Book Review: The Minority Council (Matthew Swift Book 4) by Kate Griffin

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Warning: this review contains spoilers.

My reviews of the previous installments can be found here, here and here.

I’m sorry if you guys are sick of me posting about this series, but this is the last Matthew Swift book, I promise. Well, there are also two spin-off books but I don’t have them and probably won’t for a while (money!).

 

Last we saw of Matthew Swift, he’s just solved the mystery of The Blackout with heartbreaking consequences. The Midnight Mayor’s duties still have to be carried out, however, no matter how devastated our hero is. He does everything in his power to ignore everyone in the office, most of all The Aldermen whom he loathes, but that is proven to be difficult with the addition of a new giddy but quite lovely PA named Kelly, who never, ever, stops moving and rambling. A random meeting on a boat, however, makes Swift, for once, dive into the murky waters of politics. He meets a woman named Meera and they have an instant connection – of the magical kind. She is practicing magic nobody should ever even dabble in, and Swift tries to stop her. Then a strange woman shows up at his office and tells him that the kids in her local borough are acting “soulless” because some creepy shadow murdered their friend. His old friend The Beggar King also asks him for help – some of his charges are disappearing.

The common factors between those events? The Aldermen. More specifically, their relationship with magical drug dealers.
When Swift finds Meera dead in one of the dusthouses where fairy dust, a strong magical drug, is produced, he is enraged and ready to go to war with The Fairy Godmother (yes, that is the dealer’s alias). However, The Aldermen are being absolute, utter asshats politicians about that, and only one of them, Richard Templeton, agrees to help Swift. But can The Midnight Mayor trust him and make sure that his lovely Penny stays safe? And who is The Fairy Godmother? And who is the monster disguised as “The Neighbourhood Watch”?

 

Those of you who were there wil me on my Matthew Swift journey will be pleased to know that Swift’s sass and wit has not changed a bit, and he continues to be too sassy for his own good (literally). The fourth book may have more of a thriller vibe than other three, but it’s still written as a Matthew Swift installment – i.e. it involves wordy descriptions, side characters constantly reminding Swift that he’s a total git and either loving or hating him in spite of it, beloved characters of London magic doing their thing, and above all, Swift struggling with a bunch of entities within him (thankfully, no Robert Bakker in him anywhere this time!). This installment is particularly brutal on Swift vs angels and the reader. Thanks to the biggest asshole in this series villain, he pretty much acquires a split personality for a while (not sure how to better explain what happened). No more “I am we and we are me” for poor Matthew – the shift, the dissonance is rather sinister to read about. What happened to him(them), delivered a strong blow to Swift’s already fragile humanity. Which is dangerous for those who made him that way – the person that was the reason for Swift going after the dusthouses in the first place, was someone who made them feel human. London is what saves Matthew Swift. Nair was right to pick Swift as the Mayor for the reason he did – he would never be the city’s enemy. They are a part of London, and it is their city.

I hope my readers forgive me, but I’m about to make a Harry Potter analogy and apply it to Matthew Swift’s books.

“AMOA” is like “Philosopher’s Stone” – we get to know the world for the first time.
“TMM” is like “Prisoner of Azkaban” – main character-centric, and we meet a person who is going to be very important for him. Also my favourite installments of both series.
“TNC” is like “Chamber of Secrets” – focused equally on the main character and the villain.
“TMC” is “The Order of the Phoenix” of the Matthew Swift series. Politics, emotional turmoil, a villain I’d like to punch in the face and death of a beloved character.

“PoA” is my favourite Harry Potter book, but “OotP” comes a close second. The same is with Matthew Swift – “The Midnight Mayor” is my favourite of them all, but “The Minority Council” is a fascinating look into the way the system works in Matthew’s London. For once, Swift is not abruptly thrown into the middle of the action, but he actually chooses to pull The Midnight Mayor rank in relation to the “drug problem”. Needless to say, The Aldermen are not too happy with that – “It would be a shame for our latest Midnight Mayor to die starting a war he cannot win. After all you’ve only just started coming to the meetings”. We are introduced to the Minority Council – the Aldermen government body responsible for electing The Midnight Mayor – and we get answers as to why and how Matthew Swift, a dead sorcerer walking the earth together with the blue electric angels, ended up being one. The Council’s member, Richard Templeman, reluctantly agrees to help Swift take down the dusthouses where the drug is made. And that is when the real problems begin.

