Reviewed by S. J. Higbee
If you've read this book, why not
Are you an urban fantasy fan a bit fed up with the slew of vampire/were characters cramming the genre, these days? Pining for a tale with an interestingly complex protagonist who takes you right into the heart of the story? Longing for a writer who can depict a city with such vividness that you can taste the traffic fumes, smell the rubbish and touch the pigeons? Wishing that someone would take the time and trouble to construct an unusual, interesting magical world that didn't take place in some rural outback with plodding horses and flea-ridden inns? Then this is the book for you.
When Matthew Swift finds that he has returned to life after a two-year absence, he quickly needs to acclimatise himself to the London landscape where the source of his power resides -- urban magic. A new power that ebbs and flows with the rhythms of the city, makes runes from the alignments of ancient streets and hums with the rattle of trains and buses; it waxes and wanes with the patterns of the business day.
Enter a London where magicians ride the Last Train, implore favours of the Beggar King and interpret the insane wisdom of the Bag Lady. Enter a London where beings of power soar with the pigeons, scrabble with the rats and seek insight in the half-whispered madness of the blue electric angels...
Griffin grabs you from the first page and doesn't let go until the last with her taut, poetic prose and action-packed story. Matthew Swift's thirst for revenge against the terrible being preying on urban sorcerers leads him into dark places -- and we are yanked along with him. There are one or two really bloody moments. Not to mention some scenes that score high on the 'yuck' factor -- an attack by a litter monster being one of them. However, this book is so much more than a guts'n gore fest. Griffin's ability to weave her action amongst the densely depicted London scenes that she clearly knows extremely well, gives the story an almost literary feel. And Swift is an amazing creation. Only half human, his instability while teetering on the edge of something terrible creates plenty of dynamic tension as he tries to pick up the pieces of his old life. And -- yes -- Griffin manages to conclude the story with a satisfactorily climatic ending, leaving enough interest dangling for another adventure.
If I have a quibble -- and it is a minor one -- I did find myself skimming some of the descriptions of the London landscape to find out what happened next. But it was only an occasional flip of the page, as mostly the scene setting held me.
For those of you interested in such things, Kate Griffin is actually Catherine Webb, who has written a number of acclaimed books starting with Mirror Dreams in 2002 for the YA market. A Madness of Angels is her first foray into adult fiction and I'm eagerly looking forward to the next Matthew Swift book, due to be released in March 2010.