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Monday, April 6, 2009

“A Madness of Angels” by Kate Griffin (Reviewed by Liviu C. Suciu)

Official Kate Griffin Website
Order “A Madness of Angels

INTRODUCTION:A Madness of Angels”, subtitled “Or, the Resurrection of Matthew Swift”, attracted my attention with both its intriguing name and striking cover. So I decided to try out the novel without inquiring closely into its subject matter and was expecting a subtle book about the fantastic intersecting our modern civilization in the vein of the superb “The Ninth Circle” or Eric Nylund’sMortal Coils”. Instead, I was surprised to discover a straightforward urban fantasy novel with all of the usual paraphernalia, from sorcerers, witches, and werewolves to fairies and whatnot. I usually stay away from this genre, but “A Madness of Angels” hooked me from the very first page and kept my interest to the end, while leaving me highly anticipating the next Matthew Swift novel...

SETTING:A Madness of Angels” takes place in an alternate contemporary London where magic is real and practiced by both humans and other creatures.

Matthew Swift, the “godson” and apprentice of the rich and powerful sorcerer Robert James Bakker, has been presumed dead, although his body was never found. One day two years later, Matthew finds himself back in his former apartment with no memories of his recent past, and possessing strikingly blue eyes and mysterious powers far beyond his previous capabilities.

“Concerned” citizen, Dudley Sinclair, is a member of a shadowy group of like-minded power brokers that want to prevent large-scale abuse of magic. Recently, Bakker's organization, The Tower, seems to have acquired a large influence in London’s magical community with rival sorcerers dropping dead or disappearing.

With Bakker himself scarcely seen, Matthew must first deal with San Khay, nominally the CEO of a security company called Amiltech and the public face of The Tower; Guy Lee, the chief enforcer in the magical community; banker Harris Simmons; and Matthew’s former apprentice Dana Mikeda in order to get to Bakker and find out the truth.

Meanwhile, the mysterious religious “Order”, whose executive action arm is led by an enigmatic priest, wants to eliminate all magic in the world, but is willing to settle for the elimination of “bad” magic first. Its most accomplished license-to-kill agent, ice-cold Oda, becomes its liason with Matthew.

The “Whites”, led by Vera, are another underground magical community harassed by The Tower, and who may be willing to ally with Sinclair and Swift.

The large cast also includes bikers, werewolves, warlocks, The Bag Lady, The Beggar King, The Dragon of London, and a number of other unusual and weird people & creatures that play a role as well.

To top it off, there is “Hunger”, a creature of shadows wearing a strikingly familiar face and possessing very powerful magic who has been hunting Matthew since his resurrection...

FORMAT/INFO:A Madness of Angels” stands at 464 pages divided into four titled parts. The first part is called Prologue and is quite extensive in setting up the main thread of the novel. The remaining three parts contain two interludes about Matthew's past including how he was taken under Bakker's wing and his encounter with Dana. There is also a short Epilogue which leaves the novel as a standalone though of course Matthew Swift's adventures have just started with the next book, “The Midnight Mayor”, scheduled for publicaton in March 2010. The narration is in the first person present tense except for the two interludes mentioned above, but there is a twist. Our main character is simultaneously an I and an “we”, which can be a bit confusing in the beginning, but later the two voices become very clearly defined and the ability of the author to pull off this narrative trick raises the novel to another level. The ending is excellent and conclusive.

April 2, 2009 marks the UK Paperback publication of “A Madness of Angels” via
Orbit. The North American version follows shortly in Hardcover on April 6, 2009.

PLOT HINTS AND ANALYSIS:A Madness of Angels” distinguishes itself from other titles with its great style, atmosphere and an assortment of odd characters. A page turner from the very first paragraph when Matthew Swift materializes in the bedroom of his old apartment only to scare off a party in the living room, the novel is a nonstop roller coaster ride until the very end. It also reads very fast and rhythmically, so you definitely do not notice the book’s length.

The supernatural elements are integrated seamlessly into the action from the very beginning and in contrast with most other urban fantasy novels that I’ve tried, I never felt my suspension of disbelief stretching. While the relationship between the magical world and the “real” world is never made explicit, that ambiguity serves the book perfectly.

Creatively, the author’s imagination just runs wild with many kinds of people using magic in different ways—even magicians and sorcerers have different types of power—while the non-human creatures from the troll Jeremy (!) alias Mighty Raaaarrrgghh, to the fairies, rats, and pigeons all add incredible color. The sinister Hunger in particular is a villain to remember.

The novel’s atmosphere is also superb. Never been to London so I cannot say how accurate the descriptions of the City are including its various systems like the Tube, the buses, and the public phone booths, but the author’s love for London is obvious, warts and all, so I trust her imagining of the city.

Since everything is seen through Matthew's eyes, characterization is not as well defined for the rest of the characters with Oda and Bakker the best realized of all. Lastly, there are a lot of snappy lines in the novel and the humor is sometimes biting, but always well timed...

If there is a weakness in the book, then it’s the plot which is quite straightforward from beginning to end, but it does not matter. “A Madness of Angels” is so engrossing, that the lack of twists and turns in the story is not noticeable.

In the end, I loved this novel much more than I expected to. I especially enjoyed Kate Griffin’s style and sincerely hope that the next installment of Matthew Swift's adventures will be as fresh and accomplished as this one. A very pleasant surprise, I highly, highly recommend “A Madness of Angels”...

NOTE: Kate Griffin is the name under which Carnegie Medal-nominated YA author
Catherine Webb (Mirror Dreams) writes fantasy novels for adults.


Graeme Flory said...

Thanks for the link guys! I also interviewed Kate, here's the link for anyone who's interested...

I don't know how to make it into a real link that takes you to the page though...
Gav, at NextRead, has also interviewed Kate.

Dave said...

I definitely agree, Liviu, the book was wonderful and in my opinion, an excellent addidtion to the Urban Fantasy genre. I'm also looking forward to the second book!

Liviu said...

Graeme: I have no idea about the link thingy, wondered too and will see if I can figure it out, but hey what's wrong with copy/paste...
Thanks for the link

Dave: I was surprised how much I liked it; definitely looking forward to the second book and plan a review for it too

ediFanoB said...

After reading your good review I know why I added th book to my to buy list for July.

Concerning the link question. You just have to add some HML tags.

In order to get the real link
Graeme interviewed Kate

you have to enter following code:
less-than sign a href="link address" greater-than sign text to be shown less-than sign slash a greater-than sign

Please replace less-than sign by < and
greater-than sign by >

Liviu said...

Thank you for your kind words about the review and great to know about the link thingy, great tip !!


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