Review: A Madness of Angels (Matthew Swift #1) by Kate Griffin

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½
Date Read: January 12 to 25, 2015
Read Count: 1
Recommended by: book reviews forevermore
Recommended for: people looking for well written urban fantasy

Such a satisfying read. There isn’t anything about this book I don’t like. London, action, adventure, urban magic, turf wars, and revenge. A lot of fun.

Right alongside the London we know, there exists a dark side of the city that lives off magic and traditions that go back centuries to the time the city was first settled, and it’s kept alive by the continuous use and evolution of that magic and those traditions. Although both have taken on different forms and shapes throughout the years, they’re still rooted in the city. And everything about the city is alive and it sings to people who can hear it.

Matthew Swift had been one such person…before his untimely death. But instead of staying dead, he has been resurrected. For what purpose? One could only assume not a good one. After two years, Swift returns to find London still much the same as he’d last seen it with one notable difference. All the sorcerers he’d known are dead; they’d died shortly after he did. Not a coincidence. And the magical world of London has been taken over by a new faction that’s responsible for eliminating competitors and consolidating all the magic in the city for its own use.

As Swift digs further into this new faction, he discovers that its head is the person who killed him, so he sets out to dismantle the whole organization to get his revenge and also to find out who resurrected him and why. He needs to get them before they get to him because there’s something inside him that they want. When he was resurrected, he didn’t come back alone, and they already knew that.

This is just the first quarter of the book. A whole lot more happens, but the less you know, the more you’ll enjoy the read. I went into this book knowing almost nothing about it. I even thought Matthew Swift was some sort of winged creature.

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* * * *  some spoilers * * * *

The prose is what I like most about this book, and I almost never say that about books written in first-person. The prose here though is fast moving, energetic, and punchy, and I don’t think there’s a dull moment anywhere. Everything about the writing is interesting from scene to scene, even the moments in between action sequences when it’s just Swift talking to himself or arguing with the angels or doing both. And the switching of pronouns is amazing, so seamlessly done you can always tell when Swift or the angels are talking.

Although his intentions are unclear for most of the book, Swift himself is a great character. He straddles that fine line between darkness and light, and it’s not clear which side he leans toward, though he seems to prefer the dark.

“You’d let people die so you can kill Lee. Granted, the guy is already dead, if you’ll excuse the pun–sometimes I astound myself at my own bad taste–but you’re willing to let others die just so you can pin him down so you can pin down Bakker so you can pin down this shadow and for what? The greater good? There’s a lot of shit done for the greater good, sorcerer.”

[…]

“That’s the Tower, Mr Swift, that’s why you should really be fighting rather than from any motive of revenge; and when this is over that’s what I will tell people you died for–a good, heroic cause, rather than your loosely defined sense of injured personal pride.”

Add the angels to that and he becomes even more layered and interesting. And the angels…hah, the angels. Naive, childish thrill seekers, but so full of fury and mayhem. But is Swift the one reigning them in or is it the other way around?

This London is definitely not the London they advertise. It’s the seedy, gritty underground world of sewers, refuse, vermin, and dank subway tunnels. Swift is in tune with and can command all these elements. He’s at home when he’s among them. The descriptions are literally disgusting. They evoke such visceral images and feelings that you can’t shake, even after closing the book. Swift spends a lot of time in sewers, tunnels, and wading through trash. Milda, a friend on GR who read this book with me, said she had to take a shower after reading a vermin-infested scene, the one with the bag lady. The scene that made me want to take a shower is near the beginning, the one with the litterbug. Swift is barefoot and running down back alleys and splashing through puddles and stepping on all sorts of trash, and I was like.

It’s rare when I come across a magic system that impresses me, so I must say Kate Griffin’s take on urban magic is fascinating and exactly the sort I love. The magic is neither good nor evil. It exists alongside the physical world, and it shapes and is shaped by the world. Although much of the magic presented in this story errs on the dark side of the spectrum, enough is explained about it for you to understand that it could also be used for good, like the underground hospital. Swift’s spells and conjurings make sense even in the context of our world because they don’t break so many rules as to be totally made-up. There’s logic and science behind all the make-believe.

“Magic is not life. Life is magic. Even the boring, plodding, painful, cold, cruel parts, even the mundane automatic reflexes, heart pumping, lungs breathing, stomach digesting, even the uninteresting dull processes of walking, swinging the knees and seeing with eyes, this is magic. This is what makes magic.”

More from that scene in the underground hospital

“I… do not know what it is I should offer you for your help,” I said as we turned our head away and half-closed our eyes against the sight of our own blood.

“Offer me?” A shrill note of indignation entered her voice. “Young man, there are three things that make Britain great. The first is our inability at playing sports.”

“How does that make Britain great?”

“Despite the certainty of loss, we try anyway with the absolute conviction that this year will be the one, regardless of all evidence to the contrary!”

I raised my eyebrows, but that simply meant I could see my own blood more clearly, so looked away and said nothing.

 

I saw The Theory of Everything while reading this book and couldn’t stop seeing Eddie Redmayne as Matthew Swift. But IDK, now that he’s got all those awards, it’s unlikely he’d consider a genre role. And I say this while fully aware how ridiculous it sounds, yet I still stand by it. If this book series ever becomes a show or movie, Eddie Redmayne would be perfect for the role.

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7 thoughts on “Review: A Madness of Angels (Matthew Swift #1) by Kate Griffin

  1. Steph February 28, 2015 / 10:11 pm

    Well, this has everything I like. “And the angels…hah, the angels. Naive, childish thrill seekers, but so full of fury and mayhem.” I can’t argue with that. It’s wonderful! Sounds like I found my next read:)

    Like

    • 1stavenue February 28, 2015 / 10:23 pm

      It’s a lot of fun. The angels are a riot, sometimes literally. I look forward to your thoughts on the book. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. thebookgator February 28, 2015 / 10:50 pm

    Excellent review! It is a great example of UF done right. I agree–the rats didn’t bother me, but the rubbish monster… ew.

    Like

    • 1stavenue February 28, 2015 / 11:19 pm

      Right? And he spends what seems like a torturous amount of time running around the city without shoes.

      When UF is done right, it’s so gloriously good. It was your reviews that turned me on to this series. Thanks again. You have amazing taste in books. 🙂

      Like

  3. sumlynnnguyen March 1, 2015 / 4:04 pm

    This one looks very promising, it has all the elements I love (and even better, there’s good writing). I’m excited to get my hands on this one! Nice review! (:

    Like

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