Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Midnight Mayor --kept me up until midnight

The Midnight Mayor
Kate Griffin
Reviewed by Carol
★   ★   ★   ★  1/2

A solid urban fantasy read. 

The second installment of the Matthew Swift series, The Midnight Mayor continues to follow recently reincarnated Matthew Swift and the co-inhabitants of his body, the electric angels. Once again, Matthew regains consciousness near a public phone, lying in the ground in the dark and the rain; cold, burned, and bloody. As he tries to orient himself, hooded faceless spectres start to stalk him. He manages to escape after some clever displays of sorcery and goes to find the Whites, the graffiti magicians, for healing. Vera, as enigmatic as always, gets him fixed up with Dr. Seah. Dr. Seah has questions about his injuries: “Now, while every case is, like, unique, I gotta tell you, electrocution by telephone leading to the appearance of a cross carved in the palm of the victim’s hand is unusual even for central London. You seriously have no idea how it got there?

In the midst of recovery, The Alderman intrude. Much like conventional politicians, the Alderman (and women) are largely concerned with managing the magical influences of the city for London’s greater good. Unfortunately, they have their suspicions about Matthew’s role in the recent murder of the Midnight Mayor, the head of the Alders, and it’s mutual antipathy from the start: “The Alderman who’d spoken was young, male, and destined to rule the world. He had dark blond hair, slightly curled, a face just bordering on deeply tanned, bright blue eyes, a hint of freckle and a set of teeth you could have carved a piano with. If I hated the Aldermen on basic principle, I hated him on direct observation.

Mayhem ensues, and before long, Matthew is roped into solving the mystery of the systematic destruction of London’s magical protectors. The religious fundamentalist Oda is once again assigned to Matthew, and this time there are resources from the Aldermen. There’s also a missing teenage boy who Matthew is determined to find. 

The plot moves relatively quickly, but as a sorcerer who is connected to the magic of the city, events are often broken up or transitioned through long descriptive passages about the city. At times it worked, and at other times, less so. Although some scenes created the feel of London to a non-Londoner, some were so focused on observing the surroundings that they didn’t quite have a sense of weighty history, nor the bemused sensory experience of the angels. There’s a definite moral ambiguity to many aspects of the storyline, and I find that it was one of the aspects I enjoyed about the book–there wasn’t necessarily facile answers, and that achievement of the goals comes with costs. I enjoyed the complexity of the plotting–a lot of questions are raised in the search for answers, much like real life. Are the angels benign? Is the Alders’ goal of protecting the City of London at the expense of the people worthwhile? Is there such a thing as a selfless motive?

Magical elements continue to be fascinating, from London’s warding magic traditions, to magic linked to the city at time of day, to more modern incarnations of evil, such as the ‘saturate,’ a giant fatty blob no doubt based on a recent story. I continue to enjoy the fascinating magic of the Whites–”it was realised that the image of a great eye painted at the end of Platform 14… was a scrying tool of infinitely more value than your traditional bowl of silver water, and that nothing bound as effectively as a double red parking line burnt chemically into the earth“–and the magic surrounding a pair of shoes was inventive and yet logical. The updated three hags was also a fun twist on a fairly common myth.

Narrative style has changed slightly from the first book. I remain fond of Swift’s voice. For those who might have been bothered by the poetic deconstruction in the first, the second book is far more coherent, with Swift and the angels gradually assuming more of a uniform identity, and structure largely in paragraph form, complete sentences and all. 

Characterization remains a strong point, and I felt there were enough support for the side characters that they obtained individuality. I was impressed by how much Griffin was able to imply about the former Midnight Mayor from the contents of his pockets. Dr. Seah remains one of my favorites with her slightly impaired bedside manner (“Dr. Seah knew the sound of a refusal when she heard one, and knew that the only way to get round these things, was to ignore them before they could become admissible in court”), along with the ghostly nurse of the (almost) abandoned NHS hospital.
There’s definitely a fair amount of humor in the book, which helps lighten the fairly significant consequences. Griffin does a nice job of not allowing humor to overshadow the action or to sacrifice character for the quip. The humor is often subtle or slightly skew:

‘A large number of people, I suspect. But they wouldn’t know what to make of it.’
‘Anyone… of alternative inclining?
‘I’m guessing you’re not referring to sex, biology or morals?‘”

I looked him up and down. He seemed like a principled man, the last thing I needed to see.”

I enjoyed it a great deal, and have many more scribbled page numbers with quotes to prove it. I’ll have to settle for adding it to my library and re-reading at leisure.

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