Griffin, Kate: (01) A Madness of Angels: Or, The Resurrection of Matthew Swift

I am so far behind on the booklog that I am just to going to pick whatever I feel like talking about. Tonight, that’s Kate Griffin’s A Madness of Angels: Or, The Resurrection of Matthew Swift.

I initially picked this up in the bookstore because of the cover, and then was intrigued by the fourth paragraph as the narrator describes his wakening:

I lay on the floor naked as a shedding snake, and we contemplated our situation.

As regular readers know, I am a terrible sucker for narrative voice, and those pronouns were thus guaranteed to catch my attention, and then to keep it:

I tried moving my leg and found the action oddly giddying, as if this was the ultimate achievement for which my life so far had been spent in training, the fulfilment of all ambition. Or perhaps it was simply that we had pins and needles and, not entirely knowing how to deal with pain, we laughed through it, turning my head to stick my nose into the dust of the carpet to muffle my own inane giggling as I brought my knee up towards my chin, and tears dribbled around the edge of my mouth.

A Madness of Angels is a fantasy novel set in a very concrete and specific present-day London. Matthew Swift was killed two years ago as the opening shot in a sorcerous war and now finds himself resurrected. He sets out to find out who killed him, who resurrected him, what’s hunting him now (a particularly creepy entity calling itself Hunger, among other things), and why, a process that ends up bringing him into contact with most of London’s magical population.

The book’s virtues are its location, its magic—which is inextricably intertwined with its location, as urban magic arises from and is shaped by the rhythms of life in different places—and its narrative voice, which is a lot smoother than I’d have thought a mix of singular and plural first-person could be. Its weaknesses are that its energy is mostly in the above and it doesn’t have as much left over as I would like for characterization or pacing (most obvious in a regrettable plot cliche at the end). However, its location and magic and voice are enthrallingly vivid and, if you like those kind of things, very much worth a look. Try the Prologue, which is, yes, rather long, but which concludes with a really great bit of magic that is too long to quote and that I’d hate to spoil anyway.

Meanwhile, here’s a short bit of London description to wet your whistle:

The bus shelters in London are, more often than not, badly designed. Roofed with thin plastic sheets that sag under any weight, curving downwards to form a slight bowl, they collect pools of rainwater on their tops, which can remain there for days. Most of these shelters are below tree height, so that fallen leaves can rot down in these pools, creating the odd muddy pond with its own fungal subculture that nothing can erase, short of a burning August drought.

The flatness of these shelters allows other things to be left on top of them. A single, decomposing sock is a common feature, or a laceless left-foot plimsoll. Half a shopping trolley has been known, or a bicycle handlebar, as have Ikea catalogues and plastic bags full of broken bananas. However, above everything else, on the top of every other bus shelter in London there is almost invariably a rotting copy of the Yellow Pages.

People tend not to ask what a copy of the Yellow Pages is doing on the roof of a bus shelter, nor how it got there, and this is probably a good thing — a poor reflection on the curiosity of the human spirit, perhaps, but an excessively useful defect for the struggling sorcerer, for inside every Yellow Pages left on the top of the shelter, and those pages only, are the exclusive listings.

And this is just because it amuses me:

We had never been to the cinema before. The plot was something about a genius arms dealer who discovered redemption, cardiac conditions and an interesting and potentially lethal use for spare missile components in a cave. It wasn’t my thing. We were enthralled, and staggered out blinking from the cinema two and a half hours later with our mind full of pounding noise and our eyes aching from the overwhelming brightness, resolved to see more films as often as possible.

(The mass market paperback will be out at the end of the month. A sequel, about which I admit some doubts, will be out in March.)


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  1. I picked this one up a while back based on your “arms dealer who discovered redemption, cardiac conditions and an interesting and potentially lethal use for spare missile components in a cave” quote, and was quite enthralled.
    I admit major doubts re: a sequel, though.

  2. Richard, glad to hear you liked it!
    I will read the sequel, but yes, as I said, I share your doubts. I will attempt to report back timely.

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