Matthew Swift, Midnight Mayor, has a tendency to begin his adventures by being dropped in the shit without a paddle; for once, the shit is something he kind of brings into his life of his own accord. After a one-night stand with a sorcerously inclined woman he meets on the Thames, a woman with powers to reach further into the past of the city than anyone ought to go, he gets a call for help and follows her trail right into a war with a drug ring — peddlers of fairy dust, a deadly narcotic made for magicians. At the same time, while settling further into his role as the city’s supernatural protector, he sees a woman turned away by the Aldermen while seeking the Midnight Mayor, and his curiosity takes him into an investigation on a series of soul-stripping attacks against London’s miscreant youth, and on the corruption buried at the heart of the Aldermen.
Kate Griffin’s Matthew Swift novels have rapidly become some of my favourites in the urban fantasy field. The Minority Council is a bit of a change of pace. Matthew began the series as the lone wolf hunting his hunters, and although he’s grown in power and support since then, his solitary nature tends to win through. Here he’s more deeply entrenched in his role as Mayor — he even has an unbelievably perky PA, unbelievable to him most of all — and the structure of the Aldermen, and the nature of the relationship between them and the Midnight Mayor, is an integral part of the story. It was an inevitable direction for the series to take, but the result is a story that feels like it’s having a bit of an identity crisis. Matthew is starting to feel too disconnected from his humble street beginnings to be the right person to keep telling this tale, which it pains me a little to say, because I have really, truly enjoyed Matthew as a character.
In The Neon Court, Griffin did a fabulous job in weaving two very different strands of story together. The Minority Council has the same divided focus, but when the time comes to bring the two parts into a whole, the resultant pacing is very stop-start. One of the book’s most anti-climactic moments is when a significant segment of the story is resolved off-screen, including the death of a major character, and is then related to Matthew in a giant chunk of exposition that doesn’t even properly honour the voice of the character relating it. I’ve always enjoyed the series’ interludes, but they are usually used to provide background detail and additional character development, not to tie up big chunks of plot.
The series has always a high death toll and I’ve never had a problem with that, as I prefer authors who don’t pull their punches, but in this entry it gets excessive enough to be distasteful. Being a woman in Matthew’s world has a pretty high chance of coming with a death penalty. The deaths here don’t feel earned like, say, Dees’ did; one, in particular, is really nothing more than grist for Matthew’s wheel of angst, a lazy way to motivate him to chase the plot hook.
These have always been books with a sense of humour, and much like every other aspect of the series, that sense of humour is wonderfully evocative of London and its people. There are some great moments in The Minority Council that continue to capture that feel — garam masala, anyone? — but at times it’s trying a little too hard. Matthew’s new PA, for instance, is simply too much; she has all of the camp of Dr. Seah, but none of the charm, and far too much page count.
For all my criticisms, the book still has moments of brilliance that elevate it beyond the sea of urban fantasy novels out there and remind me of why this series is so compelling. The best such moment is a tense, masterful revelation of what the blue electric angels look like unchained and unchecked, and why some of Matthew’s opponents may be right that no one should be allowed to wield their power.
If I hadn’t enjoyed the first few books so much, I don’t think I would be quite as hard on this one. Griffin still puts so many of her urban fantasy peers to shame. This is a step down after the magnificence of The Neon Court, though. The fact that the story is hereafter continued in a series with a different main character — briefly hinted at here in a throwaway line — suggests that it may indeed be time to let Matthew Swift go. I hope the Magicals Anonymous books will revitalise Griffin’s sorcerous London.