Rivers of London – Ben Aaronovitch, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith

US title – Midnight Riot. Ben Aaronovitch has an excellent pedigree: he wrote two 7th-Doctor-era serials for Doctor Who, and has written DW novels which I will now have to seek out. And he seems to have been the first to send a Dalek up a staircase. Evil, evil man.

I’m becoming an audiobook voice groupie. Which is going to be a problem here, because the sequel to Rivers of London is not (legally) available in the US. Mia Michaels, judging on So You Think You Can Dance, coined a word I’ve been using ever since. The spelling is debatable, but it is, roughly, “gorgeois” – pronounced “gor-zhwah”. That word, for me, is a very good descriptor of Kobna Holdbrook-Smith’s narration of Rivers of London. (Hey, he pronounced “chaise longue” correctly. If for nothing else I love him for that – and there’s plenty more to adore.) He has a deep, dark, dusty voice, and reads aloud like a dream. His character voices are stupendous. London being the (insert something less clichéd than “melting pot” here) that it is, KHS has a variety of not only British regional but international dialects to deal with: male, female, other, Scots, Cockney, British Received, Nigerian, more – all are wonderful. It’s lovely to hear him switch from what may be his own voice, here the voice of Peter Grant, to the dry light patrician tones of Nightingale – equally natural, equally fluent, and so different from the sound of Peter that it could truly be a different speaker. There is nothing between Kobna Holdbrook-Smith and the experiences he tells of, no evidence whatsoever that the words he speaks were ever such dead things as print on a page.

The writing doesn’t hurt in that endeavor. Ben Aaronovitch’s style is utterly natural and conversational, perfectly in keeping with the first-person voice of young Peter Grant, his main character. It’s no young adult book – the “f-bomb” is dropped liberally, for one thing, and then there’s the violence – but it is the story of the beginning of an apprenticeship, of the opening up of a strange, unsuspected world within the common mundane. Peter’s world is, if not turned upside-down, tilted at a startling angle, and everything changes. And then changes again. Then gets a little stranger. I loved that he took every part of it, from the very beginning, back to his classmate and sort-of-partner Lesley to talk over, not worrying (much) about whether or not she would believe him. I think I’m in love with Peter Grant (and Chief Inspector Nightingale), but that could just be the influence of The Voice.

I laughed at this from Wikipedia (be careful of spoilers on the page):
– Police Constable Lesley May; an officer in the Metropolitan Police who, having completed her mandatory probationary period, is expected to go far.
– Police Constable Peter Grant; an officer in the Metropolitan Police who, having completed his mandatory probationary period, is expected to do paperwork.

Rivers of London UK Cover Rough concept art

The story does a fascinating job of limning the difference between the sort of person who becomes a “copper” and the rest of us. I think it was a commercial for some possibly short-lived network series that explained that most people run away from trouble, while first responders run toward it. Here this is underscored, especially in the first chapters: Grant and May, the brand shiny new PC’s, are caught up in the tail end of a hideous incident, and wind up standing shaking, covered in blood not their own, faced with a dead family and a scene of horrendous violence – and they field the situation. And come back for more. Most people (I) tend to want to avoid this sort of thing, and having been unable to avoid it once would do absolutely anything to avoid experiencing anything like it again….

I love how this world, this alternate London, was built. There isn’t so much a conspiracy of silence as in, say, Harry Potter, where the wizarding world goes out of its way to keep muggles safe ignorance. (I love that Harry Potter exists in Peter Grant’s world. It will be great fun to keep that in mind going on with the series, to try to spin it to determine what if anything the Alternate Jo Rowling knew about real wizardry.) In this London, in this world, it’s more a matter of the muggles not wanting to see what they can’t cope with (or not having the ability to see it), and the wizarding world simply staying rather quiet and out of the way. I love the skepticism, giving way grudgingly to acceptance, of just about everyone; I love Peter’s attitude toward the situation in general and his situation in very much particular.

