"I’m not a huge fan of didactic writing – I’ve always been of the opinion that the story should be put first, and any profound moral messages should emerge as a result of the story, rather than as a thing imposed on the narrative as prime purpose."
- Kate Griffin
Yes yes yes! At least in the majority of cases, yes.
In other news, I just finished reading 'A Madness of Angels' by Kate Griffin, and I really enjoyed it. It's a story that grabs you at the beginning and you keep reading to find out a) what has happened and b) what is going to happen. At first I had some reserves about this book, while I was enjoying the read I wasn't sure if the writing was great, what the themes were, I needed time to stop and think about them. Well, the book wouldn't let me stop, and I couldn't really address these concerns, but somehow by the end I had decided that it was good. So with my critical faculties thus disabled I am unable to be anything but glowingly positive about it.
I recall that when I read 'Neverwhere' by Neil Gaiman I was left somewhat underwhelmed. The ideas were great, I enjoyed the world he created, the way that the fantasy world intersected with real-life London, but somehow it felt a little thin. I felt like I only had glimpses, and as I recall the characters and plot also left me disappointed as well. My verdict was something like 'great idea, poorly executed'. Well 'A Madness of Angels' works on a similar idea, creating the magical underbelly of London, but in my opinion it works better. The world feels real, the concept of magic makes sense, and the whole thing feels fully realised without the reader having to be taken on a stilted guided tour.
I make a comparison here because that is the first thing I thought of when I read the book, and I think Kate Griffin has been influenced by Gaiman and Pratchett, or at least by that shared fantasy tradition. Not to say I think she is derivative, somehow fantasy seems to evolve these different groups of shared assumptions, and I like that, if you have read a lot of fantasy it makes it very easy to get your bearings, as it were. So I might add, the system of magic used by sorcerers reminds me of nothing so much as that used by Prince Mendanbar in Patricia C. Wrede's 'Searching for Dragons'.
Before I get too bogged down in digressions, let me move on. The story starts at the beginning but in the middle, in a sense, with the resurrection of the main character, and his first thoughts are along the lines of "runrunrunrun", so the pace is pretty fast, and as the main character is running for his life he doesn't have a lot of time to stop and explain things. But you want to find out. The main character, Matthew Swift, is something of an anti-hero (maybe not quite, maybe more ambiguous), and I spent some time wondering how far I could trust him. Which maybe contributed to me be unsure what to make of the book. It was interesting spending time in his head, and he was likeable enough (eventually, anyway), and while I could have personally done with some more major supporting characters that was not really in keeping with the story. To do credit to the characterisation though, I did feel like a number of minor characters could have stepped into a larger supporting role.
It's a fairly violent book, although nothing too graphic, it is an 'action' book. Things are always happening, and there's not much time for reflection. Although there is room for thought.
In short, if you like urban fantasy, ambiguous heroes, London, magic worlds or action, you should check it out. I might try to get some fantasy haters to read it, I think it's the kind of book that might change their mind.