We sat on the bench in the middle of the capsule and watched our city expand beneath us, and felt like God. We had never seen anything so beautiful, and could not conceive of more magic in the world.
Matthew Swift is a sorcerer, and something else besides, his consciousness haunted (for want of a better word) by angels who blaze electric fire, whose very essence is freedom. His last memory is dying in a telephone booth, so it's something of a surprise when he wakes up on the floor of his bedroom to find that two years have gone by. But he remembers what killed him, and he's out for revenge, building an uneasy alliance of magicians and warlocks from the factions and forces of magic that call London home in order to bring down the biggest baddy of them all, the Tower, an organisation which controls, threatens, murders and generally oppresses the magical population in the name of power.
I loved A Madness of Angels. I loved every minute of it: I loved the ragged, uneven, swift-flowing prose; I loved the amorality of it, the fact that each player in this urban drama had their own agenda, an agenda which was never disinterested; I loved the magical battles, the power and the joy of them. But most of all I loved it for this:
You are more than other magicians, you lose yourselves in the city, your minds and thoughts are so much a part of it that at rush hour you must walk because the city is moving, and at end of office hours you cannot help but feel a rush of relief and the desire to look at the sky, because that is how the city works.
This book pins down that sense of homecoming, that sense of power and joy and excitement you feel when you walk down a busy street in your home city, better than anything I've read. For the magic of A Madness of Angels is urban magic. It's a magic found in the telephone wires and the London Underground; it uses the pigeons and the rats and the foxes of the city; it lurks in the theatres, in the dustbins, in the broken and forgotten things of the urban darkness. It's a magic inextricably bound to the geography of the place and the little rituals of city life - throwing a coin into the wishing well, buying a ticket for the underground - and, indeed, London, the city itself, looms large as almost a character in its own right. The spells woven in this book feel right; they feel real, as if you too could ride the Last Train on the Circle Line or visit the Beggar King. Not urban fantasy; urban mythology, a new kind of myth for a new kind of living.
The plotting is, admittedly, a little uneven. There's at least one infodump which simply feels contrived, not to mention highly unlikely. There's a graffiti treasure-hunt which, while in theory rather cool and extremely fun to read about, seems a little too easy: how could you tell the difference between genuine clues and just random London graffiti?
But the really glaring plot hole is the fact that, despite the fact that the magic community seems to keep itself largely secret from the non-magical community - if you're going magically to manipulate the stock market you don't want mere muggles to know how it's done - the characters of A Madness of Angels never seem to acknowledge this fact. There's no attempt to keep quiet or to protect civilians. Sorcerers have violent and extremely loud battles in public places, and, what's more astonishing, nobody apparently notices. When Matthew summons a spirit in his hotel room at night, "so bright I couldn't look, so loud the windows shook," no angry hotel staff come bursting in, no neighbours hammer on the door and ask for the noise to be kept down. Hotel walls are obviously about ten inches thick in London. Or maybe muggles are like the opposite of the Stone Angels from Doctor Who: if you can't see them, they can't do anything.
Not that any of this stopped me enjoying the book; it's like when Mary Berry said on Bake Off the other week, "It's slightly overbaked, but it doesn't put me off the biscuit!" The overall flavour, if you like, of A Madness of Angels is good enough that a little inconsistency isn't enough to put me off. It's exactly what I was expecting when I bought it; in fact, it's a little more than that. I'll certainly be reading the rest of the series - I can't wait, in fact.