I am a big fan of Kate Griffin’s MATTHEW SWIFT books. I think her love of London; the majestic, the beautiful, the historic, the grungy, the run-down and the shoddy, powers those books, as does a system of magic that grown organically from the city (or, as Swift puts it, “Life is magic.”) With Stray Souls, Griffin introduces another character and what appears to second series set in the same magical universe; the MAGICALS ANONYMOUS series.
Sharon Li is twenty-two. She is a barista in a coffee shop and shares a flat with three flat-mates. She is addicted to self-help books, but lately she’s had a few experiences that go beyond the Change-your-mind-change-your-life kind of thing — like, she can walk through walls. Sharon does what anyone would do in this situation; she forms a group on Facebook. Soon the Facebook group evolves into a real support group, with a meeting space, folding chairs, and tea and biscuits. Intuitively, although she doesn’t realize it, Sharon has created a tribe, and this is good, because Sharon, although she doesn’t realize this yet either, is a shaman, and a shaman must have a tribe.
Meanwhile, something with claws, something that howls, is killing people in London. More seriously, from the point of view of the Midnight Mayor, the souls of places are going missing, and some of the city’s archetypes have vanished, including Greydawn, Our Lady of 4:00 a.m. Swift has his hands full pursuing the howling thing and trying to stay ahead of the “four most dangerous killers” in the world. In spite of this, he sees Sharon as a useful ally — or tool — in this operation, and sends a mentor her way. Sammy the Elbow, a goblin with a bad attitude, is the second best shaman (or maybe third best, it’s debatable) in history, and he reluctantly takes on Sharon as an apprentice.
It’s nice to get a chance to see Swift, London’s protector, the night guardian and the Midnight Mayor, from the perspective of other characters. He is just as scruffy and strange as we thought. The blue electric angels are still around, of course, and Swift’s frighteningly perky personal assistant Kelly. His own apprentice, Penny, is conspicuously absent from this book.
Griffin is traipsing into Discworld territory here, presumably intentionally. While the underlying story is very dark, the dithering over chairs and biscuits feel very much like one of the Night Watch books. Sammy the Elbow could probably join the Night Watch right now, as a matter of fact. I enjoy the Discworld books very much; I like Kate Griffin a lot, but I’m not happy about her consciously copying so much of Pratchett’s particular brand of humor. The short chapters that are mostly individuals who are speaking at Magicals Anonymous are distracting, chopping up the flow of the story, although the passage from Greydawn’s companion, which is just one word repeated, is poignant.
Despite these complaints I still enjoy Griffin’s view of magical London, and, personally, it’s hard for me to hate any book that has evil, soulless bankers as the villains. As always, there’s a pointed bit of humor in almost every big speech the characters give, like this one Rhys, the almost-druid who suffers from allergies, gives to the villain near the end:
“I’m a druid of nearly the first circle,” he hissed. “I was almost the leader of my peers, practically the chosen one. I didn’t quite summon the essence of the waterways from beneath the city streets, nearly brought forth the glory of the heavens, was almost on time for a conversation with the whispering dryads of the thousand and one lamp-posts, and was only a few words away sealing up the nether gate across the rotting railway tracks. You should maybe fear me, perhaps.”
The phrase “practically the chosen one” should win Griffin some kind of award. These books still entertain me, and still transport me. It will be interesting to see what Griffin does with this series.
Matthew Swift — (2009-2012) Publisher: For Matthew Swift, today is not like any other day. It is the day on which he returns to life. Two years after his untimely death, Matthew Swift finds himself breathing once again, lying in bed in his London home. Except that it’s no longer his bed, or his home. And the last time this sorcerer was seen alive, an unknown assailant had gouged a hole so deep in his chest that his death was irrefutable… despite his body never being found. He doesn’t have long to mull over his resurrection though, or the changes that have been wrought upon him. His only concern now is vengeance. Vengeance upon his monstrous killer and vengeance upon the one who brought him back.
Magicals Anonymous — (2012-2013) Set in the same world as MATTHEW SWIFT. Publisher: Sharon Li has just discovered she’s a shaman. And just in time: London’s soul has gone missing. If anyone can solve the mystery and rescue the dying city, she can, but she’ll need help-from the support group she’s just set up for people with magical issues. Among them are a vampire who is O, a druid who suffers from allergies and a lack of confidence, and a banshee looking for an evening class in impressionist art. Now, this motley crew must find a way to save the world ….