London Falling by Paul Cornell – Book Review [Bane of Kings]
Milo, aka “Bane of Kings”, reviews London Falling, written by Paul Cornell, creator of fan-favourite Doctor Who episodes Human Nature/The Family of Blood. This London-set Urban Fantasy novel is published by Tor Books in the UK.
“Paul Cornell doesn’t disappoint with the start of what is hopefully a brilliant new series, giving the reader one of the best London-centric Urban Fantasy books yet, and as a result it’s one of the best reads of 2013. This truly is an excellent read.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
The dark is rising . . . Detective Inspector James Quill is about to complete the drugs bust of his career. Then his prize suspect Rob Toshack is murdered in custody. Furious, Quill pursues the investigation, co-opting intelligence analyst Lisa Ross and undercover cops Costain and Sefton. But nothing about Toshack’s murder is normal. Toshack had struck a bargain with a vindictive entity, whose occult powers kept Toshack one step ahead of the law – until his luck ran out. Now, the team must find a ‘suspect’ who can bend space and time and alter memory itself. And they will kill again. As the group starts to see London’s sinister magic for themselves, they have two choices: panic or use their new abilities. Then they must hunt a terrifying supernatural force the only way they know how: using police methods, equipment and tactics. But they must all learn the rules of this new game – and quickly.
More than their lives will depend on it.
In retrospect, I was always going to enjoy London Falling. It’s one of the many London set Urban Fantasy novels that we’ve seen from the likes of Neil Gaiman, Ben Aaronovitch and Kate Griffin, and is written by Paul Cornell, whose work on Doctor Who was what originally gained my interest in this book. He’s written some of the best episodes of the new series – Father’s Day and Human Nature/The Family of Blood, and I for one would love to see him return to write some more episodes especially based on the quality of books that we’ve seen so far. Comics fans will regconise Cornell from his stint on various comics, including but not limited to his recent Demon Knights run at DC and his Wolverine run at Marvel, which will soon undergo a relaunch soon. It’ll come as no surprise to you to learn that he’s a Hugo-Award winning writer then given the amount of stuff that he’s released, and as a result the book has all the ingredients for an excellent read, especially when you consider that I haven’t read an Urban Fantasy novel set in London that I’ve not yet liked. Of course, this did mean that I was always going to have high expectations going into the book – but as you’ve probably gathered from what I’ve already mentioned, they were met.
And not just met, but smashed. An SFX review described this book as Buffy meets The Sweeney and I couldn’t think of a better way to put it. It’s a fun, page-turning book that’s very much an England-set novel, with a distinctive use of slang that may throw some non-UK readers off. Your mileage may vary on your interest in Football (or Soccer for American Readers) as a sport however, because the sport does factor into the book quite heavily. It’s something that plays out quite well indeed – with the tension and fear escalating as the book went on, initially starting off low-key before rising to a groundbreaking finale that’s executed very well, with high stakes and a certain level of unpredictability that keeps you guessing and the pages turning. I couldn’t put this book down whilst I was reading it, and nearly missed my stop when I was reading it on the bus as the book neared its end. It’s just an amazing read – bringing yet another strong addition to the table and the sequel has certainly risen up my must-read list and is now considered almost a day-one purchase.
You’re probably thinking that you’ve seen this all before, though. A typical urban fantasy novel where the main character is involved with the law enforcement. You’re familiar with the story. Jim Butcher and Ben Aaronovitch, as well as several others – have done this before. What can Cornell offer that’s new and exciting? The answer is quite a lot. London Falling, despite being by all accounts a police procedural story – is actually very entertaining, being a pretty dark and intense novel that really adds to the awesomeness that the book gives us. It’s a compelling read that starts off in relative normality before throwing you straight into the strange and unnatural. There’s subtlety here that’s rarely found in Urban Fantasy novels and all of these elements add up strongly to give us one of the best of the year so far. It’s just that good.
There are four main characters in this book and they all get a good amount of page-time, however some are easier to connect to than others and not all of them feel relatable. But each are developed enough to not feel like carbon copies or stereotypes – Quill, Ross, Costain and Sefton are all characters who change over the novel and grow overtime, with their interactions and reactions to each situations feeling realistic and appropriate. The book very much feels like a down to Earth novel as Cornell doesn’t opt to delve into the more outlandish areas of Urban Fantasy, and resists the temptation to throw everything at once into one book. Everything in this book is believable as a result, despite the fantasy element.
As far as I’m concerned then, London Falling is a must read. If you’ve recently had an eReader for Christmas then I recommend that you make this one of your first buys – with a well constructed plot that doesn’t suffer from over-bloated subplots allowing for the book to focus on the crucial matters right the way until the very end, providing an unputdownable read. Cornell is a writer who every SFF fan should have encountered in some form or another, be it in comics or in Doctor Who – and each work that I’ve read by him has been very strong. However, London Falling might well end up being one of the strongest works by him yet.