When the city was founded, he was the mad native spirit that waited in the dark, on the edge of the torchlight. When the streets were cobbled over, he became the footsteps heard on stone that you cannot see. When the Victorians introduced street lighting, he was the shadow who always shied away from the light, and when the gas went out, there he was. The shadow at the end of the alley, the footsteps half-heard in the night.
A daimyo of the Neon Court is dead. So are two warriors of the Tribe. And a freshly-prophesied ‘chosen one’ is missing. Each side blames the other and Matthew Swift is right in the middle of it, trying to keep the peace. Because when magicians go to war, everyone loses.
And there you have it – most of the blurb for Griffin’s third book in the series that created such a stir with A Madness of Angels. So, does Griffin manage to maintain the high standard of writing and outstanding characterisation that she established in that first book?
Matthew Swift is now the Midnight Mayor, albeit reluctantly. It’s his job to step in and save the day when London is threatened by magical forces – along with the Aldermen and his assistant, Penny. Matthew’s still the bloody-minded individual with a planet-sized chip on his shoulder that at times saves his life – and at other times has him haring down yet another noxious alley with no shoes on… But what Griffin is now offering is the beginnings of a team forming around Matthew. We start to learn more about Penny, and Dee, one of the Aldermen who steps into the line of fire alongside Matthew in his battle against the thing at the end of the alley.
What makes this series outstanding, is the way Griffin incorporates her magic into the London landscape – and then twists it into something quite different, often revolting… The sequence with the King of Rats had me profoundly grateful that I was inbetween meals when reading it – and then there is the unforgettable image of escaping off a burning building on a flying creature made up of discarded plastic carrier bags. Needless to say, there is nothing Flower Fairies about Griffin’s depiction of the fae – The Neon Court. They are portrayed as exquisite – and completely ruthless about the humans who they ensnare to serve them. Their deadly enemies, the Tribe, mutilate themselves with bizarre piercings to prove their physical toughness and as a declaration to the world that they care nothing for material values. The downtrodden and reviled often find a niche with the Tribe, who also speak in a form of text-speech. I’m hoping that they reappear later in the series – I found them fascinating.
So, any grizzles? Well, it’s more of an observation, really. The majority of long-running series that I’ve read tend to start with someone stumbling across the issue that ultimately makes them a bit powerful in the first book, and steadily becoming more formidable as they gain strength and experience. This didn’t happen in A Madness of Angels – Matthew Swift was more or less as he is, now. So, while the opponents change, they are all very heavy duty – they have to be because Matthew is such a force. Using the word formulaic is far too harsh – Griffin’s poetical prose with her wonderfully imagined magical landscape and quirky unpleasantness is a one-off. But there is a definite pattern emerging within each storyline. Did it ultimately spoil my enjoyment of The Neon Court? No. But I am hoping that in the fourth book of the series, Griffin manages to ring the changes – maybe take the Midnight Mayor somewhere else, for instance…
If you have a weakness for well written, gritty urban fantasy and you haven’t yet picked up this series, then you’re in for a treat – however, don’t start with The Neon Court. Give yourself a treat and track down the first two books, first. Meantime, I’m off to find a copy of The Minority Council. Hats off to Orbit – the covers for this series are absolutely wonderful.