Warning: this review contains spoilers.
My review of the first book in the series can be found here.
Our favourite resurrected sorcerer Matthew Swift isn’t having such a swell time lately. Not only has he entered a symbiotic relationship with every single blue electric angel of London, but somebody attacked him when he picked up a phone. Again! It appears that his late seer friend was right when he said: “You’re, like, gonna die. It’s after when it gets complicated”.
As he chases his attacker while wearing someone else’s shoes for a very good reason, as we learn later, Matthew witnesses a murder of the Mayor of London. No, not the Mayor of London everyone knows. The other Mayor. The Midnight Mayor. And that’s when things get REALLY complicated. Firsly, Matthew Swift doesn’t even believe in the Midnight Mayor. Secondly, the Aldermen show up to interrupt his recovery. The Aldermen only come out at night whenever it is necessary to ensure London’s safety. They serve the Midnight Mayor. And naturally, they suspect Matthew Swift as the murderer. However, as Swift conducts his own investigation, he learns that the Mayor’s death is the least of the evils London is facing. The ravens in the Tower of London are dead. The London Stone is gone. The London Wall is defaced. And it is up to Matthew Swift to protect London from the invoked curse. A curse of five words that seem to be all over London. “Give Me Back My Hat“.
Finding the villain in question is the easy part – Death of the Cities makes Matthew Swift’s bloods (both red and blue) run cold. The tricky part is to figure out who brought Him into London. Whose hat was stolen? And what do Matthew Swift’s borrowed shoes have to do with anything?
Poor Matthew Swift doesn’t even get the option to leave it all to the Aldermen or the “mystic forces”.
Why is that?
Because he is the new Midnight Mayor. And no-one’s happy.
I was very pleased to learn that “The Midnight Mayor” doesn’t suffer from a second-book curse (unlike London). In fact, I enjoyed it even more than “A Madness of Angels”. Whether it was because I got to know the world built by Kate Griffin in the first book and was overjoyed to learn even more about it in “The Midnight Mayor”, or because this installment’s descriptions were worded better and different sides of Swift’s character were shown, this book felt like a rich, decadent chocolate cake one loves so much. However, while the first book was certainly rich in the “chocolate” elements (descriptions and world-building), in “The Midnight Mayor” the author adds a dash of “ginger” – action scenes are more gritty and much more disturbing, and a pinch of “red velvet” – emotions. While I considered the main character of “A Madness of Angels” to be London, the sequel is more Matthew Swift-centric. We are shown that the sorcerer and the angels are as “human” as us. This is demonstrated in his fear of The Aldermen and Death of Cities. To be fair, we all would be afraid of a guy who bleeds paper, can’t be killed and quite literally feasts on “the fall of walls, on the shattering of roofs, on the breaking of the street, the bursting of the pipies, the snapping of the wires, the running of the people”. From the way the book ends, it is apparent that he’s going to be the Moriarty to Matthew’s Holmes. And don’t worry – not once did Swift lose his determination to sass everybody!
Penny and Oda are only two of the awesome supporting characters of the series. I’ve mentioned that Griffin is very good at writing them in my review of “A Madness of Angels”, and I stand by what I said. Not only does the supporting cast have great backstories (to reveal them would be very spoilery at this point), but they are incredibly diverse. We have two black ladies – a religious assassin who greets Swift with a “One day I’ll kill you” every time she sees him, and a woman who holds the future of the city in her hand (metaphorically speaking). We have a badass leader of the Whites, a “rag-tag formation of egoists, magicians, artists and all-purpose mystic dabblers, donating to a common union”, a lady whom we’ve met in the first book and whom I was really happy to see again. And last, but not least, we have an amazing, multi-dimensional (in every sense) protagonist who is canonically asexual. The lack of romance in this book works really well.
