The Midnight Mayor by Kate Griffin (book review).

January 31, 2013 | By | Reply More

For too many readers these days, the term ‘Urban Fantasy’ conjures up visions of vampires rampaging around the dark streets of a city. They own nightclubs and are dangerously romantic. There may be the odd werewolf lurking in the shadows. Fortunately, most of these creatures inhabit American imaginations though there are some British escapees, such as Suzanne McLeod’s ‘Spellcracker’ series, which is set in London. There the city is peopled with all kinds of mythical creatures but, although the main character does get into life-threatening situations, it feels light and fluffy when compared to the dark underbelly of the city that lies at the heart of Kate Griffin’s creation.

TheMidnightMayor

In ‘A Madness Of Angels’, the previous novel to this, we were introduced to Matthew Swift. He was a sorcerer who died before the action in that book started. He was resurrected by the Blue Electric Angels. The premise behind all the events in this series is that magic is life and life is magic. Thus where people live and have lived there will be magic. Some people are able to manipulate it. The Blue Electric Angels were created in the wires of telephones from all the unspoken parts of conversations, the sighs, the residues of emotions and the whispers in the wires. Now they live in Matthew Swift. Even he doesn’t know where he ends and they begin but where there is electricity, there is power that he can use.

Most of what happens in London to keep the city safe for ordinary mortals is under the radar of most of us. Like the truth that we are never more than ten feet away from a rat, we are never more than a few heartbeats away from magical catastrophe.

At the start of ‘The Midnight Mayor’, Swift is dumped straight into a situation he doesn’t understand. He regains consciousness in the rain in Willesden with the last thing he remembers is answering the telephone. Now he is cold, wet, disorientated and his hand hurts and is wearing shoes that do not belong to him.

While Boris Johnson may be the daytime Mayor of London, he has a night-time counterpart whose job is to keep London safe from supernatural attack. The Midnight Mayor has a staff of Aldermen to carry out the normal business of keeping the city safe. Usually, this mayor is succeeded by one of their own. As Swift discovers, London is under attack by an entity known as the Death of Cities. The ravens in the Tower die, the remaining walls begin to crumble and graffiti shouting give me back my hat appears on the walls.

It takes Swift a while to realise that the reason why his hand hurts is that the symbol of the Midnight Mayor is now carved on his palm and for the Aldermen to find out that at the moment of his death, the last mayor made a phone call and passed on his office to Swift. None of them like it but with the existence of the City at stake, the Aldermen and Swift have to work together. Their approaches, though, are very different. The Aldermen think the answer is to kill the Death of Cities (an impossible task) or, failing that, to eliminate the person who summoned it. Swift’s approach is to find the person powerful enough to summon such an entity, discover why they did it and find a more rational solution. Part of the conundrum is why he is wearing someone else’s shoes?

Swift is not the sort of person who willingly takes on responsibility but, when he has no choice, he wants to do things his way. He and the Aldermen naturally oppose each other but both accede that if the City of London is to survive they have to work together. Swift himself is a delightfully anarchic protagonist and, during the novel, we are treated to a tour of some of the seedier parts of London. Griffin is able to make the city come to life and show us the wet, the grime and the lives of discarded citizens with clarity. There are images that may have a basis in folklore but in an urban situation take on a fresh life such as the spectres that have the appearance of hoodies and from inside their hoods, come the tinny voices of MP3s. These are genuinely scary characters. As in ‘A Madness Of Angels’, we meet some of the archetypes, new for a modern age. Like the Blue Electric Angels, the Night Bus and the Bag Lady are constructs of the little bits of magic that have been left behind by the living. This is Urban Fantasy at its best.

Pauline Morgan

(pub: Orbit. 410 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84149-736-1)
check out websites: http://www.orbitbooks.net and www.kategriffin.net

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Category: Books, Horror

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