Sophomore Slump

The Midnight Mayor; the Inauguration of Matthew Swift/Kate Griffin, 2010

Orbit Fantasy

I loved Kate Griffin’s A Madness of Angels.

I merely enjoyed the sequel, The Midnight Mayor

I always surmise that part of the problem comes from the amount of time devoted to the first novel, when the writer had years to re-imagine, revise, reread and rethink; time to burnish that pivotal paragraph or really dig deep to capture that motivation, contrasted with the length of time allowed with Book Two of a multi-book contract.  The Midnight Mayor seems to suffer from a lack of the deep and loving detail the reader saw in A Madness of Angels.

Some of the problem lies with the plot.  The plot in Madness was unapologetically linear, but there was such an interesting world being developed, and such a fascinating set of characters being explored, that it didn’t really matter.  There was a glitch or two, but the language and Griffin’s head-over-heels infatuation with her city made them bearable or at least forgivable.

The plot in The Midnight Mayor is also linear, without much in the way of twists or turns, although we do meet some interesting folks along the way.  As urban archetypes go, the Mayor is less interesting than The Bag Lady or The Beggar King.  The book is much shorter than the debut, which probably made the publisher happy but somehow highlights the difficulties.  There is less emotional conflict in Mayor, and Matthew seems to coast, finding clues and getting bits of information without much work. Even in the opening sequence, there is less of sense of strangeness, and the danger feels forced.  The specters are not the frightening monsters Griffin hopes they will be.

Griffin still indulges her playfulness with language, particularly in that contrived opening scene, where we are treated to this:

And there it was, right there on the edge; there was strangeness.  And it went:

Chi chichi chi chichi chi chichi bumph bumph chi chichi chi chichi chi chichi bumph bumph. . . I couldn’t work out immediately what it was.  We wanted a weapon (6).

That’s almost Shakespearean!  I admire her willingness to play.  I also like the use of graffiti as urban-tribal messaging.

Some things just have unfortunate resonances.  The Death of Cities, one of the villains, evokes all too strongly Terry Prachett’s Death of Rats, causing me to snicker each time this dire entity appears in the book.  This is not the effect Griffin was going for. She has to take some of the blame, however, for not honoring the very magical correspondences she set up, brilliantly, in the first book. For example, the Death of Cities is a supernatural entity composed mostly of paper trash.  This is a powerful image, but by Griffin’s own magical rules something about the character of paper should be involved in its defeat, and it is not.  This is not the only time the book disappoints.

There are also moments of pure delight and magical wonder, just like in the first book; Matthew’s conversation with another of those strange urban foxes; a humorous and scary encounter in the city library; a late-night ramble where Matthew talks to the spirits of the dead, including his own, since he died once and returned. 

Of course, with a book named The Midnight Mayor, one has to expect politics, but the series would benefit from fewer political manipulations and more of the sheer exuberance of Griffin’s magical city.  Overall I enjoyed the book, and I will continue to read the series, but my passionate honeymoon with Matthew Swift is over.

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