A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin came to my attention when listening to one of my favourite podcasts, The Writer and the Critic (episode 29 if you’re interested). The book was recommended by guest N.K. Jemisin and sounded very interesting. Besides, the author’s real last name is Webb. Can’t go past a book by another Webb.
So, a basic rundown of the plot. Matthew Swift is an urban sorcerer, someone who uses the rhythms and movements of the city to create magic. He has also been dead for the last two years. Our story begins when he suddenly gets better, resurrecting fully formed, naked and in his old apartment, which is now being occupied by someone else. It isn’t the only thing that’s being occupied by someone else. Matthew has brought some visitors along for the ride in his newly corporeal body. Who killed him? Who brought him back? The rest of the novel is driven by Swift’s attempts to answer these questions.
The world building is great in this book. Different forms of magic, from the creative sorcery making ad hoc use of the powers inherent in a city of millions, through to rule bound magicians, magically travelling bikies and gun toting religious nutters. This is a world meant for more than one book (and indeed I can see there are three more in the series).
The main character shares his consciousness with previously incorporeal beings, and Griffin represents this duality very effectively, switching between singular and plural pronouns throughout the narrative. The instability inherent in this kind of sharing made for a more compelling character – from the glimpses we get of Swift pre-merger, he wouldn’t have been interesting enough to hold a readers attention.
Other characters were portrayed in interesting ways, but I didn’t feel particularly close to any of them. Some of the minor secondary characters felt a little shallow, with not enough back story to forge a connection. One particularly pivotal character is introduced quite late, and does not have enough page time for the reader to really feel for her when nasty things happen.
I’m in two minds about the writing itself. In some scenes I found it wonderful – gorgeous prose describing the sorcerer’s movement through an urban environment, and giving a wonderful sense of place for London and its surrounds. But in other places the text became dense and difficult to read, and I must admit that I found myself skimming. This was probably my loss, but I suspect if I’d gone as slowly as the text sometimes demanded I would have been reading this book for a long time. On the other hand, the dialogue in the book was excellent – crisp, focused and with just the right amount of snark.
So overall I found that the book dragged a little. It felt like it could have been edited to be a lot tighter. There were points where the stream-of-consciousness style of narration worked very effectively as Swift and his passengers moved through the city, and other times where it didn’t quite capture me.
All in all I enjoyed the book and will track down the sequels at some future point. Recommended for lovers of urban fantasy.
I also reviewed this book on Goodreads. View all my reviews.
This work by Mark Webb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License.