I always feel like I should begin a review like this with a disclaimer, so full disclosure: I’ve been reading Paul Cornell’s books since he was transforming Doctor Who novels into something utterly beyond awesome with ‘Timewyrm: Revelation’. I’ve been on a few mailing lists he was on, and there’s a non-zero chance he might remember who I am. So I may have some bias here, is what I’m saying.
That said, ‘London Falling’ really is excellent.
It’s part of the “urban fantasy” subgenre that has become more and more popular over the last decade or so, specifically the sub-sub-genre that involves police getting involved with the supernatural. I’ve read and enjoyed other books in this field of interest (I also highly recommend Ben Aaronovitch’s Folly series. I also admit to bias there too, because ‘The Also People’ was freaking METAL.) This story involves a seemingly untouchable drug kingpin who gets arrested and dies in custody all in the same night. The attempts to investigate his death lead to several members of the crime squad gaining the Sight, able to see the secret London only visible to practitioners of magic.
Cornell makes an absolutely riveting choice in this book by making it clear very early on that Seeing the secret London has absolutely fuck-all to do with knowing what the hell any of it even means, let alone having any control over it or getting magical abilities from it. The book is absolutely suffocating in its intensity at times; the characters have no Wise Mentor, they have no Book of Thoth, they have been dropped into the deep end and it’s sink or swim. And oh by the way there’s a fucking whirlpool over there.
The characters each deal with the craziness in their own way; Costain, an undercover cop, has what can only be described as the most pragmatic religious conversion in human history, while Ross finally gains explanations for the impossible strangeness that’s tainted her entire life. (I’d go into more detail, but I’m avoiding spoilers as best as possible, because there really is a lot of good twisty stuff in here.) All of them share one important coping mechanism, though; they’re all coppers, and they all fall back on their police training. Cornell meticulously researched the novel, adding a layer of authenticity to the real-world aspects that helps sell the more fantastical elements.
The ending does come off as fishing for a sequel just a bit, but not so terribly much that I minded (although I suspect that if you didn’t like the book as much as I did, you might feel a bit more strongly about it.) On the whole, I have to say that I enjoyed this one and I’m looking forward to his next book.