Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London is a best selling urban fantasy series. As the name suggests; it’s set in London.
The adventures will, however, come to America.
The stories have already been translated to graphic novels, Chaosium is working on an RPG and TV series is possible.
I had to chance to talk to Ben about the series. It was a typical 2020 interview as it was over Zoom on one rainy Friday night and my Tesco delivery was late. I wanted to know about the story at the heart of Rivers of London. After reading about how many authors dislike fan-fiction, I also wondered what Aaronvitch thought about future which hundreds, even thousands, of geeks might be telling their own Rivers of London stories in their own Friday nights. Would they get it right?
The heart of the story is “cops that do magic”.
Specifically, the original concept was “What if Gandalf had joined the Sweeney?”
The Sweeney, in case you’re not a fan of 70s British police shows, focused on two cops in the Flying Squad arm of the Met Police. That’s the division that deals with violent crime in London.
Categorically, Rivers of London is not Harry Potter joins CSI. Potter is too posh and CSI too technical. Imagine; instead, a bloke in a car tootling around London upset that he’s not had his dinner yet as there’s an informant he needs to extract some information from first. What if that geezer was Gandalf?
That’s the cop-vibe in the Rivers of London stories.
The eighth graphic novel, The Fey and the Furious is out next week, published by Titan. The name might invoke a certain big-budget American movie series, but there’s a strong Essex twist here as the series’ star, Peter Grant, climbs into his orange Ford Focus to try and infiltrate the boy racer scene. No sports cars here, just a London cop in his motor doing his best.
Illustrated by Lee Sullivan, The Fey and the Furious graphic novel is written by Ben Aaronovitch and Andrew Cartmel. Cartmel was brought on for his attention to detail, as well as his writing talents. It’s Andrew who checks and then goes back, if necessary, to get a panel redrawn if it’s not fulfilled Aaronovitch’s directions.
Ben Aaronovitch is, it became crystal clear as we geeked out about favourite comic books, too prone to getting distracted by the great art produced for his projects, perhaps too nice to suggest a correction and, most of all, very interested in what new things a graphic novel can bring to a story. Ironic counterpoints, for example, with the caption in contrast to the illustration. That’s a storytelling technique graphic novels do more easily, perhaps better than books.
The Aaronovitch magic and Cartmel editorial eye clearly works, you don’t get to eight graphic novels with mediocre stories.
Is that the formula? Is that what Lynne Hardy, Chaosium’s England-based associate line editor for the Rivers of London RPG would need to invoke?
Well, no. If there’s a formula, Ben doesn’t know it.
Why does Rivers of London sell so well? He didn’t think it would. Neither his agent nor even the publisher thought it would; they had to do an emergency printing just to keep up with the first sales surge.
Cops that do magic just seems to have broad appeal. It’s safely in the geek interest zone and manages to lure in people who wouldn’t usually be interested in urban fantasy. It turns out that Rivers of London in a series you can loan to your mother and you might not get it back.
Aaronovitch has taken this lesson to heart and now passes it on as his top tip to writers; just write what pleases you. It will probably sell just as well.
I wondered if I might have been smart enough to spot a paradox here and a potential gotcha for the author to tackle—silly me.
Was there a contradiction in just writing what you wanted to do as a creator with getting that cop in a motor car vibe of Rivers of London right?
No. If you’re running a Rivers of London game, then it’s your game, your creation and you can do what you want. Aaronovitch insists you can do no wrong. Besides, how would he know?
The only error is to assume you know what Ben Aaronovitch was thinking when he wrote a scene. His headcanon is his. Yours is yours.
It’s not as if the Rivers of London RPG is without direction. Is this not a case of a successful author graciously allowing a games publisher to use their IP. Ben Aaronovitch wanted the Basic Roleplaying system.
Ben Aaronovitch is a Call of Cthulhu fan. In fact, I predict we’ll have a meta-moment in which Rivers of London characters are playing Call of Cthulhu in the Rivers of London RPG text.
The mix of fluff and crunch is right in BRP. That’s not this reviewer’s opinion, that’s the evaluation from the author.
Rivers of London, according to Aaronovitch, is ill-suited to games like D&D in which the heroes get bigger and stronger as they progress and level up. BRP with its percentages is better.
The Rivers of London RPG is also designed to solve another problem – playing cops. Will players want to do that? Even if they start out as a cop character, how long would it before one of the characters deliberately tells their commanding officer to take a hike?
So, with a modified version of BRP powering the game, the Rivers of London RPG moves forward with a broader scope and the full blessing of the stories’ creator for GMs to weave their own tales.
Want to do a Supernatural version of Rivers of London with young guys in muscle cars tearing around America hunting monsters? That’s going to be possible. American Gothic? That too. You can take these adventures where you want.
Muscle cars are, by the way, are a wise choice for any budding wizard as there will be no fancy electronic ignition system for their magic to break.
Given that Ben Aaronovitch is a gamer, given that his creation is about to become a roleplaying game, I did wonder whether we might see him on some actual play videos. Aaronovitch on Twitch?
Sadly not, just as technology and magic do not always get along, it seems unlikely that this author will sacrifice time to venture into the glare of publicity that is the new-fangled social video. I can’t help feel that that’s a bit of a loss to the community, here’s an author who’s one of us and charismatically charming even through Zoom.
However, if it means more time can be spent on Rivers of London books, graphic novels or even giving that potential TV series a helpful nudge, then so be it.
In the meantime, we’re free to work on our own adaptions of cops that do magic or, if you’d prefer some more reading, there’s Charles Dunwoody’s interview about the RPG on EN World.
What do you think? Share your thoughts below in the comment section below.