Griffin, Kate: (02) The Midnight Mayor: Or, The Inauguration of Matthew Swift

Kate Griffin’s The Midnight Mayor: Or, The Inauguration of Matthew Swift is the sequel to A Madness of Angels. I had been somewhat dubious about the idea, but having read it, I agree that it advances Matthew Swift’s character and story. And as Chad puts it, it’s nice to have an urban fantasy series with no Awesome Werewolf Boy/Girlfriend. [*] On the contrary, Matthew’s most significant continuing relationship is with a woman who spends most of their time together saying that she’s going to kill him (she means it, too). I admit, I find this inordinately amusing.

[*] In fact, I don’t remember seeing anything in this book that would contradict a reading of Matthew as asexual. And I remember reading a review of the first that pointed out that of all the new sensations he was registering and seeking out (long story), anything sexual was conspiciously absent.

At any rate. London’s magical protections have been obliterated: the ravens at the Tower of London are dead, the London Stone has been destroyed, the London Wall has been cursed, and the Midnight Mayor has been killed. Matthew Swift finds himself in urgent need of finding out what’s happening and whether the death of cities really exists:

“Just a rumour, a legend. You hear stories. Stuff like . . . when the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, there was a house right in the middle of the blast, at its very heart, untouched while the rest of the city was levelled. They say that there was a man in the house, who had his face turned towards the sky as the bomb fell and who just smiled, smiled and smiled and didn’t even close his eyes. But then again, you’ve got to ask yourself . . . “

” . . . who survived that close to the bomb to tell?”

“Right. It’s always the problem with these sorts of stories. Or they say that when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, there was a man who walked through the flooded streets and laughed and the water could not buffet him, or when they firebombed Dresden there was a guy untouched by the flames, or when the child tripped running into Bethnal Green station during the Blitz, that there was someone who knocked her down and climbed over the bodies piled up in the stairway. Myths. That’s all. Rumours and myths. And just in case these things aren’t scary enough on their lonesome, they just had to go and give this smiling, laughing, burning man a name, and call him the death of cities. Naturally, I don’t believe a word of it. And yes, of course I’m scared. Just in case.”

(If someone makes a “Sympathy for the Devil” joke in the book, I missed it.)

Like A Madness of Angels, this splashy high-stakes magical plot nevertheless rests on a rather intimate, personal foundation, which I enjoyed seeing unfold and resolve. I guessed the direction of the plot completely wrong, in fact, because I was working on high fantasy assumptions and this isn’t that kind of book.

If you liked the first book, I see no reason you shouldn’t like this book. It has the same great setting and inventive magic. It builds on the last book, but lightly and with plenty of reminders of what happened for those of us who didn’t re-read recently. (Also, it revisits one of my favorite scenes from the last book, the subway scene in the Prologue, in a way that made me wriggle with delight.) And it may be better at evoking emotional reactions than the last book; there were some aspects of the ending that made me sadder than aspects of the last book that were objectively more serious. (Really big spoilers, ROT-13: cbbe ybera. v qba’g xabj vs jr’yy frr ure ntnva, ohg bqn arrqf gb pbzr onpx naq trg orggre! rira gubhtu v ernyyl yvxr gung qrirybczrag, sebz n punenpgre-tebjgu fgnaqcbvag, gurer unq orggre abg or nal pbafreingvba bs xvpx-nff oynpx jbzra tbvat ba.) I look forward to the forthcoming third book (The Neon Court, March 2011; ‘ware spoilers for this book in the description of the next one, if you go looking).

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  1. And this morning I saw a link to longer, more critical, but probably more useful review at Strange Horizons.

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