Monday, May 18, 2009

Review: A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin

Magic – it lies at the heart of the fantasy genre, the very definition for many. Often magic can do anything and equally often it has limits, but one thing that magic nearly invariably fails to do is evolve. The inspiration for magic is typically rooted in myth and legend resulting in a concept that feels stuck in distant past. It’s rare that a book truly shows magic evolve with the experience of the human species – A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin is one such rarity (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound).

In Griffin’s London magic has urbanized. The mythical last train is powerful magic, the electricity flowing through wires is powerful magic, the graffiti scrawled across walls is powerful magic, the litter thoughtlessly discarded is powerful magic, even the disclaimer written on an Underground ticket is powerful magic. Bikers travel magical routes through time and space, bag ladies and beggars are magical gods, and the phone lines possessed by blue electric angels. Sorcerers rise above other magic users to be become a thing of magic itself – magic is life – and urban sorcerers are the city of their magic.

The sorcerer Matthew Swift died by the hands of a magical creature of shadow wearing the face of his former mentor and benefactor, Mr. Bakker. A Madness of Angels carries the subtitle of Or, the Resurrection of Matthew Swift, giving away what comes next. The book opens with the bewildered Matthew Swift’s resurrection, the reader feeling every bit of the confusion of Swift. Once bearings are gained, what remains is a story of vengeance. Swift focuses on killing the shadow creature he names Hunger even as he knows that in reality he must kill his former master, Mr. Bakker.

The brilliance of A Madness of Angels is magic – the urban magic of London. Urban Fantasy has evolved of late into a new feeling genre, and while Griffin’s magic evolves, A Madness of Angels is classic Urban Fantasy. The mood is reminiscent of Gaiman and Mièville with a magical feel closer to de Lint – and the result is splendid. The unique-feel of Griffin’s magical view of London permeates the book and is enough all on its own to make A Madness of Angels a great success – of course there is more.

Madness plays an important role throughout the story while somehow not taking it all over. Swift and Bakker become a yin and yang of madness – one a madness of multiplication and the other of division. Both suffer confusion along with moments of intense fear and great confidence. With the entire story told through Swift’s first person view point, it’s this madness that allows Griffin to carry a sense of mystery through the book, hiding information from the reader that Swift knows but won’t necessarily admit.

A Madness of Angels suffers from a few weaknesses that are largely overshadowed by the simple magic of her writing. Griffin is new to adult fiction and like Mièville’s early work, at times Griffin over-writes her vision of London and its magic, particularly early in the novel. In terms of characterization for all but Swift, Griffin lays a good foundation and seems to leave off the finishing touches that bring a character fully to life. It’s a wonderful journey that we see, and as often happens, the ending suffers in comparison. Griffin’s desire to hold back key information until the end does maintain a mystery, but it doesn’t quite make sense at the end – particularly with its abruptness. But, as I hinted above, the magic of Griffin’s London dominates, washing out the weaknesses, with a promise of Griffin’s future improvement as an author.

Kate Griffin has written books for younger audiences since her early teens, starting even younger than the infamous Christopher Paolini. Now in her early 20s, A Madness of Angel is her first effort aimed at the adult market – and it’s a great start. The dark, magical atmosphere of Griffin’s London saturates everything, making it wonder to read and A Madness of Angels a book that I enjoyed a lot. 7.5-8/10

Related Posts: Inteview with Kate Griffin, Review of The Midnight Mayor


SQT said...

I just got this one not too long ago and I'm looking forward to getting into it. Great review.

RedEyedGhost said...

Great review. The book sounds very interesting, and I'll have to pick it up.

Hagelrat said...

I really enjoyed this one and am looking forward to more of them.

ediFanoB said...

Wonderful review. I will by it next month.

And for all who loved it the next book The Midnight Mayor will be released in September 2009 (paperback).


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