestly I’m not sure exactly what it is – I just know it happened to me again here, with this book. Midnight Riot didn’t fire on all cylinders for me.

Plot-wise, everything worked fine – it all was clear and made sense – but it did meander at times. There were a a few too many scenes of Peter’s magic lessons, and a lot of magical meet and greets. I’m not sure the troll or vampires were entirely necessary, and I thought Peter’s sessions with the spirits of various rivers were a bit long winded – it might have been the author’s intent, to demonstrate the pacing of real life police work, but altogether things felt a little pedantic. It also didn’t help that there are only so many ways the hidden-world-within-our-world trope can be implemented, and this book was treading familiar territory. Don’t get me wrong, this book is nice, it’s fine, and I was interested enough to see it through to the end, it’s just that I wasn’t compelled to finish. When I was about 50 pages from the end I found myself putting the book down and going off to do other things, and it took two days for me to come back and polish it off – there was no sense of urgency.

Still, there is definitely enough here to be worth a look, and hopefully you won’t trip over my issues with this book. Peter’s dry cheek is amusing, his London lovingly detailed, and the mystery is competent. I will check out the second book in this series, I just find I’m in no particular rush to do so.

Byrt Grade: B

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

The Book Smugglers say:

Whereas I can’t really say that the premise of Rivers of London is original (i.e. the tale of The Unsuspecting Protagonist Thrust in a New Situation Whereupon He Learns That There Are Supernatural Beings Around And That He Too Has Powers He Must Learn To Control), the execution of the plot, the setting, and Peter’s voice more than make up for it and are what made reading this book such an extremely fun experience.

Iceberg Ink says:

Within a few pages I knew I was in for a rollicking ride and I also knew that it did instantly remind me of Harry Dresden. The wit and the charm and the main character making Star Wars, Harry Potter, Doctor who and Twilight references to his comrades who look at him cockeyed. This was a protagonist I could get behind and root for.

My Book Addiction says:

Midnight Riot is the most fun I’ve had when reading a new urban fantasy author in quite some time. I knew I was going to like it when I read this line from page five (my copy is an ARC mind you), when Peter realizes that the witness he’s questioning is, in fact, a ghost: “Right, I thought, just because you’ve gone mad doesn’t mean you should stop acting a policeman.” I just love that British stiff upper lip.