A Madness of Angels: Or The Resurrection of Matthew Swift, by Kate Griffin

A Madness of Angels - Kate Griffin

“We be light, we be life, we be fire! We sing electric flame, we rumble underground wind, we dance heaven! Come be we and be free!”

I'm a little worried that, still sick, I'm just delirious, and so I shall turn around and read this book again, right from the start, just to be sure. Because if that's the case, I'd like to pack in as much of it as I can before I get better and return to sanity.



Years ago they made a pretty corny movie out of Anne Rice's Queen of the Damned. Actually they made an ok vampire movie, and called some of the characters after those in QotD, so it didn't go over well with anyone, but it wasn't that bad. And it had this one, tiny, wonderful perfect scene, at the very very end of the movie, where the relatively ancient Lestat takes the newborn Jessie by the hand and they walk out into London across Westminster Bridge and the pulse of the city is like the beat of the music and they are just walking, timeless, and the city in all it's glittery rainy lit up beauty speeds up and moves around them, ignoring them entirely. And in the end there's so much light and speed and the city is just a blur and yet somehow, you can still see it overlaying everything, the rails of the bridge and the face of big ben's clock, like anchors to reality. I haven't been able to shake the image out of my head for this entire book. It's the nearest I can come to how Matthew describes how the city is for him. (go on, take a peep, it's only 30 seconds or so)

Lestat and Jessie on the bridge


I shouldn't have liked this book, at least according to many of the reviews, it's got long windy passages of nothing but description, and the plot is confusing and it's really really long (718 pages on my e-reader) and it's POV hopping sometimes in the same sentence and I don't give a damn because it's all just magical. It has characters that come and go, and stereotypes that quite literally come to life and a magic system that is both elegantly well drawn and utterly nuts at the same time.


It's Tinkerbell's and American Gods "You have to believe" from the other side: Things happen, when enough people believe, and faith in the tube is as good as faith in any deity. But as has been said, insanity is repeating the same action over and over, and expecting a different result. So when repetition based in faint belief leaves us magic, creates life, springing up entities like the angels in the wire, how can they possibly be sane? They aren't, of course. They are newborns, with all the power and knowledge, but no rudder, no compass.

It's like Dr Who and Neil Gaiman and Mark Helprin and John Crowley and Robert Holdstock and China Miéville and Charles de Lint and even Clive Barker (am I the only one who just adored Imajica and Weaveworld? Nobody ever talks about him) and anyway just everyone who is a master mechanic of words, those weavers of images and imagery and magic and the love of beautiful dirty things. The ones who can see and can make me see the life and the magic where I'm expecting only grime and shadow.


Or I suppose you could read this as an urban fantasy about a sorcerer who is accidentally reincarnated two years after his brutal murder, and sets about getting some revenge, with the help of a ragtag band of underground magical practitioners of many different streaks, all with their own motives but a shared target. And from that point of view too, it's a unicorn of another colour. Matthew is neither hard boiled nor dripping with male gaze. He couldn't crack a sarcastic joke to save himself (and he tries a couple of times). There are women in this book who aren't in epic need of saving constantly. There are powerful, evil, bad men, who are yet sympathetic. There are good honourable people who are dislikeable and impossible to root for. There are characters who make bad decisions for good reasons, and good decisions for bad reasons, and there is no black, no white, just dirty city grey everywhere you look.


There's just such a rhythym to the way Kate Griffin writes. Entire passages read like chants, as if begging to be read aloud, or as if doing so might invoke something unexpected.


“Between Friday evening and Sunday afternoon, I broke into a total of six offices, one penthouse suite and a small bank, and cursed them all. I cursed the stones they were built on, the bricks in their walls, the paint on their ceilings, the carpets on their floors. I cursed the nylon chairs to give their owners little electric shocks, I cursed the markers to squeak on the whiteboard, the hinges to rust, the glass to run, the windows to stick, the fans to whir, the chairs to break, the computers to crash, the papers to crease, the pens to smear; I cursed the pipes to leak, the coolers to drip, the pictures to sag, the phones to crackle and the wires to spark. And we enjoyed it.”