BOOK REVIEW: London Falling by Paul Cornell
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Four police officers investigating a mobster’s death are sucked into the arcane and hidden world of London.
PROS: Excellent police procedural elements; believable and realistic portrayal of what such individuals would do with such a gift.
CONS: A couple of the breaks in POV away from the officers, especially a flashback sequence, don’t feel as strong as the remainder of the book; subject matter may not suit certain readers.
BOTTOM LINE: An extremely strong, page-turning novel.
Being a undercover police detective (UC) or an analyst in the London police force is not easy. If it’s not dealing with mobsters and the lowlifes in the department, there’s corruption, bureaucratic incompetence and rigidity, and the general daily grind of what it means to be a police officer. So when an unlikely encounter gives you the ability to see ghosts and other otherworldly things, it’s just one more problem for you to have to deal with. It’s disconcerting, if not bloody terrifying, and it reveals that there are things that do go bump in the night. So, as an officer in the London police force, what do you do?
You keep calm, carry on, and do your bloody job. Even if your remit is now wider, and stranger, than you could possibly have ever imagined.
London Falling is the first urban fantasy novel from Paul Cornell. Having written Doctor Who novels and episodes, numerous comics, short stories, and more, a true fantasy novel is something Cornell has not written, until now.
Our main set of characters is an unlikely set of police officers from a variety of ranks and roles in the police department. Each of them are well detailed, with back stories, histories, connections, weaknesses and arcs. While Quill, as the Inspector, feels like the main lead in the quartet, all four of them have moments of leadership, crisis and individual chances to shine when it comes to dealing with The Sight as well as more mundane police work.
That does bring us to strongest part of the novel, besides the characterization of the four leads: the execution of the high concept. What do you get when four police officers from the London police force are given The Sight? How do they handle it personally and especially professionally? Their initiation into a brand new world and how they come to terms with their new ‘power’ feels authentic and grounded in reality. It is as if the author talked to real cops and wrote the novel based on their answers.
The central conceit of the novel itself — being able to to see into the metaphysical world around London — is not a new one, but London Falling offers some new tricks and takes on what this would look and feel like. The Sight is a multi-sided sword of a gift, too, and the book successfully get readers in the heads of the characters as they come to terms with it.
The authenticity and research the author employs, no surprise, extends to the more mundane and quotidian aspects of the characters and their situation, especially before being given their gift. The police procedural aspects feel extremely authentic, engaging, and immersive. Cornell does use a lot of jargon, enough that the glossary at the end of the novel is a very good thing. He does chuck readers into the deep end pretty quickly, and I can understand especially American readers needing some effort to find themselves some purchase in the book.
The major weakness in the novel is perhaps and unavoidable one. In order to get some crucial information and back story into the narrative, there’s a flashback capsule history of the major antagonist as related by her assistant. While by the end of this flashback we understand where the antagonist is coming from, the break in point of view from the modern day, and the characters we have invested in so heavily, does not feel as strong or holistically tied with the rest of the work. While I appreciated the information, I couldn’t wait to get back to the main narrative, which had come to a screeching halt to tell this back story.
One thing I probably should mention for readers is that there are some dark events that occur in this novel. The antagonist does some extremely horrible things and with a necessary bit of spoilerage, I caution that those who have triggers for violence and danger to children probably should stay away from London Falling. This novel plays firmly and decisively on the darker side of urban fantasy and the author is unafraid of showing us an antagonist who is willing to do very horrible things in pursuit of her goals.
That all said, this is an extremely strong novel, with pacing, tension, and action sequences that kept me turning pages to find out what would happen next. The author’s experience in other media has done him all good here, and London Falling is compulsively readable. The end of the novel manages the tough trick of both giving closure and opening up the possibilities in a continuing series. Readers of urban fantasy, especially those with a taste for crime and police procedurals, should not hesitate to pick up London Falling. I find it likely that, like me, they will want to see more of these characters and this universe once they do so.
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