The Minority Council by Kate Griffin
The thing that gives Matthew Swift, London’s last urban sorcerer and Midnight Mayor, his extraordinary power is that he loves London. He loves the gritty streets, the posh apartment buildings, glowing graffiti, the blowing trash, the murky river, the pigeons, rats and urban foxes. He loves the underground, the trains, buses and cars. He loves the hole-in-the-wall diners and take-outs, the stink of diesel and petrol fumes, curry and incense. It is this love that gives him his power, and this love that makes Kate Griffin’s The Minority Council the best MATTHEW SWIFT book since A Madness of Angels.
Swift may be the Midnight Mayor, but he is also virtually homeless. The Aldermen, minions of the Mayor, do not trust him, and — horror of horrors! — he has been saddled with a perky personal assistant. Late one night, Swift takes a ferry ride and meets a woman named Meera, who shares with him a spell so powerful that he can’t believe it. It is frightening. It is also wildly beautiful.
At the offices of the Midnight Mayor, he has a confrontation with a feisty social worker who wants the Mayor’s help to address a strange curse that has killed one rowdy youth and reduced four others to Stepford-teens. They show no emotion or passion; they are empty inside. While he is investigating, he gets a frantic call from Meera, and discovers a horrible new drug on the streets called “fairy dust.” The dust strengthens any magical power exponentially, but the end result for any addict is death, and the source of the drug is horrifying.
On the surface, the plot of The Minority Council is not much different from many other urban fantasy novels. Magical drugs and soul-sucking monsters aren’t uncommon. Griffin still manages to find an original approach to the drug and Matthew, of course, is no ordinary wizard. He carries within him the blue electric angels. In a harrowing scene late in the book, Swift bonds with the angels in a way that he never has before. Griffin employs an interesting stylistic choice for this vivid, terrifying sequence.
Much of the time, though, Swift isn’t scary; he’s funny and irreverent. His management style won’t get him written up in the Harvard Business Review, but he gets things done. In one scene, he pauses to evaluate the performance of the Aldermen: “Let’s get this said, just once, and we won’t have to deal with it again. You lot suck. You really do.”
Swift’s apprentice Penny took her time showing up in this book, but show up she did, and she handled herself very well. I think The Minority Council went on a bit too long in a few places. Swift should have been quicker to figure out who one of the villains was, and slower to trust that person, but Swift’s solution to the fairy dust is brilliant and poignant. Each Swift book has a creature formed from the building blocks of London, and in The Minority Council, it is the culicidae, an insectile creature of technology and magic summoned by a seventeen year old boy who may be the next Mark Zuckerberg. The Beggar King, an archetype of the city we met in the first book, helps Matthew, because his people are being taken by the dust-dealers.
Griffin’s prose brings Swift’s London’s streets to sinister, magical life:
… I could feel all the shadows here, taste the power in the streets, deep and dark and waiting, feel it move beneath my feet, a well of time and magic that had no bottom, waiting to be tapped. The old stone walls may have been mostly demolished centuries ago, but there were other barriers, unseen, wrapped around this part of the city, designed as much for keeping secrets in as keeping enemies out. On street corners or embedded in coats of arms on grand municipal buildings, we could feel the watching mad eyes of the silver-skinned dragons of London.
I thought this series hit a speed-bump with The Neon Court, but Matthew and Griffin have come charging back with The Minority Council. This is Swift at his best, and Griffin at hers.