So yeah – this book features a lot of politics. But what struck me the most is the unexpected emotional turmoil the author put me through. I so should have expected that after the last book – and she did kill off another beloved character who could have been the perfect Midnight Mayor after Swift, but that’s not even the worst part. The Beggar King sums it up perfectly – “You’re a self-destructive infant with the power of a giant, but you’ve got respect for the little guy, for the f*ck-ups like yourself, and I like that”. This characterisation of Matthew Swift has caused me to tear up on a couple of occasions during certain moments. Most of the time though, I was too engrossed into the plot and too shocked by certain revelations to really cry, until I read the last line – “I sighed, shoved my hands in my pockets, bent my head down against the wind, and kept on walking”. The magic of London may not be real, but my emotions certainly were. Certainly are – it’s been three days, and I’m still experiencing a Matthew Swift hangover! And not just because of the plot and awesome characters. Magical London is an amazing setting, but my heart beat so hard when I was reading about the places I visited and fallen in love with time and time again. In this part of the series, it’s the Inns of Court, “a spacious lost world of paved courtyards, wind-tossed antique fountains, and cobbled streets, and of wide enclosed grounds with wrought-iron benches, gravel walks and perfect lawns”. Griffin is right – not many Londoners know about this little oasis in Central London. I, however, did visit it on several occasions when I was in law school, and it is absolutely stunning. Seriously, somebody should organise a Matthew Swift tour of London, finishing it off with a dinner featuring little cocktails sausages on sticks at a restaurant on Aldermanbury Square!

Of course, the book has its fair share of moments where I had to put it down and leave the room because I was laughing too hard. Sometimes, it was Swift’s sass, but most of the time, it was Penny, Dr Seah and Kelly. Who doesn’t love Penny, “sorceresss, ex-traffic warden, looking for the dream kick-ass job for a dream kick-ass girl”? She is the perfect best friend for Swift who can almost match his levels of sass. The Aldermen hate her for summoning the Death of the cities, which makes her even more awesome in Swift’s mine book. Also, Swift and Penny have my favourite literature-related argument – FRANKENSTEIN WAS THE DOCTOR NOT THE MONSTER! And I do love Penny’s take on it – “I can see how being called ‘Monster’ might’ve sucked – like kinda not leaving you many career options, is it?” Can Penny be my best friend already?! We even love doing the same things – “sitting in front of the TV, in a blanket, with the fire on, eating ice cream”.
Aaaaaaaaaaand I just realised Penny’s reason for doing that at that time. It’s been THREE DAYS Kate, stop crying already!
Lastly, I would just like to add that Penny Ngwenya, a badass sorceress, a kick-ass lady and practically Matthew Swift’s bodyguard, named a Tower of London raven Dave. How can you not love her?!

There’s also Dr Seah, a medical professional for the magical community with a peculiar relationship with the NHS. In every book, Swift ends up bruised and battered, but Dr Seah, albeit very reluctantly, patches him up. Not that he ever listens to her – “now, when I said ‘bed rest’, did you take this as, like, meaning the bed should get a rest, because I think we both know that wasn’t what I was getting at”. Oh that Matthew Swift… Although he does listen to her in this book when she says that bloodhounds “just can’t take their garam masala”. Yeah… I HATE hellhounds, psi-hounds, bloodhounds, etc. in literature and TV, but I sympathise with them in terms of garam masala.

And last but not least, we’ve got Kelly Shiring, the PA. Oh Kelly. How I love you. How you remind me of myself five years ago, at my first assistant job. Don’t let your undead sorcerer with a thing attached boss get you down! Swift’s reactions to Kelly’s… eagerness were hilarious, and I loved that she got her own backstory. I’ll always want Nabeela for the next Midnight Mayor, but give it a few years and Kelly will be perfect for it. She’s incredibly English in her appraoch, honest, determined and clearly knows what she’s doing. Her straightforward delivery matches Swift’s, but unlike him, she has no trace of meanness about her. She’s just that way.

It appears that I’m barely able to gather my thoughts to write a concise review for “TMC”. All I can say is – it is an amazing conclusion to the series, it introduces us to even more badass ladies and it will leave you inexplicably sated. That is, until you pick up the spinoff series, Magicians Anonymous. My rating for this installment is 8/10, but it is my firm belief that the entire series deserves at least a 9/10.

 

Favourite quotes

“Penny, I want you to be calm and mature about this, and not shout or anything, but I may have accidentally destroyed a dusthouse last night, and it could just be that a mafia boss who trades in narcotic substances for the magicaly inclined is going to try and kill me and everyone I’ve ever loved. Happily, everyone I’ve ever loved is either dead or absent at the moment, but, when he realises that, he may just go after everyone else in a fit of pique, and that, Penny, includes you”.

