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08 April 2016 @ 08:49 pm
A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin  
Believe it or not, I purchased The Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin because of a crossover Sherlock fanfic that I liked but which seems to have vanished from AO3.

The Madness of Angels is the first in a sequence of Urban Fantasy novels. Like many of these sequences it is embedded into the urban myth and landscape of London and, at least superficially, apes the format of a crime novel. Matthew Swift is a sorcerer - someone who uses magic innately with no need for rigid ritual and he's also dead. At least he is until he wakes up again in the bedroom of his former apartment.

I found the book, at least initially, quite hard to get into. The opening section fairly slow as Matthew gets his bearings and escapes into the night. It probably wasn't helped by the fact that the prose is a little more purple than I generally like so I was also battling with the level of description. Eventually I came to appreciate the prose style, in this world magic is very much a force that sorcerers can sense and channel, but to do so they need some understanding of the nature of any particular magic they come across. A lot of the time the prose is attempting to convey what Matthew is picking up - for instance this passage describing the leader of a magical biker gang: He was pure and simple big, his thighs bulged in their black leather trousers, his shoulders strained the edges of his studded, extra-large black jacket, his chest threatened to burst through his black T-shirt, his beard ruptured off his face like curling smoke from a volcano, his hands were the size of the plate from which Vera ate her salad, his fingers were thick and raw, his every breath was like the rising and falling of a glassmaker's bellows, his expressions stretched from ear to ear and twitched over the end of his expansive Roman nose. I had never seen such a man - and more, there was a slippery power about him, more than just the bulk of his presence, a flash of orange and golden fire on the senses, visible out of the corner of his eye, impossible to pin down. He smelt of dirt and car oil and the road, and uncontrolled, risky power.

I say the novel apes the format of a crime novel. Superficially, at least, Matthew is attempting to solve his own murder. Only he actually has a pretty good idea from the outset who killed him and why, but there are details he's unsure about - in particular the extent to which the perpetrator, Bakker, is genuinely culpable. He is also explicitly driven by a desire for vengeance though its never clear, even to him, I think, whether he wishes to avenge his murder or his resurrection. Both these desires lead him into a campaign to dismantle the organisation built up around Bakker in order to get close enough to determine what action he should actually take against the man. To do this he becomes involved with a group of "concerned citizens", also anxious to dismantle the powerful mafia-like organisation that has gained a stranglehold on London's magical community. Large swathes of the novel, therefore, play out as a gang war at various levels.

I liked Matthew. He's a well-drawn character: a man unwilling to indulge in much introspection even over seemingly important questions such as how much of what has come back is the original Matthew Swift and how much is something else that has taken his form and what the relationship between these selves might be. It's also clear he has a strong but barely articulated moral framework. There are lines he will not cross, but he had no real interest in justifying why those lines are where they are or understanding if they are consistent. The end impression is of an innately good man but one who does not necessarily think of himself or worry, particularly, about whether he is good. It is hugely important to him to establish the extent to which his murder was deliberate and I'm not sure he ever does. As the reader, I was pretty sure it was, particularly since Bakker spends most of his encounters with Matthew gaslighting him in one form or another, but in the end Matthew acts because he has to and not because he has decided Bakker's innocence or guilt to his own satisfication.

In the end, I really loved this book. I really liked the way it attempts to marry the ideas of magic both as something bound by rigid incantations and fixed spells and as a wild and unpredictable force. Once I was used to it, I actually got really into the way the prose was constructed and I found Matthew and his willing/unwilling passenger selves a layered, sympathetic and interesting character. It is better than what googling tells me is a much lamented missing fanfic.

The next book in the sequence has gone on my amazon wish list.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/189351.html.
wellinghallwellinghall on April 8th, 2016 08:00 pm (UTC)
And on the strength of that review, I have added this one to my Amazon wishlist
a_cubeda_cubed on April 9th, 2016 07:14 am (UTC)
This is a good series. There's a number of Matthew ones, then a new viewpoint character takes over in the same world and with some interactions with Matthew. They're all good, though as with many series there's some that are better than others.
For another good British urban fantasy based in London, if you haven't read Benedict Jacka's "Alex Verus" series, I recommend them as well.
louisedennislouisedennis on April 9th, 2016 01:35 pm (UTC)
I read the first Alex Verus and wasn't so taken with it - though looking back at my review I seem to have liked it more than I remember. I think I found Verus a little whiny and the world-building didn't have quite the level of depth I wanted, but it's always hard to put your finger on the problem when you don't quite gell with something that has all the trappings of something you should really like.
a_cubeda_cubed on April 9th, 2016 01:43 pm (UTC)
Ah well, so it goes. Life's too short, and there are too many good books and series to keep going if you don't gel with something.
wellinghallwellinghall on April 9th, 2016 04:54 pm (UTC)
And I agree with this comment - there are so many books (series, etc), and one just cannot read them all - not even all the good ones in ones favourite genres.
wellinghallwellinghall on April 9th, 2016 04:52 pm (UTC)
I agree with your general comment - I find it hard to say why I don't like a book (series, author etc) when it has so many of the right bits.
wellinghallwellinghall on May 10th, 2016 08:21 pm (UTC)
I am about a quarter of the way through this, and enjoying it, after (like you) finding it slow to start with.