A Madness of Angels—Entrancing Urban Magic

A Madness of Angels, a Matthew Swift novel, by Kate Griffin
A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin

You may notice a similarity with the title of last week’s book. What can I say? I was in a particular mood—dark urban fantasy. But A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin (pseudonym of Catherine Webb, pseudonym of Claire North) is a very different book, and I thoroughly enjoyed exploring those differences.

1—Life is Magic

These words are the motif of the book, the heart of both its magical system and of its theme. Life is magic, and all magic comes from life. And because the life in and of a city has a particular flavor, so to does its magic. Our hero (heroes?—I’ll get to that) is an urban sorcerer; his magic is instinctual and comes from, as he says several times, his point of view. They see the wonder of the city—London, if you were wondering which one—all around them and in everything of it. They even create a barrier spell by reciting the rules and regulations of a train station.

There are garbage golems and living spray-paintings, gossiping pigeons and biker magic. There’s also a magic mafia and religious fanatics—it can’t all be fun and games—and powerful personifications with their own agendas, mostly not terrible. Mostly.

2—A Terrible Hunger

Hunger is the name Matthew Swift gives the creature that killed him, that rose out of the shadows and ripped him apart. This gaunt and terrible figure that stretches the shadows and cannot be killed because it does not live has killed most of the sorcerers in the city, trying to drink down their lives. And no matter how many sorcerers Hunger eats, it’s never enough.

This is why Hunger wants the resurrected Matthew, wants to devour the blue fire in his veins. Why it spared and terrorized a young sorcerer into summoning the blue electric angels, and why it’s so upset it got Matthew into the bargain. The angels would’ve been nigh helpless without Matthew, driven mad by the strange new world outside the wires. Not that Matthew is all there, after being gruesomely killed then resurrected with voices in his head.

3—I Am and We Are

There is no separating Matthew from the blue electric angels, anymore than one could recover a drop of water dropped into an energy drink. They and Matthew are one…almost. Other characters even note how seamlessly the possibly-Mr-Swift switches between “I” and “we”. And since this book is in first-person POV, there’s a lot of that, but the author pulls it off. And after living in Matthew’s head—not even for the whole book, but after just a few chapters—I found my own thoughts mimicking the cadence of their shared thoughts.

4—The Writing Casts a Spell

The writing in A Madness of Angels is magic in itself. It has a lyrical cadence that weaves a spell. There is beauty and wonder in the words themselves, a reflection of the marvel Matthew and the angels hold for the world around them—the angels in particular are fascinated by every new sensation, even being burned.

The book is also told in parts, including a Prelude rather than a prologue. The parts are titled, with straightforward titles and subtitles with a sense of whimsy. The juxtaposition well suits the story with its enchantment and horror side by side.

I love books that are dark and gritty, yet wondrous. Do know of any other books—or tv shows, movies, whatever—with that sense?

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