Paul Cornell is a British author displaying his talent in many genres. I really liked his Dr Who episodes (not knowing he wrote them, I’m not paying enough attentions to tv and movie writers). Comics… he wrote many, among them several Wolverines, but nothing I’ve read. What I did read, are two volumes of his Shadow Police urban fantasy/horror series. I’ve bought audio version of the third one, with excellent title Who Killed Sherlock Holmes?, and before I get back to his alternative London I wanted to share a few thoughts.
What is Shadow Police? Lets check TVTropes:
Ongoing series of Urban Fantasy Police Procedural
And yes, it is. It’s urban fantasy and it takes better care of details of police work than your usual supernatural cop story.
And Ben Aaronovitch apparently approves. Well, maybe he should concentrate on his own work.
The main difference between Cornell and most of the other UF authors I read is in how grim his world is, and how graphic his depiction of supernatural violence. It is as far from supernatural romance as UF goes, no swooning over overly muscular werewolves here. And as such it was a welcome distraction, that is why I came back for volume two in 2015 and now I’m ready for the next one. Published almost a year ago, so it’s clear I was in no great hurry.
It show that we have an experienced writer here. He knows his stuff and how to do research. Police is police, without Aaronovitch’s light humour but not less competently depicted, London is London, grimmer and darker, but that’s no complaint, it fits the story perfectly. Characters are complicated, at times a bit cliché, but you expect that in noir, supernatural or not. They all have relevant backstories, and some hidden depths, but they feel like characters from a TV series, and that’s not enough details for a novel. Still, as it’s an ongoing series and we learn more…
There is horror, death, and violence on a scale comparable to many other UF books, but… Dresden it ain’t, less banter, more horror. Gore we get from Butcher, but delivered with quotation marks. Here it’s serious.
Typically, we meet some cops, they encounter something unexplainable, and slowly learn a bit about it. About ghosts, magic, sacrifices, ugly truths behind urban legends. They catch a glimpse of a wider, parallel world, of history that was lost to the institution they work for. While having to keep everything in secret from most of the colleagues and bosses, masquerade must continue, this world is not ready to learn the truth.
So, the craft it there, the style is interesting… what is not so great?
To be honest, I’m not sure why I gave only *** to each of the books (on Goodreads) a few years back. On a very subjective level it was, I think, a bit too much of a horror for my tastes. Maybe now I’m more tired with lighter UF.
But also I found the plot to be not on par with the rest, and the plot is kind of important. I was not sure about the Big Bad One’s motivations, not totally sold on the magic system. I just couldn’t immerse myself in this world as deep as was the case with Butcher, Shevdon, Briggs, early Aaronovitch.
Now I have high expectations and I predict the series as a whole will go up in my personal UF ranking 🙂
Original score: 6,5/10 for both of the first two books