“It is always a sad reflection on us when one of our own turns out to be a murderer, a traitor, a torturer of innocents, a manipulator of men, a dust addict, a madman, and a danger to us all. I will be requesting a management review in the near future to discuss just how we managed to let ourselves be so utterly manipulated by a man who represents so much that is evil.”

“You’re the guy who summoned a creature that sucks the brains out of kids your own age, and can I just take this moment to say that while I’m not exactly grammar 101 guy myself, you suck.”

 

Dreamcast
Matthew Swift – Ben Whishaw
Penny Ngwenya – Naomie Harris
Kelly – Sophie Turner
Nabeela – Mona Zaki
Dr Seah – Laverne Cox
Richard Templeman – Stephen Fry
The Beggar King – Toby Stephens
Alan – Tom Felton

 

Recommendations
You would enjoy “Matthew Swift” if you liked:
“Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman” aka the whole reason I got into urban fantasy in the first place
“Peter Grant series” by Ben Aaronovitch
“The Dresden Files” by Jim Carey
“State of Play” – the TV series, not the movie – “TMC” made me remember how much I love it
“Sherlock, Doctor Who and Supernatural” – actually, “TMC” makes a cheeky reference to our favourite detective. I swear to The Beggar King, this series has NO FOURTH WALL.

 

That concludes my reviews of the “Matthew Swift” series. Go pick them up, guys – you won’t regret it.

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Book Review: The Neon Court (Matthew Swift Book 3) by Kate Griffin

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Warning: this review contains spoilers.

My reviews of the first two Matthew Swift books can be found here and here.

Two months have passed since Matthew Swift, against everyone’s wishes, became the Midnight Mayor of London. The job basically means that he has to guard and protect the city at all costs. Obviously, he is a busy man, what with London’s enemies to destroy, unstoppable darkness to drive back, the night of scary things to purge, and an apprentice, Penny, to train. So why would someone decide to summon him into an Inferno that is a burning building in the middle of Sidcup, South London? The answer is, as Oda very well knows, is that impending death has always produced Swift’s very best work. Yes, Oda was so desperate, and so afraid, that she summoned the very thing she considers to be an abomination. Somehow, against all odds, Matthew Swift believes that he managed to save her. What he doesn’t know, is that he’s just made things worse for everyone, most of all her. For one, a daimyo of an elite clan, The Neon Court, was murdered in the fire. Swift is obviously a suspect (what else is new) but The Aldermen have more pressing things to worry about than prosecute him. They need The Midnight Mayor because The Neon Court believes that another clan, The Tribe, had murdered the daimyo. And Lady Neon is coming to town. Which means war between the clans. And that wouldn’t end well for anybody involved.

Ah, if only the war were the only thing Swift had to deal with… It’s actually the least strange thing about this night. Yes, night. Because the sun is not coming up, and the boroughs of London are disappearing one by one, starting with Cockfosters, and nobody seems to remember them. The city is a mess – people’s schedules are confused, they’ve no idea what to do and they just end up falling asleep. London is immersed by one huge blackout. Well, Blackout with a capital B if Swift’s colleague Leslie Dees is to be believed. The spirit of Blackout is “the shadow at the end of the alley, the footsteps half heard in the night”. Blackout is what people fear when they say they fear the dark. He was defeated once by an old friend of Matthew’s, but now he’s returned. And he lives inside Oda, who is walking around with a hole in her heart and can now kill everyone who looks her in the eye. So yeah – Matthew, Leslie and Penny have more pressing things to worry about than some civil war. The problem is – how do they make Lady Neon and the Tribe listen to them? And who is this “chosen one” who supposedly has the power to stop Blackout and why do both sides want her?

After reading the prologue, I assumed that this was set up similarly to the first two instalments – as an urban noir where Matthew Swift is the reluctant hero who is at first believed by everyone to be the villain but at the end, he saves the day with a little help from his frenemies friends – be it life or a position in politics. And in a way, I wasn’t wrong. The entire series is renowned for its unconventionality in terms of characterisation and a flawless combination of urban London and the detective elements. However, “The Neon Court” takes “Matthew Swift” to a whole new level of unconventional, well-rounded and at times, disturbing. Yes, even more disturbing than “The Midnight Mayor”. The baddies in the latter gave me goosebumps, but they were more disconcerting than terrifying. The third book’s baddies (who are pretty much 80% of the characters) are not only disturbing, but downright scary! The main plot involving the uber-villain strongly reminded me of a Doctor Who episode of Tennant’s era. Not any particular one, just the plot has the overall feel of that particular arc. Add a dash of “Skyfall”, a spoonful of “Supernatural” and a pinch of Jack the Ripper who just shows up because a mediocre bad guy screwed things up for everyone, and you might just scrape the surface of the awesomeness of “The Neon Court”.

