Cityread: London’s Biggest Book Club

Book jacket - Rivers of London


“Good afternoon. My name’s Peter Grant, I’m from the police and this is my colleague Beverley Brook, who’s a river in south London.”
Rivers of London, p146


April is a busy month in the world of libraries, with a veritable smorgasbord of literary goings-on. Prime amongst them is Cityread London, a city-wide initiative led by libraries to get Londoners reading the same book. Libraries all over the city host a multitude of related events and gatherings where we celebrate reading and, of course, London.

Cityread-colour-logo-lo-res-for-webThis year, the Cityread title is Ben Aaronovitch‘s excellent and aptly named Rivers of London. Part police procedural, part high fantasy – complete with wizards, ghosts and vampires – Rivers of London is above all grounded in its setting: the seething, sprawling mass of London.

Ben Aaronovitch

On Wednesday 22 April (tomorrow!), Ben Aaronovitch is visiting Charing Cross Library as part of his epic tour of 33 London boroughs. You can read more about this heroic feat in his very funny blog.
Westminster Libraries are hosting a range of other events – talks, book groups and author visits – throughout the month.

It’s not too late to take part in the biggest book group in London: pick up a copy of the book at your local library (we will be giving away FREE copies during Ben’s visit to Charing Cross Library) and if you’ve missed your local reading group, you can tell us what you think in the comments below!

Peter Grant – newly minted police constable and apprentice wizard – is the charming, deadpan hero of Rivers of London, and we meet him on the night he encounters his first ghost, at the scene of a particularly grisly murder:

“Can you prove you’re dead?” I asked
“Whatever you say, squire,” said Nicholas, and stepped forward into the light.
He was transparent, the way holograms in films are transparent. Three-dimensional, definitely really there and… transparent. I could see right through him to the white tent the forensics team had set up to protect the area around the body.
Right, I thought, just because you’ve gone mad doesn’t mean you should stop acting like a policeman.
“Can you tell me what you saw?” I asked.
Rivers of London, p7

At first glance, Rivers of London might seem like the kind of book only readers of Crime or Fantasy fiction would enjoy – that was certainly my first impression – but it turns out that a wide range of readers across all sorts of genres really enjoyed this book. I canvassed some of the staff at Westminster Libraries for their quick reviews and thoughts:

“I found the book riveting. I just kept reading and reading. The plot is gripping and original.The supernatural elements feels almost like real life.”

“I first discovered Rivers of London when it was the only book in the series. Although I normally prefer historical to contemporary crime fiction, I’m a sucker for anything set around London and especially the Thames, so I tried it and was hooked!
Best opening paragraphs I’d read in years. (I did a feature for the blog a couple of years ago ‘Famous first words’ on opening sentences and paragraphs which included this).
I have since read the first four books and am waiting for the fifth to come out in paperback.
I also featured Whispers Underground in the reading list for the London Underground 150 years promotion.” 

“I don’t usually read fantasy but gave Rivers of London a chance because Ben is visiting us. I enjoyed it, and may even read the second book – perhaps because it is very grounded physically in London’s streets, the main characters are down to earth, the magic is explained by science and there are some great one liners from Peter Grant.”

“Harry Potter grows up and joins The Bill. Subterranean excitement, with murder and supernatural goings on along London’s lost rivers… whilst Rivers of London isn’t something I’d have chosen for myself I was very glad I read it and can also see exactly why it works so well as a Cityread title.” 

“It’s the best fiction book I have read in a long time. Ben’s love of the West End, where a lot of the book is set, and of London generally underpins the story and sets the scene, but the main joy is the fascinating characters he has created and who develop as the books progress through a  series of supernatural mysteries. When I first heard of the books I was doubtful I would enjoy them (I never liked Harry Potter for instance) but once you try them you are hooked!” 

We’d love to hear your reviews of Rivers of London – tell us what you thought in the comments below!
You can find out more about Rivers of London, including the first chapter of the book, on the Cityread London website.


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