Monday, 15 April 2013

Paul Cornell - London Falling

Paul Cornell - London Falling (#1 of the Shadow Police series)

Paul Cornell is probably best known in genre circles for... well, everything really. According to the ever reliable Wikipedia, he is the only person ever to be nominated for a Hugo in 5 different categories. This makes me impressed. As does his first full size, non Dr. Who, novel.

London Falling is, as the title suggests, and intimately London novel. The metropolis forms the backdrop of the novel, and it feels distinguished by this. I found it impressive that it imbues character into the suburbs, almost moreso than the centre of London that is so well known, and used much more in the recent spate of London novels. Cornell is clearly well versed in London ways, from Walthamstow to Peckham, from the Boleyn Ground to Berkeley Square. With a cross-borough unit of the Metropolitan Police, Cornell has a lot of ground to cover, and covers it excellently.

The plot revolves around the plot to capture a Serial Killer named Mora Losley - when we first meet her, we have recently seen a fairly graphic unexplained murder - this, we see fairly quickly, is due to Losley's influence, using her witch-like powers to kill those who stand in her way. It's a fast, action packed and dynamic detective story, with plenty of twists and turns, and the multi-PoV between the four members of the team works extremely well. Each character is well built and intriguing, with just enough backstory to get us into their heads. However, this has been mooted as one of a potentially long running series, and as a result some major backstory elements have been used up in this book. It will be interesting to see how backstory can be rebuilt in a continued series.

The detective elements were the best part of the story for me. The supernatural element, the Sight, worked well as a foil, but at times went a little overboard. The description of it when it first occurs is suitably overwhelming, for reader as well as character. Flowing into stream of consciousness, paragraphs become one sentence, blur and meld in a very trippy way. While I appreciated the idea of this, I don't think it was quite sophisticated enough to achieve exactly what it had set out to do: instead of disorientating us but still providing description, which the very best of this kind of textuality-as-plot-form ideas do, it served only to disorientate. The jumping between characters in this chapter (chapter 7 mostly) served to disorientate further, especially as we have no idea what the hell is going on at the time. Luckily, it only last 10 or so pages, and then the novel is back to its ripping yarn through the streets of London.

The actual ins and outs of the magic system seem fairly well done, outside of its descriptions. The Sight is something new, something unseen. I've seen comparisons with Buffy floating around in the way it affects characters, and makes them learn about themselves, and this is something I heartily agree with. By being so new, such a novel idea for a magic system, something that ingrains everything through memory, it affects characters in an entirely new way, forces them to confront different things to your usual spec-fic publication.

Finally, the prose. You can tell Paul is a TV writer first - the dialogue is marvellous, snappy, witty, quick, but sometimes the description gets lost in the background - the camera work if you will.

Overall, this is a grittier ride perhaps than Rivers of London or The Dresden Files,  but none the worse for it. It's Urban Police Procedural Fantasy with its heart in London, and its soul in character. It's really very good.

Overall Rating: 4*

I received my copy for free from Tor during my work experience there.

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