Monday, March 29, 2010

Review: The Midnight Mayor by Kate Griffin

Magic. When you hear the word what image is invoked? Druids in the twilight mist of an ancient henge? An aged (white) wizard, with beard and staff incanting some unintelligible spell? A meditating monk worshiping at the top of a mountain? A witch invoking a cryptic rhyme as she peers into a bubbling cauldron? Angels? Vampires? Faeries?

Did you think a pile of garbage? The last subway? The disclaimer written on a transit card? The discarded phonebook on top of the canopy at the bus stop? The heavy beat of the latest hot nightclub?

Kate Griffin imagines a world of magic unlike any other – magic that has evolved from those tales of legend we all see so often into real urban magic. Magic is life. Life is magic. And life in the city of London has a magic all its own. Griffin introduced the urban sorcerer Matthew Swift in A Madness of Angels (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound) and The Midnight Mayor (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound) follows with Swift’s ascension to a responsibility that he doesn’t want or need.

The subtitle of The Midnight Mayor: Or, The Inauguration of Matthew Swift says it all. The old Midnight Mayor is killed and the title passed Swift, who didn’t actually believe in the Midnight Mayor in the first place. The city is under attack – the ancient guardians fall under the onslaught of a mysterious entity known only as the Death of Cities. Fighting for his life, Swift must come to terms with his new responsibility and save London.

The Midnight Mayor begins much in the same way as A Madness of Angels – confusion, danger, frantic flight and clever resolution. In fact, the whole of The Midnight Mayor follows much the same formula as A Madness of Angels – this is truly an example of, if liked x than you’ll love y.
I really enjoyed A Madness of Angels, but the overt similarity brings down The Midnight Mayor – it felt like the same outline with only a few different players – it felt like Griffin may have used up all her best tricks in A Madness of Angels and could do nothing but cut and paste.

Thankfully Griffin makes up for the repetition with her vision of London. Only a person prone to long walks and a deep love of the city could write this novel. Griffin takes the moods of the city and its people and turns them into magic, a magic that is wonderfully clever and almost cynically insightful. A cigarette in a beer bottle becomes a powerful weapon. Reciting the arcane legalize of criminal code becomes a ward against supernatural malcontents. A can of spray paint is as powerful as any traditional wizard’s wand.

Griffin’s biggest improvement with The Midnight Mayor is in her characterization – Swift truly comes alive instead of simply being the vehicle for her view of London. Swift grows. And through his new role as the Midnight Mayor and his internal struggles of humanity versus possession by the blue electric angels, he becomes real. Griffin balances Swift against the non-magical, evangelically righteous Oda and rounds things out with smaller players like the Alderman, an abused traffic cop, and a worrying mother. She also resists the need for neat, happy resolutions to all and even plays a bit with idea of redemption.

In spite of Griffin’s tendency to rely too heavily on description, The Midnight Mayor is a tighter, better book than A Madness of Angels. And that tells the tale – The Midnight Mayor is more of the same, yet an improvement to A Madness of Angels. London comes magically alive though the unique urban fantasy of Griffin – urban fantasy that I enthusiastically recommend. And the adventures of the urban sorcerer Matthew Swift will continue in Spring, 2011 with The Neon Court: Or, The Betrayal of Matthew Swift (
Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound). 7.5-8/10

Related Posts:
Review of A Madness of Angels; Kate Griffin Answers Questions Five


Marie said...

Wow. I loved A Madness of Angels. I rated it as one of the better books published last year. It's a treat knowing that Kate Griffin delivers yet again with the sequel. :)

By the way, it is thanks to your review that I decided to give AMoA a try. :)

Neth said...

Marie - that's great to hear. I love it when I help someone find a book they love. I'm confident you'll enjoy The Midnight Mayor.

chriss said...

I'll have to check this one out.


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