FIVE THINGS ABOUT LONDON FALLING, by Paul Cornell
What a splendid and fun supernatural procedural. I read it in its entirety on a cross-country flight, while a weary mother’s dictatorial three-year-old loudly terrorized my entire seating section from the seat beside mine. Even with a strange child’s feet flailing in my lap and a strange child’s popcorn arcing over my field of vision and a strange child’s crappy diaper removed and instantly refueled inches away from me, this novel held me. So, without further ado, five things about it:
1. It’s the first in a series: the Shadow Police series, book 3 of which came out last year in the UK and is coming here to the U.S. in May. I know that I’m a hypocrite to be saying I’m not a fan of series because I don’t like waiting for the next book to arrive, but there it is, it’s the truth. London Falling, however, wraps up book one’s concern in a satisfying, sprawling climax, and although there is a decidedly open ending, it’s better classified as a promise than a cliffhanger.
2. Cornell has writing chops. I knew before starting London Falling this was his debut novel, but I also knew that he wrote comics and had written a few episodes of Dr. Who. He brings that sprightly pacing to this novel, juggling four main characters with ease. It’s a procedural at heart, so expect efficient, brisk characterization rather than lavished pages of introspection, but the main characters were nonetheless specific and intriguing.
3. The magic is just wonderful. Sometimes when a book tries to meld grit and magic, one or the other suffers, but London Falling delivered some lovely and toothsome magic that felt essential and old.
4. The first 50 pages are a slog. I’m saying this because I want you to push past it. There are a lot of characters introduced very quickly and a lot of unfamiliar workplace relationships strung across the page, and for me, at least, it meant that I sometimes had to flip back to earlier pages to see if I was remembering last names correctly. This may have been due in part to my airplane seatmate’s shouting that she wanted her candy NOW, but I suspect not.
5. There is a very, very rewarding plot element three quarters of the way through the novel that I’d love to tell you about — but I won’t. It is the result of a careful building of a plot and character house, and far be it for me to bring it tumbling down before you get a chance to climb the stairs. Suffice to say that I grinned on the plane when I read it. Well done, Cornell, well done.
I’ll be checking out Cornell’s other work posthaste.