my reads: Rivers of London and London Falling
I’ve been meaning to write about these two series for a while, and the time has now arrived (
for reasons that I will clarify in another post it has to do with my Loncon 3 Worldcon schedule).
Here’s one good reason to follow authors you like on Twitter: because they will tell you when their books are on sale. Paul Cornell tweeting that his London Falling could be snapped up for the Kindle for 89p was what prompted me to finally buy it. (Amazon makes these offers, so the authors still get their usual cut of a book’s regular price, which means I didn’t take money from Cornell’s pocket by taking advantage of the sale.) The book is back to its regular price [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.], and it is worth every penny and then some.
The first big chunk of the book offers no indication that anything supernaturally untoward is going on: it reads like a tough, gritty police procedural focusing on two London cops, DS Tony Costain and DC Kevin Sefton, who’ve been undercover for years working for an organized crime boss that they just can’t seem to get anything solid on, and their Met boss, DI James Quill, who is pushing for a resolution to the case now. It’s all instantly gripping just as straight action drama… but then comes the weird shit. I will leave you to discover how it pans out, but basically, the cops — including others in Quill’s team — discover that there’s a London sitting beside the London that is open to the limited awareness of us muggles, a realm of really dark magic and unpleasantly powerful people that the cops can suddenly see, thanks to accidental exposure to that magic. And now their police work extends into another dimension, literally.
It’s pretty clear that Harry Potter had a hand in inspiring London Falling — even the cops are starting to wonder in the just-released sequel, The Severed Streets [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.], whether J.K. Rowling perhaps didn’t entirely invent her fictional world, if maybe she knows more than she’s letting on. But Cornell’s series, which is going by Shadow Police, is weighed down by a gruesome grimness that even at her darkest Rowling never approached. Truly, properly horrific things happen here, and Cornell presents them in a way that never strays into the twee. This is right at the bleeding edge of speculative fantasy urban horror in that it barely feels fantastical at all — it carries with it not only the long, bloody, nasty history that inevitably has accrued around a city like London but also the sometimes nasty, always thrilling mess it is today, too.
(I’ve just started reading The Severed Streets. I could not wait for a sale and downloaded it at full price it the day it was released, and I’m not sorry: it is already even better than the first book.)
As I was reading London Falling, I kept thinking: This would be a great TV show. I could already see it on TV. And then, in the Acknowledgements at the back of the book, Cornell reveals this:
Decades ago, these characters were first created for a television series pitch overseen by the tremendous talents of Steven Moffat and Beryl and Sue Vertue. The story has changed out of all recognition since those days…
But wait. It gets better.
As soon as I finished London Falling, I jumped right into Rivers of London, by Ben Aaronovitch [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.]. And damned it there wasn’t something downright eerie going on. For here we have a young London cop, PC Peter Grant, who discovers that there is magic to be found in every nook and corner of a city as storied and haunted as London is. Grant is taken on as an apprentice by the only wizard working in the Metropolitan Police (and one of the few left in England), DCI Thomas Nightingale, has a fling with the goddess of one of London’s many rivers, and begins hunting down a dark wizard who is wreaking supernatural havoc.
I want to be perfectly clear that the incredibly surface similarities between the two series in no way hampered my immense enjoyment of either. (Rivers is up to four books now, all of which I’ve devoured: Nos 2, 3, and 4 are, respectively, Moon Over Soho, Whispers Under Ground, and Broken Homes, and the fifth — Foxglove Summer — will be out in September, which cannot come quickly enough.) Some fairly terrible things happen in Aaronovitch’s books, but the tone is much lighter — chipper, even — and much closer in attitude to Harry Potter, though they could in no way be considered children’s or young-adult books. (Too much sexy stuff, for one… though poor Peter would say there isn’t anywhere near enough.)
I have no evidence but speculation to support this, but I cannot help but imagine that Aaronovitch was also in on those TV pitches with Moffat and the Vertues, and when the show fell apart, the two writers ran with the same idea and took it in different directions. (One big tipoff for me, though, again, any actual connection between the two book series is pure speculation on my part: these two white writers cast their novels with black protagonists. Well, Peter Grant is mixed race, but Costain and Sefton are both black. I don’t think there’s anything particularly odd about writers creating characters of a different race from themselves, but I think in the case of these series, it might be one coincidence too far. Another tipoff: Aaronovitch and Cornell are both Doctor Who writers, and so would surely have both been on Moffat’s radar.)
If it is the case that London Falling and Rivers of London both sprang from the same source — and even if it isn’t the case! — it’s completely fascinating on a level apart from the sheer entertainment value of these stories to see how different writers can take the same basic idea and invent two wildly divergent tales out if it.
Oh, and I want to see a Rivers of London TV show now, too.
Rivers of London and London Falling were both initially recommended to me by my pal Katy Wheatley, who writes a hilarious blog that is ostensibly about being a stay-at-home mom but is wise and funny about life, the universe, and everything. You should read it if you need some laughs about the ordinary bullshit and joy of everyday living.