Sunday, 1 April 2012

Review | The Minority Council - Kate Griffin

The fourth novel of Urban Magic; The Minority Council features Matthew Swift in one of his less usual scrapes- okay, who am I kidding? I don't think there is a usual in this particular series of urban fantasies - which make Neverwhere look tame. But in The Minority Council, Griffin finally deals with an underlying subplot of the series: the Aldermen.

Matthew Swift is Midnight Mayor - arcane protector of London, and ostensibly served by the Aldermen (rather more deadly than their daytime counterparts). In practice? It doesn't work out quite like that. The Aldermen are obstructive - and the have no incentive to trust a leader who's partly what they're sworn to protect the city from. Meanwhile, there's a new and deadly drug for magicians on the streets - and Matthew's just declared war against it. Not to mention an insect that's been eating the minds of antisocial youths...

Reading The Minority Council right after my reread of the series' first novel, A Madness of Angels, is an interesting contrast. The first novel has hook and concept: but to read this fourth novel is to see Griffin as a writer at the very top of her craft. At this stage, it's clear that she knows what works: and, as readers, we get just what we want. But if you're read the series' earlier novels, don't be concerned that the aspects you enjoyed have gone - they haven't. And naturally, Matthew makes a similarly cool boast regarding his identity...

The Minority Council deseves a lot of credit for bringing continuity to the fore. While the other novels in the series have been connected, the dilemmas have largely been isolated. Here, that's different: one of the problems Swift has to deal with is the Aldermen - a possibility that's been built up in previous novels. And there are more clues towards an underlying narrative - including retroactively (without spoiling things, the events of The Midnight Mayor get an alternative context...).It's a nice thing to see develop in this series.

In my review of the previous novel, I had concerns that the series could be developing a pattern - a mould; a formula - call it what you will, anything that defies unpredictability isn't such a fun thing in fantasy. Well - those concerns are gone. The Minority Council brings new magic, new enemies, and mostly, new developments: and new opportunities for Swift to dive into trouble, then dig himself out in fantastically inventive ways. For those who don't know the series, its magic runs on the simple premise that 'life is magic': so everyday urban rituals acquire mystical significance. So Swift's spells run from the use of a red light as a shield to the magic of the blue electric angels, entities created from leftover life poured into the telephone system... (Which if you think about it, is quite a lot) It leaves the system endlessly inventive, yet not rife to deus-ex-machina - it's all based on the weirdly familiar. (Though you'll get more from it if you know London - or at least Britain) Which makes them a lot of fun - and that hasn't changed. Indeed, they're ramped up considerably from The Neon Court.

The Minority Council does have its flaws - but they're minor. Swift's narration sounds fantastic in first person, but when some of his phrasings are put into Penny's mouth.... Well, the mysticality sounds a little out of place - and silly. Thankfully, though, the series has also picked up another strong female character - hopefully a surviving one.

An enjoyably dark ride through the streets of a London weirder even than Neverwhere, The Minority Council shows the series keeps fresh even into its fourth novel. The Minority Council is a polished work by a writer at the top of her craft: and an unconventional protagonist - as well as a healthy dose of the weirdest UF magic I've seen - helps to cement that. If you've read the first three novels, there's no question you'll enjoy this one. And if you haven't? Well, they're highly recommended.

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