BOOK REVIEW: London Falling

London_Falling3Known more for his comic book work (Demon Knights, Saucer Country) and his screenwriting jobs on Doctor Who, it’s easy to forget that Paul Cornell is also a capable novelist. Although his prose back catalogue is chiefly a list of various Doctor Who tie-ins, he has also produced a few previous novels outside of the popular franchise.

His latest offering, ‘London Falling‘, acts as Paul’s first foray into the realm of urban fantasy fiction; a genre known for combining contemporary backdrops with the supernatural, the surreal, and the strange. As the title suggests, it is geographically set in modern day London, England, and it follows the exploits of a team of police officers after a major crime bust goes suddenly, horrifically, and unexplainably wrong.

The novel’s plot is an interesting page turner with some terrific ideas and deft-handling of when people grounded in normal constabulary work suddenly come face to face with a whole new, more dangerous “underworld”, and through it all try to retain their sanity enough to nab the bad guy. The novel engagingly follows the (third-person) perspectives of the four central characters as they try to grasp this new unseen world. To his credit, Paul doesn’t spoon-feed readers easy explanations of what’s going on, nor introduce an all-knowing mentor-type character to give the game away. As such he offers something rather fresh to an otherwise rather formulaic genre, allowing the immense unknown of it all to feed the book its tension, making readers feel as out of depth as the book’s main characters as they struggle to explain what is happening around them.

London Falling is an idea machine, throwing together such disparate elements as modern policing, London gangs, British football, ghosts, and boiled babies and brilliantly weaves it all together with thoughts on religion, cultural symbolism, memory and the imagination without losing the reader’s interest. To tell the story, Paul tries to concentrate the plot around the four central characters as each individually tries to get to grips with their new circumstances.

What lets the book down, however, despite the plethora of imaginative ideas is elements of the book’s execution. Paul does a great job in telling the main story from four different perspectives but in the space of a single chapter he will leapfrog perspectives so quickly that it can get disorienting. It is comparable to rapidly changing camera angles in a TV show. The sheer frequency of it at the start creates more confusion than necessary for newcomers and it is only perseverance that will get readers past that initial hurdle. Sadly the book never feels comfortably settled as the perspective shifts remain frequent from start to finish.

The multiple perspectives also make it difficult to satisfyingly balance the central cast enough to flesh all characters out and fully engage the reader. While all characters follow some form of personal story arc within the novel, only two – Sefton and Ross – experience a well fleshed out, three dimensional subplot that significantly changes them by the end of London Falling. It probably would have served the story better if Paul spread the perspective jumps out further, perhaps focusing on one character for the space of an entire chapter rather than bouncing across four character perspectives in the same space.

While the multiple perspective jumps are quite jarring London Falling remains a decent breath of fresh air for a popular genre that is already seemingly starting to settle on formula. If Paul can settle down and find the right balance between the story and his core characters in the probable sequel then this potential series could really act as the perfect middle ground between Harry Potter and The Wire.

Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Dean Simons

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One comment

  1. Reblogged this on genrerama and commented:
    New novel from respected genre scriptwriter and author in UK…

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