A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin
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|A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A dead man seeks revenge in a contemporary, magical London like the fantasy genre has never seen before. Possibly it won't break out from genre fans but it's a high-calibre, thrilling tale.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 496||Date: April 2009|
Matthew Swift is doing something he didn't expect to ever do again - waking up in an unfamiliar bedroom. It should have been his bedroom, and once upon a time it was, but he shouldn't be waking up, as he was killed horrifically a couple of years ago. He has been invested, or infested, with something that has brought him back to life, for revenge - on the killer or killers, and, he claims, on those who brought him back to the earth.
It's a slow-burning mystery as to what he has come back with, which I won't reveal, but I have to declare it makes for a slight twinge of awkwardness about the opening pages. Throughout the book Matthew Swift will refer to himself as me and I or us, changing his first-person narrative mid-sentence from one to the other, from singular to plural. But it's only a slight awkwardness - it's just one of the many merits of the book that we can share Swift's discombobulated state courtesy of the storytelling and style.
This is an urban fantasy of the highest order, and the most logical conclusion reached by that genre I know of. Rather than have a mage taking power from the earth mother or anything, Swift is a sorcerer (one of the higher echelons of magic-users) that can absorb electrical energy from anything - neon lights, the kinetic release of the rush-hour, public areas' use building up a ghostly presence unknown to us common folk. He can request assistance not from spirits of the natural world, but metallic building parts.
As he is not alone in this status, there are ways new to fantasy for him to be attacked. And so a golem-type creature is generated not from trees or somesuch, but from putrid litter. A nasty can be diverted by the different spirit of the travelling world beyond the London Underground ticket barriers (and not just the fact it doesn't have an Oystercard).
This is one of those books that make me regret how little I know London, but the city here is done just as confidently and assuredly as everything else. Every corner of it has a nature to single it out, every element of life a story to tell (just as in the play referenced here, The Pillowman). Everything here is portrayed with conviction, from the world of businessmen that are Swift's first target, to the underseams of society, the Beggar King, The Bag Lady and more. Matthew's character(s) fit into that confidence very nicely as well, and for such a divided nature, he has been given a powerfully linear journey that makes sure he will not be divisive.
There is, in fact, very little to turn any fantasy fan off this book. It is a slow process to get fully into the feel of the book, but once done you get wrapped up in a storyline of merit. We don't have it all our own way, as perhaps it could be trimmed a page of detail here and there, but Swift doesn't have it his own way either, and his journey is going to prove a lot more enjoyable for us than it will for him.
I am not at all surprised to see a cover quote from Mike Carey, as the style and authority of the writing and strengths of the lead character strongly put me in mind of John Constantine from the Hellblazer comics quite quickly. If this reference means nothing to you then take it as a hint this book might be quite beyond the ken of non-fantasy readers, but genre fans will find this most absorbing and a great value purchase.
If this appears a debut novel, it's not - as young as she is the author has created several children's titles, such as The Doomsday Machine: Another Astounding Adventure of Horatio Lyle by Catherine Webb. If this marks a sustained switch to writing for the adult market, it is to be applauded.
We at the Bookbag must thank the publishers for our review copy.
Seeing as I mentioned Mike Carey, I should suggest you delving into Dead Men's Boots: A Felix Castor Novel by Mike Carey for more British urban fantasy.
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