BRIEF SYNOPSIS: James Quill and his ‘Shadow Police’ team must deal with the apparent esoteric return of Jack the Ripper in the midst of protests and a possible police strike.
PROS: Excellent followup of theme and character beats from London Falling; strong high-concept elevator pitch that pays off in the execution.
CONS: Grimness and darkness in the book might be too much for some readers.
BOTTOM LINE: A strong, dark drink of dark urban fantasy that successfully builds on the groundwork of the first.
“Jack the Ripper is back, only this time he’s killing rich white men”
Its an irresistible high concept, isn’t it? Amid protests and a possible strike by the London police, men are dying in gory, unexplainable ways. Deaths without a weapon being left on the scene, without physical evidence. Is it the protesters, seeking to turn violent their rage against the system? Is it someone using the protests to settle old grudges? Or is it the spirit of London itself, violently convulsing as its inhabitants do?
Fortunately, the London Metropolitan Police have a tool and resource they did not have for a long time — a group of police officers sensitive to the unnatural. Led by Deputy Inspector James Quill, they might have the Sight, but can they even see the perpetrator, much less catch him and stop him? Paul Cornell’s Severed Streets is the followup to his first turn into urban fantasy, London Falling. London Falling introduced us to James Quill and his team as they inadvertently obtained the ability to see the esoteric underbelly of London. In The Severed Streets, they still struggle with the ramifications of this ability, looking for the opportunity to do some good with this unwanted gift even as the city and its people come under threat.
The strengths of the first novel are here as well, and in fine form. Quill and the rest of his colleagues are fascinating, deep, flawed, and personable. They have growth arcs, and we get to know each and every one of them, even as they sometimes work at very cross purposes to each other. I particularly liked overlapping scenes from their varying points of view. We go deeper, too, and fascinatingly, into the esoteric mechanics of London and its nature and inhabitants. This leads to readers meeting a version of a very well known fantasy author as someone who is part of that esoteric world.
In addition to those characters, the use of Jack the Ripper as the central antagonizing figure gives the book a greater resonance for non-London readers like myself. The minutiae of Football teams, their rivalries and records and history, were a bit of terra incognita for me. In The Severed Streets however, using Jack the Ripper gives the novel a wider range and appeal that hooked me. While I am not as deeply immersed in Jack the Ripper lore as some of my friends and colleagues, it is a name and a story whose basics are very well known. Changing the details of the M.O. of the Ripper in this novel is an excellent way for the author to compare and contrast known knowledge of the Ripper with his new appearance.
The novel does chuck the reader into the deep end with a fair amount of jargon, setting and terminology of life in London and the Metropolitan police department This is a mixed blessing for non-UK readers, although the high concept and focusing on that does make that immersion much easier for the unfamiliar. The opening of the novel does take a bit to get its gears going before the reading experience goes cleanly and smoothly.
The book’s grimness and darkness, though, might turn off some readers. Sure, some dark things happened in London Falling, but this novel’s darkness and grimness goes in new directions — especially character-based ones. The author understands that true horror and darkness can be best applied by putting familiar characters through the wringer. And none of Quill’s team in particular survives the book unscathed. For readers willing to go dark, however, London Falling and The Severed Streets are some of the best dark urban fantasy, not only set in London in particular, but set anywhere.