Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Madness of Angels

Madness of Angels
Written by: Kate Griffin
Paperback: 640 pages
Publisher: Orbit
Language: English
February 2010, $7.99
Genre: Urban Fantasy/The Matthew Swift series

For Matthew Swift, today is not like any other day. It is the day on which he returns to life.

Two years after his untimely death, Matthew Swift finds himself breathing once again, lying in bed in his London home.

Except that it's no longer his bed, or his home. And the last time this sorcerer was seen alive, an unknown assailant had gouged a hole so deep in his chest that his death was irrefutable...despite his body never being found.

He doesn't have long to mull over his resurrection though, or the changes that have been wrought upon him. His only concern now is vengeance. Vengeance upon his monstrous killer and vengeance upon the one who brought him back.


Being the world traveler that I am, I have been to London a couple of times. More than that I have been a city girl most of my life. In fact Bozeman, MT is the first time where I have really felt like a fish out of water but it has its own charms. There is something about a city that is indeed magical. It’s the rush of all the various people, of the technology and the spirit of everything that is urban. But there is more to a city than the hustle and bustle. There is a history, and a life that so many would overlook unless you really paid attention. I mean when you really think about it, become an archaeologist and an anthropologist of the city or town you live in, what would you see and discover. I know that Bozeman has its own magic as small as it is. It is the paint on the brick walls, the graffiti of angels on that electrical box or the cast of characters that I meet during my day job. There are the other cities, the tent cities of the transient camps, the small communities where like-minded people live together and near one another, the hum of the trains as they pass through the outskirts of town and a myriad of other things. It is hard not to see that all is extremely magical. So while Bozeman, MT is not exactly the urban capital of the world and would probably a bit more rural and use the hum of nature, there is magic everywhere you look. Kind of crazy when a book makes you look at things a bit more than you did before.

"We be light, we be life, we be fire! We sing electric flame, we rumble underground wind, we dance heaven! Come be we and be free! We be blue electric angels"

Matthew Swift wakes up in his own city of magic…London. Granted he’s waking up two years after he was brutally murdered and has no memories of his recent past. He is also not exactly human anymore with powers far beyond his urban sorcerer past, brilliant blue eyes and a penchant for referring to himself as ‘we’. Apparently a lot has happened since Matthew and his body disappeared two years ago. Matthew’s mentor Robert Bakker, a rich and powerful sorcerer, has begun to abuse his power and in Matthew’s missing years systematically began wiping out those of the magical community that would oppose him. Another organization formed to try and combat Bakker and his ‘Tower’, but with little effect. Matthew’s reappearance changes all of this. But Matthew is also out for revenge as much as he wants to help the magical community he once called his own. There are a lot of questions that he needs answering such as who killed him and who brought him back and why are his eyes blue?

Welcome to the Madness of Angels where magicians and sorcerers use the magic and the life of the urban city they reside in. Where one can ride on the wings of the pigeons and listen to the blue electric angels that live on the telephone wires made alive by the wishes and dreams that people wasted or spent as they run through their lives.

Things I loved: So much of an urban fantasy lately focuses on snarky and kick ass women who try to save the world while simultaneously trying to fight her feelings for some hot vampire or other supernatural. The setting is usually secondary, magic comes far too easily and there tends to lack any real magic which is sad since it is supposed to be urban fantasy. Occasionally you have great authors like Mike Carey who change that whimsy into something really creative and awesome. I think Griffin is one of those people. Even more so it takes a special person to make a city come alive when you haven’t been there, or if you have make it seem more real and amazing then you remember it. Kate Griffin did that with the Madness of Angels. I think it is clear how much Griffin loves London and cities and the magic they invoke as it is evident in every bit of this novel. But more than that the ‘city’ is as much of a character as Matthew or Oda or The Beggar King. As I said it is clear how much the author loves her city and wants to make it more than just a background, she wants you to understand how alive and complex it is. And how life is magic and every magical character needs that city to be alive and robust in order to do what they do. 

“In New York the air is so full of static you almost spark when you move; in Madrid the shadows are waiting at every corner to whisper their histories in your ear when you walk at night. In Berlin the power is clean, silken, like walking through an invisible, body-temperature waterfall in a dark cave; in Beijing the sense of it was a prickling heat on the skin, like the wind had been broken down into a thousand pieces, and each part carried some warmth from another place, and brushed against your skin, like a furry cat calling for your attention."

One thing I loved about this book was the first person narration, the feeling of being as lost and confused as Matthew is. While confusing and interesting as he refers to himself as a ‘we’ and an ‘us’ while sometimes also referring to himself as a ‘me’ and an ‘I’, I understand it. It works as confusing as it sometimes can be. Because it all works with this story, she lets you experience what Matthew experiences without holding your hand and telling you straightforward all that has happened. It is amazing how much style there is in this book. Some of the most interesting characters are the Beggar King and The Bag Lady, embodiments of everything that is urban and those lives and those things that so often get overlooked, but have so much importance. Griffin writes them with such imagination they I cannot help but believe in them. Her prose can be lyrical and extravagant, but it works. I was never bored or felt like she was overdoing it. The prose only enhanced the story into a fully imagined movie in my head. I know it’s a good book when I dream about it after reading it.

Another reason I really loved this book was the use of magic. Matthew needed items, sometimes as simple as a railway pass and the rules it invokes and other times spray paint or a simple card. There were rules to the magic and ones that made sense. So often in urban fantasy magic is just there. It’s innate; apparently everyone has the skills and is rather droll. Magic was cool again with this book. And there were so many different types of magic from magicians and sorcerers to the urban witches and other members of the supernatural community (including the Troll Jeremy also known as the Mighty Raaaarrrgghh).

It is a lofty book, but one that is self-contained, though again I know there are more in the series. This is refreshing and though I don’t know quite yet, I am quite sure someone could probably pick up The Midnight Mayor and not feel insanely lost.

Throughout the story we also get glimpses of Matthew’s past which includes meeting his apprentice for the first time and his past with Bakker. Like I said, it feels very much like a stand-alone even though I know there is another book.

Finally, I genuinely liked Matthew Swift. Despite being almost a demi-god, Griffin limited his power and made him a really good guy that you wanted to root for. He’s funny and witty (you know how I love the snark), but sympathetic and competent. On the other hand Hunger was just terrifying and makes you afraid of the shadows again. But more than that, he’s not just the big bad monster. You get to see his reactions to other characters, see the relationships that have formed as off as they might be. It was nice. And most of the characters are like this, even Oda as much as you may loathe her.

Things I didn't love so much: This is a fairly lofty book and sometimes the we and I’s get a bit confusing. I also understand that it is a slow build. This isn’t a quick and simple book so if you are looking for lighter fare this may not be for you. Other than that, I got nothing.

Buy or Borrow: Buy. Now I cannot help but compare Griffin to another one of my favorite authors Mike Carey who has an equally great series in the form of Felix Castor, but she has made her own magic in this book. And I look forward to reading more. I really think you might feel the same.

Part of: A series.
Book One: A Madness of Angels

Book Two: the Midnight Mayor

Book Three: The Neon Court (Nov 2011)

Also Recommended: The Felix Castor series by Mike Carey, the Sandman Slim novels by Richard Kadrey, and the Dresden Novels by Jim Butcher. Kate Griffin is also the name under which Carnegie Medal-nominated author Catherine Webb, writes fantasy novels for adults. Catherine's amazing debut, Mirror Dreams, was written when she was only 14 years old, and garnered comparisons with Terry Pratchett and Philip Pullman.

4 out of 4 happy bibliosnark bookmarks

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