Midnight Riot—The Spirits of a City

Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch book cover
Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch

Midnight Riot (also printed as River of London), by Ben Aaronovitch, is an urban fantasy told from the first person point of view of Probationary Constable/newly apprenticed wizard Peter Grant as he attempts find out what force is causing people to murder one another and mutilating their faces.

1—Magical London

After interviewing a ghost, Peter Grant gets apprenticed to DCI Thomas Nightingale and enters a world of monsters and magic, a world where genius locii battle for control of the River Thames. Nightingale teaches Peter how to sense vestigia, the sense of life and events that permeates the world, not to mention a couple of spells. Peter also goes on a trip through the spirit side of London, through various layers of time to back before there even was a city.

2—Not Harry Potter

And yes, Peter asks about that. Nightingale is the last of what was once a large and thriving conglomeration of wizards bent on protecting the British Empire but then magic ebbed off and their need and numbers dwindled. Now magic is on the rise and Nightingale thinks it would be a good idea to have a backup wizard, the training of which takes ten years.

Peter is easily distracted but dedicated to learning the forma, the basics of spells, that Nightingale teaches him, and about the new world he’s found himself in. He’s less keen on having to learn Latin, Greek, and Arabic, but he’ll do it. With a curious and scientific bent of mind, he tries to work out how magic, well, works, where the power and energy for it comes from.

3—Gods and Monsters

Mama and Father Thames both claim godship over the river for which they’re named, and although there’s an agreement to split the river between them, Father Thames has recently started encroaching of Mama Thames’s territory, a problem it’s set onto Peter to sort out. There’s also Mama and Father Thames’s children, the spirits of the various tributaries that flow out from the Thames.

Then there’s Molly. I don’t know what she is, just that she’s Japanese and has really long, sharp teeth. She’s the maid at the Folly, the wizard headquarters where Nightingale, and now Peter, live. She doesn’t ever seem to leave, and her cooking tends toward the traditionally English, long on short crust and suet. Also, she does hemomancy.


I had a fun time reading Midnight Riot, in which there is an actual riot, I’d like to point out. I’ll be reading the next book, Moon Over Soho, next.

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