Customer Review

50 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Urban magic, 1 Sep 2009
This review is from: A Madness Of Angels (Matthew Swift Novels) (Paperback)
I was originally attracted to this book by a review that suggested it existed in a continuum with Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, an urban fantasy that takes London landmarks and then views them on a metaphorical level to unleash their magic and play with dream logic connotations. Having read the book, I think that while they share the beginnings of this idea, what Griffin has done is quite different to Gaiman's tale. Ironically this is because this book feels like it draws more from comics than Gaiman's tale did.

Matthew Swift has been dead for two years, but when he comes back, he's not alone in his body. He's quickly drawn into a conflict between sects of magicians and is being hunted by a shadow hungry for life. The story is nothing new. The mystery of Swift's resurrection is an intriguing kink, but the underlying storyline is a chase mixed with a quest that come together quite satisfyingly.

And Griffin's prose is, in places, a little overwritten, though she gives an excellent sense of place and impression of someone who is truly in love with London. And the narrative quirks, where typography displaces sentences in a quasi-ee cummings style to suggest emotional disturbance, aren't used quite as deftly as they should. And as another reviewer points out, the refrain of the electric blue angels is irritating, as is the shifting between the personal pronoun singular and plural that is intended to convey the shifting identity of Swift.

But...

Where Griffin's story sings is in its ideas about magic being tied to the ceremonies of life, in a weird form of Japanese animism, where places are empowered by what is enacted there. It's a nice logical extension of Nigel Kneale's Stone Tape that leads to some intriguing scenes involving train tickets and beggar kings. It is a good use of place that grounds and lifts the story, though it never delves deeply into the macabre histories of London.

And the characters that people the story are fantastically drawn. They live on the page, and their voices and dialogues are distinct and engaging. There are no heroes here, but the villains are particularly villainous. You can undoubtedly see the influence of Pratchett and Pullman who are two of Griffin's literary heroes, which makes the book very readable in the character interactions.

There is a bit of bait and switch in the story, but otherwise it's pretty linear. But this is not a bad thing. One of my favourite novels is Only Forward which is a very straight forward story. And ultimately the disquiet I felt about some of the stylistic flourishes are overcome by the fact that I really enjoyed the scene with the nurse and that I think I'll absolutely be getting the Night Mayor.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 31 Aug 2010 10:53:48 BDT
Last edited by the author on 31 Aug 2010 10:54:19 BDT
Wyvern says:
Her name is Griffin. You don't always get that right.

In reply to an earlier post on 2 Sep 2010 13:33:08 BDT
S. Bentley says:
Cheers! Griffin seems almost too good a name for a fantasy writer!

Posted on 30 Mar 2012 20:28:54 BDT
Thanks, interesting review and based on that I'll definitely be getting the book. I'd never heard of Kate Griffin but Amazon "recommended for you" popped up the latest (fourth) novel and I would guess I'm better off starting with the first.

I'm not sure why Amazon recommended it... I do like Jim Butcher's Dresden Files and I guess this is similar 'urban fantasy'.

I did like your line... "Matthew Swift has been dead for two years, but when he comes back, he's not alone in his body. He's quickly drawn into a conflict between sects of magicians and is being hunted by a shadow hungry for life. The story is nothing new. " ... looking at those two sentences preceding, those last five words made me laugh out loud!

Cheers Steve

In reply to an earlier post on 11 Jun 2012 20:34:59 BDT
S. Bentley says:
Ha! It does seem odd when I read it back! I can't even remember why I wrote that. What could I have possibly read that was the same as that?
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