Thursday, December 26, 2013

What We’re Reading: Urban Fantasy

What if there was another world of beings and power, coexisting with our own? We can’t see this world, but its inhabitants can see and affect us. What if suddenly, and very unexpectedly, you could see that world and begin to see how these creatures interfere in the lives of those who are unaware? How would you react? Would you try to prevent a potential tragedy by attempting to thwart forces you don’t completely understand (possibly risking yourself in the process)? These are just some of the questions explored in London Falling, by Paul Cornell.

Undercover Detectives Costain and Sefton have been working the case against drug lord Rob Toshack for years, under the supervision of Detective Inspector Quill. Toshack has subsumed and consumed almost every rival in London, building an empire of previously unknown proportions. Many of those rivals have simply vanished. While the assumption is that they are dead, no one, not even the undercover officers, know how Toshack was able to kill them off or who he is using to commit the crimes. But on New Year’s Eve, Toshack begins to show signs of cracking. He is taken into custody and appears to be on the verge of a full confession. Before he does, however, several remarkable--indeed, unbelievable--things occur, and Quill, Costain, and Sefton, along with Crime Analyst Ross, begin seeing incredible, impossible things that can’t possibly be real. They now have The Sight and, with it, are able to see the true evil that haunts the streets of London, an evil that it appears Toshack has been using in his domination of London’s underworld. Can London’s Finest unravel the tangled web of evil accessed by a crime lord and bring an age-old serial killer to justice?

In London Falling, Paul Cornell, a writer previously known for comics and TV work (primarily for Doctor Who and Wolverine) combines a fascinating urban fantasy with a gritty police procedural. The result is a grim but compelling first novel. The characters are well drawn and distinct, with clear and recognizable voices and perspectives. Each has his or her own difficulties  and aptitudes adjusting to The Sight, and their motivations and personalities develop nicely as the story progresses. In addition, London can really be seen as an additional character and member of the team in the story, as Cornell draws on the city’s history, both past and recent, to provide an almost tangible sense of location and atmosphere. The crimes are both fantastic and yet frighteningly recognizable. It’s not a far walk from the crimes of recent newspapers to the ones committed in London Falling, which reinforces and lends credibility to the narrative.

London Falling is a dark book, and some readers may have difficulty with the subject matter. There is a series of serial murders and the crimes are disturbing and, at times, graphic, but nothing in the story is gratuitous. For those interested in a dark fantasy tinged with a real sense of possibility, it is a fascinating and engrossing read.

While London Falling mostly stands on its own, the last pages hint strongly at a continuation of the characters’ journey. The next book in the series, The Severed Streets, is due out in May, 2014.

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