Kate Griffin, A Madness of Angels -- Or The Resurrection of Matthew Swift (Orbit, 2010)
Kate Griffin, The Midnight Mayor -- Or, The Inauguration of Matthew Swift (Orbit, 2010)

Now that was different, and fun to boot! Most fantasy follows predictable tropes. So after reading far more than my fair share, it was refreshing to read something entirely different where the author was clearly not enamored of the usual manner of writing an urban fantasy!

Mathew Swift, sorcerer, in a present-day London both similar and very dissimilar to our London, is dead. Quiet dead. However, no one who knew him doubts that. Matthew Swift, sorcerer, walks London once again looking very much whole and not dead. Matthew Swift, sorcerer, has a bad case of multiple personality disorder as he's now inhabited by a multiple consciousness that thinks it's angels. Really. Truly. Matthew Swift, sorcerer, but may not exist at all. Got that?

The angels are mysterious as well. As they state when asked part way through A Madness of Angels -- Or The Resurrection of Matthew Swift,

We be light, we be life, we be fire! We sing electric flame, we rumble underground wind, we dance heaven! Come be we and be free! We be blue electric angels.

Mind you it is very clear to this reader that the blue electric angels are a newly evolved being(s) and having a physical form is something that both delights and causes great fear in them.

Did I mention that narrative form is first person singular and first plural? In the same paragraph at times?

Matthew Swift is London. Indeed he is most likely the most powerful magical being in a London that is in its very fiber comprised of magic accumulated over many centuries. It may not be the largest city in the world, nor by any reasonable measure the oldest, but it may well be the most magical. Old buildings, old rivers, even older magics, make everything here the raw energy by which the being calling themselves Matthew Swift does magic. Not a necromancer, not of a Hellish nature even if certain parties think he/they are, and probably not even of a Heavenly nature, Matthew Swift is able to do magic because he/they knows everything about London. Just read the following passage as he/they describe one area of London as he/they walked through it:

I caught the first train of the morning, almost empty, travelling north beneath the river. I went to Great Portland Street station, and walked along Marylebone Road. Even at this early hour, with the sun reflecting grey-silver-gold across the wet pavement, the road was busy, cars stopping every hundred yards to wait for that elusive green light to ripple from one end of the system to the other. On Marylebone High Street the houses were big, pale stone or red brick, with high windows and large glass doors or shopfronts on their lower floors. The street woke slowly, lorries crawling away from offloading their goods into the small supermarkets just as the one-way system started to feed its first cars of the day south, towards the West End. People avoided me as I walked by. I was a mess; but not threatening enough to justify calling the police. I radiated humility and harmlessness, a good-natured insanity, and they let me be.

Very cool. Griffin's descriptions of London as a city are every bit as amazing as those of Christopher Fowler in his long-running Bryant & May detective series. (See my review of the latest novel here.) Fowler has told me that there is no magic at all in the books but I think the two old bastards that are the detectives Bryant and May are magic in and of themselves. Or at least very odd beings. Griffin's descriptions are also akin to the descriptions of London found in Simon R. Green's The Man With The Golden Torc and would sound wonderful in an audio book.

He/they are of a London where magicians can ride the Last Train provided they can see it, ask the boon of The Beggar King, and have The Bag Lady save them from creatures most foul even if they are comprised of mere refuse. Enter a London where beings of power soar with the pigeons, converse with foxes over matters trivial and of import, and use rats to view that which does not wished to be viewed. Oh, and where the right tattoos can be a powerful weapon indeed!

Read A Madness of Angels -- Or The Resurrection of Matthew Swift and its sequel, The Midnight Mayor -- Or, the Inauguration of Matthew Swift, back to back as they seem to form one quite seamless narritive. I look forward to seeing what the author does with he/they from this point forward!

[Cat Eldridge]