I started 'The Severed Streets', Paul Cornell's latest novel about a team of detectives who gain the second sight and can see all the magical secrets of London, right after finishing 'Ancillary Justice'. I'm already done with it. That should tell you something right there, but I will elaborate.
This is a gorgeous book. I've been following Paul Cornell's writing since the 1990s, when he was an up-and-coming young writer doing TV tie-ins for Doctor Who and teaching a generation of fans and professionals alike that "TV tie-in" doesn't have to mean "generic pastiche" (his Who novels are mostly out-of-print, but they've been adapted for audio by Big Finish and are worth a listen). His skill has always been in evoking powerful, deep emotions by forcing his characters to make meaningful choices with big risks. Oh, and for those of you who've seen 'Father's Day', his first televised Doctor Who story, you already know that his big theme is about family.
So it should come as no surprise that 'The Severed Streets' continues on in this tradition. One of the threads from his previous novel in this series, 'London Falling', comes to the forefront here as Ross, a character who discovered that her father resides in Hell, now discovers a way to bring him out of it. But as you can imagine, bringing someone out of Hell and back to the world of the living is something that is not easy, and coveted by many people...including Costain, the undercover detective for the team who learned towards the end of the novel that Hell awaits him for his sins in life. The "Get Out of Hell Free" card, and the things that both Ross and Costain are prepared to do to get it, propel the novel forward with ferocious speed.
This book also provides the first real background on the secret London the characters have stumbled into, and it's clearly something that has enough material to provide plenty of books. We see that there is a long, ancient occult tradition in London...and we also see that some very wealthy and powerful people have learned of its existence and are trying to buy their way in. The characters see first-hand how much friction this is already causing, and there's a very real sense that this is something that has the potential to get much, much worse before it gets better. If it does. (Hey, remember the Smiling Man from 'London Falling' who was orchestrating everything behind the scenes to slowly turn London into a grinding, miserable hell on earth? Yeah, he's not gone.)
All of these threads seem disconnected from the main plot at first--there's an invisible Jack the Ripper impersonator out there who kills rich white men. But Cornell does a masterful job of weaving all the disparate threads together by the end of the book in ways you don't necessarily see coming, and along the way he really puts the screws to his characters in ways that ratchet up the tension with each scene. It's a relentless book, feeling at times like a series of brutal initiation rituals for the nascent practitioners of magic, and at other times like they're making all too human mistakes. He does not pull his punches--there are some bits so intense I was almost moved to tears--but none of the big moments feel unearned. Cornell really made this universe and the people who live in it feel real, and their struggles feel touching.
Oh, and there's a celebrity cameo on page 110 or so that has to be seen to be believed.
On the whole, if you've read 'London Falling', this is everything good about that book amped up a couple more notches. If you haven't read 'London Falling', what a coincidence--I recommended that too!