Tag Archives: Matthew Swift

Review of Stray Souls – Book 1 of the Magicals Anonymous series by Kate Griffin

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This is set in the same world – and the same backdrop – as Griffin’s highly successful Midnight Mayor series, featuring Matthew Swift as her conflicted and very powerful protagonist. So – given that such a very strong hero is having to make room for Sharon Li and her group of maladjusted magic-users – does this series have the same star quality evident in the Midnight Mayor books?

When Sharon Li unexpectedly discovers she’s a shaman, she finds herself called upon to use her newfound oneness with the City to straysoulsrescue it from a slow but inevitable demise.

The problem is, while everyone expects her to have all the answers – from the Midnight Mayor himself to Sharon’s magically-challenged self-help group – she doesn’t have a clue where to start. But now that London’s soul is gone, the Gate is open and the hunt begins.

Like the Midnight Mayor series, this is definitely one for the adults. Sammy the Elbow, the world’s second best shaman, sprinkles his dialogue with language almost as foul as his smell…

This book is written in multiple viewpoint, so we get a ringside seat to the struggles of Rhys, a druid forced to shelter from Nature due to his chronic hay fever; Gretel the troll, who wants to cook; Sally the banshee, who writes everything down on a whiteboard so that her magically-enhanced voice doesn’t drive men mad; Kevin, the vampire who has major issues with blood – along with any other fluids that may pose a risk of infection… Even Matthew Swift, the Midnight Mayor isn’t particularly effective – his specialty being to blow things up in a messy destructive manner, whereas this job requires finesse. I’ve enjoyed all the Midnight Mayor books and come to admire Griffin’s writing talent – however my misgiving was that with such a very powerful main character, the forces ranged against him also had to be equally huge, or there was no real plot. But, the motley crew surrounding Sharon certainly don’t fall into that category.

I expected an action-packed plot wound full of tension and vivid descriptions of some of the less wholesome parts of London, which I certainly got – but what was a delightful surprise were the laugh-aloud moments. And this book is full of them. Griffin’s humour is pitch-perfect and a wonderful counterpoint to the full-on action and pathos. A book that leaves me with a lump in my throat while making me laugh always has a special place in my heart – it doesn’t happen all that often. Matt Haig’s The Radleys was the last time I read one of these rare novels…

And if Griffin’s descriptions leap off the page, then her dialogue is a joy – pin-sharp, funny and perceptive. With such a strong cast of interesting characters, Sharon’s slightly desperate flailings to discover just exactly what she should be doing could have been completely eclipsed by the likes of Rhys and Kevin. Yet Griffin avoids that pitfall with the same deftness that she handles the issue of how to neutralise a magically potent protagonist such as Matthew Swift.  Her simmering anger at social injustice that produced the King of Rats, the tribe and the Bag Lady is still apparent in Griffin’s character, Greydawn.

As for the ending, it was beautifully handled – both satisfying and poignant. All in all, while Griffin’s books have always been excellent, Stray Souls is outstanding and the best urban fantasy book I’ve read this year.
10/10

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Review of The Neon Court – Book 3 of The Matthew Swift series by Kate Griffin

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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.neoncourt
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.
9/10

Review of A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin

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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.

amadnessWhen 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 the first book in this outstanding series – and along with the likes of Ben Aaronovitch, she has set the standard for London-based urban fantasy – and that standard is high and just goes on getting better.
9/10