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 Book of Lost Things” by John Connolly

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(Guys, I opened an Etsy charity shop! Check it out and help stop human trafficking!)

I love “Once Upon a Time” – there is no way around it. The concept of modernised and dark fairytales has always been fascinating to me, and the show’s characters fit in the setting perfectly. Once upon a time (get it? funny? no? okay?) my friend and I were talking about the show and she suggested “The Book of Lost Things” by John Connolly. Some of you may know him as a crime novelist, but this is his first (and hopefully not last) work of fantasy. In honour of tonight’s episode of OUAT, have my review of this wonderful story.

David is a young boy whose life is falling apart. His mother has just passed away, his father re-married way too soon after her death, and his new half-brother is taking up everyone’s attention. Fortunately, like so many of us have, he finds his solace in stories contained in books. Those books speak to him in the darkness as he takes refuge in the myths and fairytales his mother loved so much. Soon, however, David realises that there is something a lot more sinister behind the whispers he hears coming from his bookshelves high in his attic bedroom. The Crooked Man has come, with his mocking smile and his enigmatic words. And as the war rages across England and Europe, David is thrown into a world he has only read about in stories and seen in his dreams. But something is not right with it. The creatures in his beloved books did not all co-exist in the same place. The seven dwarves weren’t communists, the Big Bad Wolf definitely didn’t have human legs, and the trolls and harpies didn’t have any sort of rivarly. Soon, David comes to a terrifying realisation that the magical land is under attack, and he might not come home at all…

This has all the makings of a Neil Gaiman novel.

Recurring theme of loss of innocence? Check

Adults being creepy? Check

Worlds colliding? Check

However, while “The Book of Lost Things” may share common traits with “Coraline” and “The Ocean at the End of the Lane”, it is quite unique. Connolly himself has said that this book is very personal to him and he has always been interested in the themes such as overcoming of grief and loss and childhood trama’s transition into adulthood. The stories we are told as children, Connolly conveys in the book, play a very big role in growing up and dealing with loss and grief. David’s character development serves as the main illustration. He starts out as somewhat naive and, to an extent, bratty, with the way he treats his new stepmother, Rose, and his half-brother, George. However, the longer he spends in his imaginary world, the more he grows up and transforms into a brave, loving young man.

The obstacles David encounters on his journey are a testament to how amazing of a writer Connolly is. He may have borrowed them from fairytales, but the new spin he gave them in the book is a big reason why it is such a chilling, gripping read. For example, The Crooked Man a.k.a The Trickster (can you guess which famous fairytale character he is? Hint: it’s not Loki) is normally viewed as a mischievous prankster who makes a lot of deals and has questionable ethics. However, Connolly’s incarnation is a lot more terrifying. The Crooked Man hears children’s dreams because his habitat is the land of the imagination, which is where stories come from. He seeks children who are sad or angry, who have bad dreams, and he creates stories of his own, by way of cursing them and watching his creations unfold. Connolly uses The Crooked Man as an illustration of a childhood trauma that leads to that moment where a child becomes very aware of the reality he or she lives in. Something is lost in that moment – some call it innocence, but from reading Connolly’s interview at the end of the book, I gathered that he does not like the term because he cannot remember a point in his life when he was innocent. I must say I agree with that point of view. The concept of innocence is arguably more important to the parents who like to believe that they can protect their child from the evils of the world. This is why I struggle to call it a young adult book. I reckon that children and young adults would get very different messages from reading “The Book of Lost Things” and I believe that had I read it as a child, I probably would have cried even more at the end than I have when I finished reading it last week. Quite a few elements in the book are largely open to interpretation and every reader may draw their own conclusions from it. I think that that’s what makes a good book great, and I believe that it would not have been possible had Connolly not put a part of himself in David’s character and had not written this book from the heart.

Characters

The supporting characters are, like I said above, pretty great too, both good and bad. Let’s start with good:

Roland. I loved him! He was brave, smart and loving – the markings of a true hero. However, he was also burdened with the loss of his lover, Raphael, which gave him amazing, tear-jerking backstory and one of the factors that make his character so unbelievably tragic.

The Woodsman. He serves as another father figure to David at a couple of points in the story and arguably represents what David has wanted – to have his father “back”. Rose, his new stepmother, arguably serves as the “evil stepmother” in David’s story, even though she is not evil at all. The Woodsman’s backstory is only hinted at, but that’s what makes his character interesting. Upon David’s arrival to the other world, the Woodsman is attempting a diplomatic conversation with the Loups which are the offspring of Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf – they are half-wolves, half-people. If this doesn’t make you want to read the book, I feel sorry for you.

Now with the villains/morally ambiguous characters:

My favourite has to be the Huntress who is apparently based on a little-known fairytale called “The Three Amry-Surgeons”. She may not be as terrifying as The Crooked Man, but she comes pretty close. Her backstory is interesting, in a very bone-chilling way, and I was sorry that she only got one chapter. The gist is that she pulls a Frankenstein by sewing a child’s head to an animal’s body and sometimes, vice versa. Her motivations are questionable but she is a great character to read about.