However, the focus character development does not mean that the worldbuiling in “The Midnight Mayor” is put on hold. Griffin, quite masterfully, interwines the elements of London’s urban magic with Matthew’s adventures and character growth. Take The Midnight Mayor and the Aldermen, for instance. Before he became one, Swift didn’t even believe that The Midnight Mayor existed. Now he’s working with the people he loathes which are both a big part of the magical London and a plot device that drives Swift to act in certain ways. He describes them as “protectors of the stones, the memory and the riches and the buildings of the city, but not the people”. This is one of the conflicts of the story – Matthew Swift, both as a Mayor and a person, protects the people first, as we see by the end of the book with Penny, as well as with Oda who has been his frenemy from Book 1. Another conflict emerges from the protagonist’s ongoing “Swift vs angels” internal battle and the idea of who The Midnight Mayor is supposed to be. The concept comes from an understanding that “London is an antheap” and “we are insignificant” and dependent on the “bricks and stones of London“. The Aldermen are trained to think that way, and The Midnight Mayor always comes from the Aldermen for that very reason. Enter Matthew Swift, a sorcerer and the angels who are obsessed with life and consider it the best magic of all. Swift and Angels are megalomaniacs in that way. “Life is magic” doesn’t bode well with the concept, the idea of The Midnight Mayor, protector of the City. This conflict causes a lot of tension between Swift and Aldermen, culminating in them reluctantly working together towards a common goal. But as you can probably guess, it does not end well.
The writing, like I mentioned earlier, is as decadent, and quotable as the first book (see “Favourite quotes” for a sneak peek at the gems). Griffin, while being a very good character and plot writer, is something else entirely when it comes to atmospheric writing. Through the eyes of Swift and the Angels, we see the London we haven’t seen before. You may have thought you’ve gotten enough of it in the rich first installment, but the sequel just makes you crave more and more. But even with all the magic, you never forget that the setting is England. Seriously – this book is incredibly English. A few examples include a murder by a tea kettle after offering the victim a cuppa, Swift almost drowning in a cauldron of three-thousand-year-old tea, and not asking strangers their business when waiting for the bus. Matthew Swift even knows that when London Underground isn’t telling you when the next train is due, you can usually assume it’s bad news.
Kate Griffin knows the significance of every detail and, while it does sometime result in wordy, several pages long descriptions, it really gives you an insight into the magical London. My favourite aspect has to be the dragon. Well – what Swift sees as a dragon. Domine digire nos. The dragon is the protector of London, whom we meet in the first book. In “The Midnight Mayor”, we learn that “dragon” is a representation of London as a whole, a way for “mortals to understand something too big for the brain“. Dragon is just the form it takes, and when Swift meets it, he understands that while life may be magic, the city of London is much bigger than any mortal, even him. The Midnight Mayor doesn’t keep a dragon – the dragon keeps him. Although how he gets away with calling the dragon “Fido” is beyond me.
As I said above, the sequel to “A Madness of Angels” contains all the great things from the first installment, but it doesn’t end there. It is delicious. However, too much of a good thing is not always the best thing involved. My advice is to not binge on the Matthew Swift series over the weekend – not only is that practically impossible since the books are massive, but like with any rich chocolate gateau, they are best enjoyed in moderation. Which is why I’m taking a short break from reading them for now. I could probably write several more paragraphs about relationships in this book, but you’re probably bored by now! So I’ll conclude this review by rating “The Midnight Mayor” 8.5/10.
“You are nothing more than a 01010101001 in a computer! Jesus Christ, if that isnt the definition of so dead you could drop it down a pyramid for a party then I don’t know what is!”
“Am I really dead?”
“You got shot and turned into a puddle of paint.”
“That’s not normal corpselike behaviour.”
“If you weren’t such a pustulent testicle with it, I’d almost feel sorry for electrocuting you”.
“The world, this living world is so full of incident, strangeness, experience, event, happening so busy and so fast, that it’s a wonder you mortals don’t go mad”.
Matthew Swift – Benedict Cumberbatch
Dudley Sinclair – Geoffrey Rush
Oda – Freema Agyeman
Penny Ngwenya – Noma Dumezweni
Vera – Helen McCrory
Anissina – Aubrey Plaza
Mr Earle – Gary Oldman
Mr Pinner – Michael Gambon