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.

Book Review: A Madness of Angels (Matthew Swift Book 1) by Kate Griffin

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

Warning: this review contains spoilers

What if every surface of the London as you know it is impregnated with magic? What if the urban legends about the Bag Lady, the Litterbugs with a purpose, direction and intent, and the Seven Sisters are not legends at all? And what if you’re a powerful sorcerer, whose power comes from the magic of urban life such as tube stations and graffiti, and who just happens to be dead?

Except you are, apparently, not.

Matthew Swift wakes up one morning in his bedroom in London. Nothing wrong with that picture, right? Except Matthew Swift has been murdered two years ago. And as far as he is concerned, Matthew Swift has always been the only thing inside his body. Until now. Thousands, if not millions of beings are the “we” now. We are me and I am us. Who are they?

The answer is, that they are angels. Except they are as far removed from Gabriel, Michael and other Biblical entities as can be. They are the thoughts we leave behind after we hang up the phone. They are the feelings we forget, the voices lost in interference, the surplus of magic lost across the wires and cables across the world. They are the product of humanity that began as a rogue piece of static and over the years, fed on all the life being thrown at them – telephone conversations, radio broadcasts, e-mails – that unique magic made them take a life of its own as blue electric angels. And now, all those angels are trapped in Matthew Swift’s body.

Swift has been murdered by an unknown horror known as The Shadow, which just happens to have a face of his old mentor Robert Bakker, a broken man who’s been looking for a way to get to the angels for a very long time. When Swift is resurrected, there is only one thing on his mind – revenge. Fortunately (or unfortunately), there are certain concerned citizens who want Bakker dead and his organisation, The Tower, destroyed. To do so, this group of warlocks, wizards, magicians, weremen and other magical beings recruits Swift and tasks him with killing Bakker. The pursuit of his revenge involves pranking large corporations, fighting shadows, recruiting The Beggar King and the Whites, an underground clan, and entering into a very reluctant alliance with a religious order that hates the angels. What exactly happened the night Matthew Swift died? Who or what exactly is The Shadow? And how is Matthew Swift alive?

Urban fantasy can make a traveller squeal when describing the magic of places they have been to. I am certain that London is one of my favourite places on Earth, which is a big reason why I loved Gaiman’s “Neverwhere”. “A Madness of Angels” treats London the same way – except in the Matthew Swift ‘verse, the city is literally the source of all kinds of magic. And there are so many ways magic can be drawn from it. The deepest, darkest secrets of London are the magic that is pulsing all over the place. The abandoned tube stations, the graffiti that can tell you the way to an entrace to a secret society and of course, the surplus of electric impulses infused with essence of humans that makes an angel are only a few of many aspects of the book that would make any urban fantasy lover’s heart swell. Really, the descriptions of magic in different cities, some of which I’ve been to, were one of my favourite bits of the novel – “In Madrid, the shadows are waiting at every corner to whisper their histories in your ear when you walk at night. In Beijing the sense of it was a prickling heat on the skin, like the wind had been broken down into a thousand pieces, and each part carried some warmth from another place, and brushed against your skin, like a furry cat calling for your attention”. Mrs Griffin, you’re making me nostalgic!

The main character, Matthew Swift, died while on the phone and as a result, the angels entered into a symbiotic relationship with him. They are reluctant to call it “possession” because it’s “more complicated than that”. Since this is the first time angels are experiencing life as a non-celestial, corporeal entity, they are overwhelmed, confused and fascinated. For them, life is magic in a “more mundane sense of the word; the act of living being magic all of its own”. Swift and the angels are written as one and the same, but there are constant switches between first person singular and first person plural narrator – at first, it is unclear as to why this is done, but if a reader is immersed and invested, it makes for an interesting literary device. Obviously, as Swift approaches the end of his pursuit, an internal conflict begins to form. It wasn’t prominent before because both Swift and the angels were too overwhelmed by the sudden issue of… well, being alive, but the reader begins to see a type of cognitive dissonance between the narrators. The sassy English nurse (not unlike Claire Beuchamp of Outlander) begins to bring that out in him – “Mr Swift, did you bother to consider some of the medical implications of being injured by a creature of pure darkness before you rashly engaged it in mortal combat? I doubt it. Young people never do.”  This is where the lines established by the narrators between themselves arguably begin to blur and he begins to realise that “life is magic and magic is not life”. This phrase can be suggested to be the primary lesson/theme/idea of the novel, or perhaps even the entire series (I’ll start reading the next book ASAP by the way), and is the source of many conflicts in the novel – the internal conflict of Swift and the angels, as well as his conflict with Bakker and some others.

Swift’s backstory is revealed in an interlude while he is interrogated by a religious order. The entire novel is split into three parts and two interludes, no chapters. Admittedly, that does make it harder to follow. And to be fair, this is not the book that can be just “consumed” or read while you’re doing something else. This novel requires concentration and full immersion into the magical London. That wasn’t an issue for me, but I can see how it would be for some people. Griffin’s writing did sometimes feel like an attempt at “purple prose” – and for me, it worked (and the book is very quotable as a result), but only when she was elaborating on the atmosphere and the setting. Some pages were just one lengthy paragraph, which was a bit of a turn-off. However, with the exception of the very beginning and just before the ending, it wasn’t a problem. Nevertheless, if I were the author, I wouldn’t have started this book with a lengthy description and an info-dump – it can be rather off-putting. None of the faults with the writing and/or the story prevent me, however, from giving “A Madness of Angels” a rating of 8/10. 

Favourite character

It can honestly be said that London is the central character of the novel. This sort of thing has been done with “Sherlock”, but unlike “Matthew Swift”, the story in the TV series revolves primarily around characters. In this book, however, the capital of the United Kingdom steals the glory – Kate Griffin (also known as Catherine Webb) is clearly a London aficionado like myself and is not afraid to show it. The plot is not too complex – revenge stories are rather common, as are the tropes of religious fanatics and several rivals banding together to overthrow a villain – and the side characters have more potential than explored in this installment of the series, so it is fair to say that the city (including The City) of London is both a setting and a player in the novel. This book does have many traces of typical “Englishness”, including the emotionless, deadpan reactions and pure sass in the dialogue. I do love that kind of thing!

Favourite quotes

To send your soul across the infinite void faster than the blink of the mind dreaming in the moonlight, please press hash now”.

“Some ideas are more than just random moments of good inspiration. Some ideas become real whether you mean them or not”.

“Men in bandages feel so righteous it’s almost unbearable. Not having period pains every month gives them a whole superiority complex, but when they’re in bandages they just want to be loved”.

Dreamcast

Matthew Swift – Benedict Cumberbatch. And I’m not being serendipitous because of Neverwhere – he literally has the perfect eyes for the part. And honestly – this cover really reminds me of Khan!

Robert Bakker – Derek Jacobi

Sinclair – Geoffrey Rush

Oda – Freema Agyeman

Dana – Lucy Fry

Recommendations

The Matthew Swift series are for you if you enjoyed:

“Neverwhere” by Neil Gaiman

“Rivers of London” by Ben Aaronovitch

“Supernatural”, “Doctor Who” and “Sherlock” – also known as “Superwholock”