Debut Review: A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin (Orbit)


A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin
Published by Orbit on the 2 April 2009.
Review Copy

In A Madness of Angels Sorcerer Matthew Swift returns to London after being missing for two years and he wants revenge. Over 496 pages Kate takes us on a tour of the hidden people and places of London. And what an exciting place she makes it.

It seems that Kate lives and breathes Londonness and this book is packed with that energy – it flows with power. The power of the beggers, the bikers, and the bag ladies. The pigeons, the power lines and the people in the Tower. There are so many fresh and original ideas here that it makes for an engaging and fun read.

You know in horror films when the dying are brought back to life that there is a danger that they don’t come back alone well you get a hint that something isn’t quite right when Matthew starts saying ‘we’ instead of ‘I’.

The mystery of what’s happened to Matthew Swift when he was away is the thread keeps everything together as Swift is conscripted by Mr Sinclair and a gang of concerned citizens whose goals of revenge seem to be aligned with Swift’s and they use each other to try to take down the Tower and the power behind it.

As A Madness of Angels is told in the first person we see everything from Matthew Swift’s point of view and this causes a bit of a problem. There is a mystery element to the story so  there is a bit of a blind spot in what Matthew does and what he’s actually thinking. He doesn’t share everything he knows. 

It’s curious at times but Griffin manages to get around it – if the reader found out all that Matthew knew then the story wouldn’t unfold the way it does but more importantly and I’m not giving anything away by saying it – Matthew Swift is mad – the process that has brought about his return has messed with his mind so you can never be sure that he actually knows all that’s happening or why.

This uncertainty and revelation drives A Madness of Angels along at a cracking pace and by the time we get the to the end we find out a lot more about Kate’s brand of Urban Magic.

The brand of urban magic employed by Kate is gathered from the lights, the garbage, the rhythm of the couriers and other energies that fill an urban environment and it’s a power that is raw and easy to tap for a sorcerer like Matthew and there is always the danger that he is going to let go and let it consume him.

I’ve made it to the end without telling you about the blue electric angels and the telephone lines. I guess you’ll just have to read it to find out what A Madness of Angels really is.

The other thing to mention is that given the theme is madness I can forgive much of the storytelling for being slightly confusing as it has a purpose and is quite enjoyable but there are places where I think that the balance isn’t quite right and Kate looses focus of the story and indulges herself a little too much but it’s curious and slightly distracting rather than annoying or frustrating.

Overall though, Kate Griffin’s adult debut (having written for children as Catherine Webb) is a powerful, fresh, imaginative step into Urban Fantasy, and luckily, even though there is a satisfying ending to Matthew Swift’s story of revenge, he’s back in The Midnight Mayor. I’m really looking forward to it but please first if you like Urban Fantasy do read A Madness of Angels – it might be on of the best books of the genre your going to read all year. (I can’t say the best, sorry, as the completion for that title this year is quite fierce).

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