Daily Archives: December 15, 2014

Review of A Madness of Angels – Book 1 of the Matthew Swift series by Kate Griffin


This is another of the reviews I wrote and posted back in the days when my blog was a pool of silence amidst the humming crowd of online activity… So I thought I’d repost it now that the Matthew Swift series has – rightly – become a classic.

amadnessAs I am a solid fan of Kate Griffin’s writing, you can also find a review of the third book in the series, The Neon Court here and the first book in her Magicals Anonymous series, Stray Souls, here, as well as her intriguing offering The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August under the name Claire North, here.

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 narrative 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 – mostly the scene setting held and enthralled me.

What this outstanding series has done, is set the bar for London-based urban fantasy very high – and now the likes of Ben Aaronovitch, Paul Cornell and Benedict Jacka have also stepped up to the plate, making this sub-genre one of the best written and interesting within speculative fiction.