“A Madness of Angels” was London-centric.

“The Midnight Mayor” was Swift-centric.

“The Neon Court” is something else altogether. Matthew Swift may still be the narrator, but never before has he been such an unreliable one. Griffin has established him as such a very long time ago. What happens at a certain point in this book, however, makes him even worse off in that regard. I already gave out too many spoilers, so I’ll just say that “Dead is dead is dead” is the biggest lie in the “Matthew Swift” verse. In his own words, “getting him to share his brain with the dead echo of the guy that killed him” is not the best idea. Ha! And you thought that Swift and the angels was confusing and PTSD-inducing! Seriously, Matthew Swift needs therapy. Although Penny is pretty great too. Also, the readers themselves might also need therapy. While Griffin has been quite ruthless in the previous installments with the bloodshed and suchlike, in this book she has escalated to a, for the lack of a better word, sadist. And I thought Robin Hobb killed off a lot of characters!

Swift’s unreliableness is strengthened by the blue electric angels inside him, who are also a narrator, and arguably an even less reliable one. Even though by now the angels have more or less stopped being overwhelmed by the human world and them in and Matthew have reached some sort of a… congruence (well as well as they could considering), Swift still has only two modes – “diplomatically passive” and “apocalyptically destructive”. And unfortunately, this unique characterisation doesn’t allow them to be reliable narrators. But despite any frustrations I may have with their narrative, Griffin’s plot twists make up for literally all of them.

Well, all except one. The title of the book is quite misleading – it lets the reader believe that the clan of The Neon Court made up of “smug self-satisfied bastards” are the biggest plot point and source of conflict in this book. However, that is most certainly not the case. I am actually a little disappointed that Lady Neon, a character with a lot of potential, only appears twice or thrice throughout the book and she is never really explored as a villain. The only explanation I have for the title is that Griffin wanted to go along with the theme of an unreliable narrator and named the book “The Neon Court” as a red herring for the reader so as to make them believe that The Court are the most prominent villains in the story. If I were the author, I would’ve called it something like “The Missing Boroughs” or “The London Blackout”. That’s really my only issue with the writing, though. The book is still amazing, even though my favourite one so far is “The Midnight Mayor”.

What truly makes this book remarkable are the characters and relationships. “The Neon Court” is primarily about old and new villains and secondary characters. That’s not to say that our favourite Midnight Mayor is ignored or that London’s magic is underused, quite the contrary. The backstories we get for the characters, new and old, alive, dead or in-between, offer remarkable insight into them, as well as the answers to the question the readers have had since the prologue of “A Madness of Angels”. And those answers are startling as well as disturbing. It would take me another five paragraphs to explain Griffin’s complex weaving of backstories and character arcs into the noir plot of “The Neon Court”, and I’m happy to write them, but I think that my readers get that the book is an installment that’s in no way subpar to the two previous ones. My rating is 8/10.

Favourite quotes

The words; they’re alive. It’s a sky made out of words, big and bright and brilliant and alive”

“If the soul is immortal, and there is a destiny, and there is a God, I can’t imagine he’ll have nice things to say to me”

“There is no silence as dead as the sound of the engine stopping, no silence so complete as the city when the traffic stops moving. For chirruping country insects the city made human voices constant in the night; for the rustle of leaves and wind there were air vents in the sides of buildings; for the sound of mud underfoot, the clip clip clip of hard soles on tarmac. There should always be something, somewhere, making noise in the city”

Dreamcast

So since we found out a ton of information about characters in this installment, some of my dreamcasts mentioned in previous reviews are changing.

Matthew Swift – Ben Whishaw (no matter how much the guys on the covers look like Cumberbatch, he is much too dignified for Swift)

Robert Bakker – Derek Jacobi

Oda Ajaja – Freema Agyeman

Penny Ngwenya – Naomie Harris

JG – Nathalie Emmanuel

Lady Neon – Michelle Trachtenberg

Toxik – Michael Socha

Theydon – Oded Fehr

Leslie Dees – Judi Dench