London Falling by Paul Cornell is an interesting urban fantasy set in a recession-hot London.
Police officers Quill, Costain, Sefton, and Ross know the worst of London—or they think they do. While investigating a mobster’s mysterious death, they come into contact with a strange artifact and accidentally develop the Sight. Suddenly they can see the true evil haunting London’s streets.
Armed with police instincts and procedures, the four officers take on the otherworldly creatures secretly prowling London. Football lore and the tragic history of a Tudor queen become entwined in their pursuit of an age-old witch with a penchant for child sacrifice. But when London’s monsters become aware of their meddling, the officers must decide what they are willing to sacrifice to clean up their city.
I really enjoyed this once I got past the first 100 pages.
Lets talk about thos first 100 pages to start with, shall we? The reason they were such a struggle was that they started in the middle of the action. This isn’t normally a problem, but it can be when all your characters have the same ‘voice’. Now, what I mean by that is that the working-class young black copper ‘sounded’ exactly the same as the shy, nervous female tech, and the middel-aged married white man and so on and so forth. I know there’s a certain amount of police speak and slang that carries on, but it would have been less confusing had they sounded notably different. This is especially important if you are writing a book from several different points of view.
However, once I was past those first 100 pages, things improved. I still got confused between characters easily, but the rest of the book more than made up for it. It’s brutal and edgy, its honest, and it deals with subjects that a lot of modern fantasy avoids.
The feelings of one character, as an adult suffering bullying related to his race and sexuality seemed believable enough. I couldn’t speak as to the race stuff – I’m a white woman, and the most I ever got in that regard was a few ‘terrorist’ comments now and again because of my Irish grandmother. But I have been bullied for my sexuality, both as a teen and as an adult, and there’s a certain shame that goes along with it in adulthood that is different to the shame you feel as a young person. I related strongly with the character who expressed these feelings and thought that aspect of his character was especially well-drawn.
The writing is OK, sometimes a little clunky and it overuses the adverbs something fierce. But sometimes it is very good. It’s at its best when describing action or the awful despair and grime of the worst parts of the capital. Its at its worst when trying to describe the way people interact. That’s OK – all writers have their strengths. Description of the moments after each character gets the sight is excellent, and very revealing as to character. I liked it a lot.
I found the football stuff a bit unbelievable and kind of dull. I’m not really into football (soccer, to you americans) and it seemed gimmicky and forced, as well as being too thin a thread to pin a large, important section of the story on. It added a kind of arch, knowing, mocking blokeyness to a work that didn’t really need it. Of course, that could just be my bias talking. But I still skim-read most of the football stuff until it became vital to the plot.
Well plotted (apart from the football thing which I still say is too slight a thread to hang this sort of thing on) with some intriguing details, often using Londons real history and myths. Irritated by the return of the witch as evil child sacrificing blah blah blah. I quite like to see old tropes like that turned on their head not used with the attitude that it is fresh or new in any way. I was intrigued by the details of vicitimisation and how it changes or damages people, though.
This is a book that gets better as it goes on, that starts coming into its own around the 100 page mark. For those of us who have the patience and stubbornness to keep going , that’s fine. If you aren’t built that way, however, if you get frustrated by slow burners and seemingly unimportant detail padding, I’d advise avoiding it.
3 out of 5. Would have been higher if it had lived up to its potential. Still, I’ll probably pick up the sequel.
- London Falling by Paul Cornell [book review] (mithrilwisdom.com)
- Sci Friday: Coming Soon to a Wormhole Near You (bookpeopleblog.wordpress.com)
- The London Falling Sequel Title is… (paulcornell.com)