London, like any other modern metropolis, thrives at night. It lives and it has power. Kate Griffin, otherwise known as Catherine Webb, understands this as well as anyone. She uses an intimate knowledge of the many foibles of London and the commonalities of many an urban cityscape to fuel the magic of sorcerer and Midnight Mayor, Matthew Swift.
The Neon Court is the third of Swift’s adventures. We join the Mayor as he is drawn into a battle between The Neon Court and the Tribe over ancient allegiances, an untimely death, and a promise of a chosen one. He is summoned to a burning tower where he finds the walking corpse of Oda, member of the Order and sometime accomplice of the sorcerer. The problem seems to be the hole in her heart and the annoyingly familiar habit of calling herself “we”.
Unlike Swift, however, she is not a being that’s united to the blue electric angels, but to something far darker, far scarier. With the sun failing to go about its normal business, visits to unusual collections in the British Library, and the arrival in London of Lady Neon, a casual reader might think that this is all a little complicated and give this particular slice of urban fantasy a wide berth. That reader would be missing an unexpected pleasure. The story winds its way across the urban landscape as futures are told, rivalries revisited, and Swift accepts his lot as London’s protector. Yet, he is still the flawed magician with dubious morals and, as always, a reluctant hero. He is more John Constantine than Harry Potter.
Griffin uses the realities of living in London as the power behind the magic, such as the agonising wait for a night bus, or the desperation of that ill-advised kebab. Having lived in London, I found the descriptions of places both well-known and hidden evoked strange nostalgia; it would be interesting to know how they read to someone who has never visited London. The city, however, is not the only impressive character. Penny, Swift’s trainee, comes into her own. Alderman Dees shows complex traits and makes hard choices. Old characters return in unexpected ways.
Griffin’s style of prose is not quite noir, but it is definitely not light either. She weaves magic in her words as Swift does in the fiction. It is as dark as night, yet as colourful as London’s night skyline. It really does put you in the heart of the story.
You don’t really need to have read A Madness of Angels and The Midnight Mayor as there is plenty of back-story and skilfully weaved exposition to bring a new reader up to speed. However, it is a welcome addition to the story so far, and I would heartily recommend the three novels to anyone.
Griffin, or Webb, should be mentioned in the same breath as Gaiman or Miéville, and as Griffin, she should have the commercial success of Butcher. The Neon Court has everything you would want: complex characters, a rip-roaring plot that just demands you keep reading, evocative descriptions of London, interesting, original magics, and new mythologies. This is proper urban fantasy in every sense. Read it.