The King. Excuse me why I shout “Best-written Plot Twist ever!” But seriously, no spoilers. His backstory is beautifully heart-breaking and his relationships with other characters, particularly The Crooked Man, deserve an analysis I am not equipped to give. With this, I conclude my ramblings on the subject of wonderfully crafted characters.

The title “The Book of Lost Things” is quite clever too – on the one hand, it refers to a particular plot point, but on the other, it can be argued to embody the things we have lost while growing up and the stories we loved as kids that we have forgotten. John Connolly does a fantastic job of making us look back and reminding ourselves of the stories we have loved so much when we were young. Stories are important and should never be forgotten, for they stay with us forever.

So I would like to thank John Connolly for reminding me of that. Never stop reading, friends. Particularly, never stop reading books like “The Book of Lost Things” which I have rated 9.5/10.

Favourite quotes

“The stories were always looking for a way to be told, to be brought to life through books and readings. That was how they crossed over from their world into ours”. 

“He would talk to them about stories and books and explain to them how stories wanted to be told and books wanted to be read and how everything that they ever needed to know about life and the land of which he wrote, or about any land or realm that they could imagine, was contained in books.”

Dreamcast

David – Daniel Huttlestone

The Crooked Man – Robert Carlyle (no prizes for guessing why)

The Huntress – Freema Agyeman

The Woodsman – Iain Glen

Roland – Rob James-Collier

Alternatively, everyone from Once Upon a Time in their respective roles (although Charming might have to play Roland in that case)

Recommendations

You will like “The Book of Lost Things” if you liked:

“The Child Thief” by Brom

“Coraline”, “Stardust”, “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” and other books by Neil Gaiman

“The Neverending Story” by Michael Ende

Once Upon a Time (duh) – enjoy tonight’s episode everybody!

Book Review: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

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Gaiman is my close friend’s favourite author, and he also wrote the book on which one of my favourite films is based (Stardust), as well as two fantastic Doctor Who episodes, so I decided to check out “Neverwhere”.

If I am honest, I don’t particularly like sorting books into genres because most of them come under a few different kinds of genres (A Song of Ice and Fire, I am looking at you). “Neverwhere” is one of those books – the closest label I can think for it is “urban fantasy”, but it can also come under YA as well as sci-fi and horror. The protagonist, Richard, is your average Joe, a Scotsman with a decent job in London and a beautiful fiancee, but his whole world is turned upside down the day he meets Door – a young, injured girl who talks about the strangest things and even stranger things are happening around her. The issue is that she is from London Below – a whole different community that literally exists below the London that we know. The prominent members of the community are rats and their Lord, pigeons, assassins, and of course, The Beast. Unfortunately, one cannot live in both London Above and London Below, which Richard soon finds out. After his old life virtually falls apart in front of him, he realises he has to find Door again, which he does. The next part of the book is Door, Richard, Hunter the bodyguard and Marquis de Carabas travelling through London Below looking for answers about the assassination of Door’s family and other things. The whole time, they are hunted by two absolutely terrifying assassins who are after Door.

This is one of the most unusual books I’ve ever read. It’s not for everyone, but if you appreciate a writer with a lot of imagination who writes relatable characters in a fantasy setting, you should definitely give it a try. It’s not very long, but Gaiman writes London Below so well you feel like you are completely immersed in it. It’s very fast-paced, and the POVs occasionally switch, which is necessary for the plot. Richard’s POV is obviously central, but I also loved reading from the assassins’ POV – very chilling! The characters are really well-written, especially Richard, Door, Hunter and the villain (won’t say who, but I’m looking forward to downloading the radio play where he is read by Benedict Cumberbatch). Gaiman’s writing style is quite easy to get into, and although there are quite a few desciptions featured, they are not at all overwhelming. Overall, I’d give it an 8.5/10

Favourite character:

Marquis – he’s just badass

Most relatable character:

Richard I guess – although I’d most likely be having a much stronger reaction if I ended up in his situation!

Character who gets the most development: 

Richard of course!

Least favourite character:

I don’t.. really have any characters that I dislike? All of them are so well-written. Although, if I had to answer, I’d say Lamia – simply because snakes terrify me.

Favourite relationship:

Richard and Door – I loved their dynamics in the book, especially how much he has grown to care about her and how she is so protective of him. However, I must admit that while I enjoyed watching Laura Fraser as Door in the BBC series, she felt a bit too “adult” for Door whom I’ve always pictured as a somewhat innocent teenager. Especially the ending of the series – I never even thought of thinking of Richard and Door as romantically involved when I read the book, but the ending kinda made me, and I felt that that was an unnecessary deviation from the premise of the book.

Favourite quote: 

“The price of getting what you want is getting what once you wanted.”

Dreamcast

Door: Sophie Turner (she just has to be ginger)

Richard: Christopher Eccleston/James McAvoy

Jessica: Hayley Atwell

Marquis: Nonso Anozie/Paterson Joseph

Hunter: Tanya Moodie

Mr Croup: Hywel Bennett

Mr Vandermaar: Tom Hiddleston/Clive Russell

Recommendations:

You might like “Neverwhere” if you liked:

– The Discworld series by Terry Pratchett

– The Angel’s Game, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

– “Neverwhere” 1996 BBC series and the radio adaptation

(Source of the photo: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/14501.Neverwhere)