Thursday, January 20, 2011

Review - A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin

A Madness of Angels: Or The Resurrection of Matthew Swift (Matthew Swift #1) by Kate Griffin
Bookdepository / Amazon UK / Amazon US
Librarything / Goodreads

Genre: Urban (very urban) Fantasy

Rating: 3.5 stars
Pages: 496

Summary: When a man is tired of London he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford – Samuel Johnson

In fact, Dr Johnson was only half right. There is in London much more than life – there is power. It 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. It is a new kind of magic: urban magic.

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 and scrabble with the rats, and seek insight in the half-whispered madness of the blue electric angels.

Enter the London of Matthew Swift, where rival sorcerers, hidden in plain sight, do battle for the very soul of the city …

Thoughts:  I really wish I could write a 5 star review for this book. Honest to God, A Madness of Angels has one of the most creative, mind-blowing universes I've ever read - filled with monsters and magic that are unfamiliar yet instantly recognisable. Yet, its' length and dense writing made A Madness of Angels a difficult book to finish. Even though I loved it, I could only read 4-5 pages at a time - it took me 4 months to finish! There is just so much to absorb in every line, and there are many many many lines.

Griffin created a lead character with a hell of a wit.  Matthew Swift is king of the one-liners. Even though I never became emotionally invested in any of the characters, I truly enjoyed their banter. I was constantly jotting down lines to remember and reuse!  Speaking of which:
"Oh Matthew.  How did things ever come to this?"
"You know," I replied.  "I'm only two restraints, a cramp and a cocktail of drugs away from shrugging contemptuously in answer to that one."
What impressed me the most was the way Griffin wrote about London.  Griffin understands London in a way that few do: the social structures, the transport system, the bizarre Londonite habits, the cities-within-the-city. And she takes "urban magic" into every inch of London - from Oyster cards to Muswell Hill, even the smallest urban habit makes up the magic of London. It's fan-bloody-tastic. I picked this book up right when I moved away from the city, and every paragraph was like a trip home.  Griffin set battle scenes in streets, restaurants and tube stations I knew backwards - it will be hard for me to go back without seeing Griffin's urban magic in the air.  If you want to know London - and it's unique brand of magic - this is the book for you.

But as I mentioned, the characters in A Madness of Angels were rather... unfulfilling.  I never particularly cared whether anyone lived or died, I never particularly hated the "villians", and I never really bonded with any of the "heros".  You don't have to like characters in order to enjoy a book, but they do need to strike some sort of emotion within you.... even if it is utter loathing!  I never got there with A Madness of Angels, and it made the numerous climatic scenes rather anti-climatic.

Bottom line? Griffin puts the urban into urban fantasy. A Madness of Angels has the most imaginative writing/setting/characters I have read in a long time - although it's not the most emotionally engaging work out there. This book is a masterwork - and as dense as an epic too.


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  2. I've always wondered whether to read this one, but I'm not sure if it'll be *too* urban for me. Hmm.



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