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I've been very grumpy in my reading lately. On my "to be read" shelf are half a dozen books with bookmarks inserted about 30 pages in, books that I have started reading and, while not hating them enough to dump them, I haven't loved them enough to finish them. So the very fact that London Falling was a book I couldn't put down is a major plus, right there.

The book is a cross between an urban fantasy and a police procedural, and works fine on both levels, though there is nothing special about it in either regard, per se. There is also, I suspect, a lot of humor that comes across as in-jokes to an outsider like me, an American unfamiliar with British football. (In that regard it could have stood a little more inclueing, but there was enough for me to follow the plot and at least recognize where the jokes were, even if I suspected I was only getting about half of them. As every American knows, Britain can't possibly be a real place; it must be a fantasy world, one whose customs and mores are all the more fun for being inexplicable.)

The thing that first caught my fancy was a negative: the number of the typical mistakes of the genre that this book does not commit. Rather than omnipotent bad guys and bland Mary Sue heroes, the characters are real enough, and interesting enough, for me to want to spend time with them, as they discover their own abilities and limits. The nature of the evil is not universe-encompassing: indeed one of the excellent tensions of the book is the fact that the heroes could rather easily run away to safety if they wanted to... their choice to confront the evil is, indeed, a free choice. While the structure of the book is somewhat formulaic (you can tell by what page you're on, what sort of event you should expect to occur next) there is one delightful shocker of a surprise at just the right point in the story, which not only completely fits with what we've been told but in fact makes much that happened earlier, better understood. (And raises the stakes in an excellent way.) And there are major mysteries left at the end of the story that make me want to read the sequel.

But what intrigues me the most is a subject that I will need to think about further before writing further (which is why this is "not quite a review"). And that's the issue of the underlying theology of the universe that Paul Cornell has created here. It's tricky to work out (and indeed one of the fine unfinished puzzles of the book) because we only understand the nature of the supernatural evil through the points of view of the main characters, who are by their background quite theologically naive. But I know that Paul himself is not so naive. He must know, as the author, how good and bad, heaven and hell, work in this universe. But I'm not sure, myself, what that system is... and he's got me curious as to how it does work, and how he intends to explain it.

It would be fun here to try to speculate; but I need to think about this some more, before I do. Since the book hasn't come out in the US yet, half of the people who read this LJ won't yet have been able to join in on the speculation. I can use that as an excuse to put off scratching my head here, in public. And maybe by the time I do get around to it, I'll have read the sequel.

Comments

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
beamjockey
Mar. 30th, 2013 06:41 pm (UTC)
So authors who invite you to dinner are more likely to have their books read all the way through?
brotherguy
Mar. 30th, 2013 07:05 pm (UTC)
Er... um... your ticking time bomb icon is quite appropriate. How can I defuse this situation without it blowing up?

Of course, I should have mentioned that I know and like the author, personally. (And even had a meal and a coffee with him and his family. Little Tom is exceedingly cute.) As to whether there are other authors whom I know, like, have shared meals with, but haven't been able to finish their books... ooh, look over there, shiny!
smofbabe
Mar. 30th, 2013 08:28 pm (UTC)
I thought London Falling was a fine read but I also thought it veered a little too much into a philosophical/theological exercise - unlike you, the characterizations did not work for me. The book gives information about the characters and their lives but they didn't come alive for me as people.

If you liked this book, I think you'd like Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch (Midnight Riot in case you are buying books in the US rather than Europe) which has a similar plot: London cops encounter the supernatural. I found it more engaging if not quite as philosophical in tone.
brotherguy
Mar. 31st, 2013 09:58 am (UTC)
This shows the difference in our taste, obviously!

There are certainly no shortage of urban fantasies set in London. It is a genre that more often than not has disappointed me; I probably wouldn't even have started this book if I hadn't known the author (hat tip to Bill, who pointed this out above) but what made it interesting to me, and more than just another urban paranormal, was the hints of a complex theology behind the story... which I assumed would be there in no small part from knowing the author.

It's tough to write a book about good vs evil without a system of good vs evil to refer to. It's not necessary for it to be the same system that I would adopt; sometimes it's more interesting if it isn't.

And what kept me turning the pages, unlike some of the other books I have started recently, was that I actually did get captivated by the characters. De gustibus...
smofbabe
Mar. 31st, 2013 10:10 am (UTC)
Interesting to get a different perspective. It's not that I didn't like the philosophical aspect to the book, just that I thought that in some ways it came at the expense of the storytelling aspects. Throughout, I thought that things happened to the characters and they had backstories for the plot but even deep into the book, I had trouble telling the characters apart. But, as you say, de gustibus...
brotherguy
Mar. 31st, 2013 10:12 am (UTC)
Oh, and by the way, happy birthday!
smofbabe
Mar. 31st, 2013 11:02 am (UTC)
Thanks. And best wishes to you for a happy and meaningful Easter!
elisem
Apr. 1st, 2013 02:56 pm (UTC)
This book was already on my "looking forward to this one" list, but you just bumped it several places up the queue.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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