I love how the British title – so much better than the American – is brought to life. The voice of Mother Thames is wise and remarkably feminine and beautifully accented, and the tale of how she became Mother Thames is a small gem of storytelling. And then we go to meet Papa Thames. It’s the sort of storytelling I just want to hug to myself and not let go of. And – bonus – I learned a bit. Going on to listen to A Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England, I could be a bit smug as the author talked about executions at Tyburn.

I loved just about everything about this book. I loved the revelations about what was going on – something which could have been truly awful in different hands, but which was suspenseful and horrifying here. I loved not knowing whether I could trust Aaronovitch with characters’ lives. I even loved Peter’s ambivalence toward Toby – and that’s not like me. I can’t honestly think of anything I didn’t like. I can’t wait to get my hands on the second book (and the third, and so on) – but I wish, I deeply wish, that the audio book was available here. It just won’t be quite as much fun without KH-S.

But I have faith that it will be fun.

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18 Responses to Rivers of London – Ben Aaronovitch, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith

  1. i just researched this book! what a great find! thanks!

  2. Colleen says:

    I just downloaded this book through Audible for the their “Begin at the Beginning” Sale and I adore this author, reader, story! Everything! I downloaded it around 11 last night and am already almost finished. KHS is a fantastic reader, appealing and British without that fake, poshy British accent so many readers use. I even love the way he does his female characters- which can often be a big ick with many male readers. Loving everything about this novel so I have already ordered two and three in the series.

  3. stewartry says:

    Isn’t he completely wonderful? I confess my copy of Rivers of London wasn’t … quite legal (my one and only act of piracy, and I’ve bought it since), and neither it nor the others were available in the US at the time. I’m so glad they are. KHS should read everything.

  4. pooks says:

    i first read this book on my kindle and fell in loooove. With the author’s voice, the world-building, the characters, everything. Then it came on sale on audible and I figured, why not? Listening to it was amazing. I now am buying these books in ebook and digital (and okay, even sought out the UK hardcover of Rivers of London, and am about to order the UK Hardcover of book four… guess I’ll fill in those blanks, too.)

    No way I’m waiting for the US editions.

    Great review. I’m going to be pointing people in this direction.

  5. stewartry says:

    Ooh, don’t tempt me – I’m probably going to need to wait for the US to print book four. Although I might be able to make up some justification…

    Thank you!

  6. tmso says:

    You will love the rest in this series. I know I did.

  7. stewartry says:

    I’ve read the first three, and I absolutely have loved them. I’m waiting for the fourth one to come out in audio (I’m a KH-S addict). Love.

  8. Deeda says:

    Just finished Rivers of London (Midnight Riot is not a very good title – why can they leave well enough alone?) and am into Moon Over Soho. I love KH-S’s narration and vow that, should they make this into a TV series or movies, I will not watch unless he is Peter. (And Mama Thames)

  9. Deborah says:

    Good news to anyone reading this! All six novels are narrated by KHS and are now available in America. I listened to them through my local library’s downloadable borrowing program. They keep getting better and better! Enjoy!!!

  10. stewartry says:

    I know! Isn’t it great? And more to come.

  11. Ally B. Jones says:

    I adore this series. I just finished the last one and now I really don’t know what to do with myself now. I might for the first time in my life want to re-read a book/s. What do you read after such a good series….

  12. stewartry says:

    Thank goodness Ben Aaronovitch writes fast! Have you tried Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, or Patricia Briggs’s Mercy Thompson books? They’re both really wonderful urban fantasy series.

  13. pooks says:

    The audibooks are so awesome I listen to them as comfort reads!

    Also, have you read any of the Phil Rickman “Merrily Watkins” books? I adore them, too.


  14. cmrnga says:

    I also like the Benedict Jacka series with Alex Verus starting with the book Fated I believe. Not as interesting of a “magic world” and it’s a little darker but it is also set in London.

  15. stewartry says:

    Thanks for the rec! I’ll have to check them out.

  16. stewartry says:

    Ooo! I haven’t – I will have to investigate.

    I just discovered that Kobna Holdbrook-Smith is in the Benedict Cumberbatch Hamlet I bought tickets for a while back (AND Ciaran Hinds) – I couldn’t be happier.

  17. Pingback: Finding my think – Teacup in the Sky

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