A Madness of Angels
By Kate Griffin
Published on April 6, 2009
Published by Orbit
Summary from Goodreads:
For Matthew Swift, today is not like any other day. It is the day on which he returns to life.
Two years after his untimely death, Matthew Swift finds himself breathing once again, lying in bed in his London home.
Except that it's no longer his bed, or his home. And the last time this sorcerer was seen alive, an unknown assailant had gouged a hole so deep in his chest that his death was irrefutable...despite his body never being found.
He doesn't have long to mull over his resurrection though, or the changes that have been wrought upon him. His only concern now is vengeance. Vengeance upon his monstrous killer and vengeance upon the one who brought him back.
I have a bit of a backwards relationship with Kate Griffin's Matthew Swift novels. I inadvertently started reading the series with the fourth book, The Minority Council, and while I was a bit confused, I thought it was just a different way of worldbuilding -- dump you into the middle of a story and make you figure the rest out as you go. Nope! Instead, some brief Google-fu showed me that I'd managed to fall in love with a series I'd never even read the beginning of. Several months later, I finally found time to rectify the situation, and so here we are, back at the beginning of Matthew Swift's story with A Madness of Angels.
And guess what -- you're dumped into the story midstream, with no time to catch up. Fortunately, Swift is in the same predicament. See, for the past two years, Matthew Swift was dead. Now he's not, and before he's even able to start piecing together the why of the situation, the how comes after him again and he's running for his life, trying to work his way up to the very top of a shadowy organization that had a hand in his death and resurrection. Along the way, he makes friends and enemies, and also a lot of frenemies. You know the sort, on your side until you've outlived your usefulness. He spends most of the book getting knocked around, running from danger, and trying to forge tentative alliances between very different people so that the thing that killed him is stopped before it gets to try a second time.
This book is very uniquely, authentically British. I've read a lot of books set in London, written by people who don't live there and haven't spent much time there, and the prose never quite rings true. I know how irritated I feel when I read a book set somewhere that I live that doesn't feel authentic -- ask me about the time I started Google-mapping places namechecked in a book set in the area where I grew up because I was concerned about how quickly people got from one place to another. I've only spent a little bit of time in London, but this book feels very real to me, and the author's -- and Swift's -- love for the city shines through on every page.
Griffin's books are not easy reads, even taking aside the profanity and violence. Her narrative voice for Swift is one of the most unique that I've ever seen, and Swift himself has a habit of speaking in the first person plural ("we") that seems very odd right up until the moment that it makes sense. (Don't worry, it doesn't make sense to Swift at first, either.) The writing is very stream-of-consciousness, and there are a lot of details that aren't necessarily important to the story, but are integral to the way that Swift sees and interacts with London. His magic is drawn from the city -- from the hustle of rush hour traffic to the ebb and flow of the Thames River -- so it makes sense that he notices and comments on every last detail. The advantage is that you can often skim some of these long, dense paragraphs without missing anything, but if you really want to soak up the feel of London, it's right there for the taking.
Swift is hilarious, in that deadpan, dry-British-wit sort of way, and the cast of supporting characters is incredibly diverse. The characters all have their own motivations and it's great fun to watch Swift try to deal with all of the incredibly frustrating obstacles that get thrown in his path. If you're in for an adventure, and have the patience to make it through a book crammed with cultural and geographical references you may not get, I highly recommend this series.