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A Madness Of Angels by Kate Griffin

01/04/2012. Contributed by Pauline Morgan

Buy A Madness Of Angels in the USA - or Buy A Madness Of Angels in the UK

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pub: Orbit. 471 page small enlarged paperback. Price: GBP 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84149-733-4.

check out websites: www.orbitbooks.net and www.kategriffin.net

Some readers and writers have problems with the difference between archetypes and stereotypes. Too many books get criticised because characters are perceived to be stereotypes. By this they mean that they are like carbon copies of characters that have appeared in other novels and in most cases they are right. After all, the word ‘stereotype’ was originally a printers’ term. But, like the cliché, there had to be an original to be copied. Very few wonder where the original phrase that has been overused into a cliché came from. Tracing it back to its roots can be a difficult task. Similarly, few question where the archetype, the original that the stereotype copies, came from. Among other things, including telling a cracking good story, Kate Griffin is exploring the origin of archetypes.

As ‘A Madness Of Angels’ opens, Matthew Swift wakes up naked on the floor of his bedroom. Except that it isn’t his bedroom any more. He died and his body disappeared two years previously. Matthew Swift is not alone in his head. The reader is immediately plunged into mystery, not just of a dead man returning to life but the confusion that is so well conveyed by the use of ‘we’ or ‘I’. Actions tend to be singular, observations plural.

Even before his death, Swift was not an ordinary person. He was a sorcerer. Gradually, it emerges that, even from childhood, he could hear voices in the telephone system even when lines were not connected. These are the blue electric angels, a new archetype that has developed with the advance of technology. The angels are sentient and formed from all those snatches of conversation that never reached the receivers they were aimed at, snippets of thought that filtered into the system, got lost and aggregated over the years. For two years, Swift has been travelling the wires with the angels. Now he is back in the real world, the angels are with him and trying to make sense of an environment where their host has autonomy and there is smell, taste, touch and bodily functions like hunger to deal with, all of which are alien to the angels.

The angels have their own agenda. So has Swift. Trying to track down his old friends amongst the sorcerous underworld of London, he finds that most of them are dead. He now needs to find out who originally killed him, why and who is controlling the monster he dubs the Hunger that is now hunting him and other sorcerers in the city.

Like the electric blue angels, which are a relatively new phenomenon, the underworld is populated with other archetypes such as the Bag Lady and the Beggar King. Again, these are entities that have accumulated and gained substance from ideas and fragments left behind so that effectively, the archetype of the Bag Lady contains parts of all those that have gone before. Her trolley contains everything that might possibly have been collected on the street.

As Swift hunts for answers, he becomes the focus of a magical war that rages in and under the streets culminating in a disused telephone exchange.

This is a London steeped in magic. It has similarities to China Miéville’s novel, ‘Kraken’ (2010), in that the magic is part of the City, but Griffin uses it in very different ways. Most of us never know that it is there, but it holds society together. As a first novel in a series, this is an extremely accomplished introduction to Matthew Swift and the world he walks in.

Pauline Morgan

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