Stray Souls by Kate Griffin
|Book Name:||Stray Souls|
|Publisher(s):||Orbit (US & UK)|
|Formatt:||Paperback / eBook|
|Release Date:||October 30, 2012 (US) October 25, 2012 (UK)|
If you have any doubts about the ethereal nature of urban living then you need to be reading Kate Griffin.
The often brilliant Matthew Swift series, starring a formerly dead sorcerer whose soul/brain/general being has merged with that of the fiery blue electric angels created from the essence of conversations in the telephone line (causing him to pluralise himself and have glowy blue eyes), opens up a realm of modern magic, formed of everyday living patterns, local myths, canny wordplay and the rules and regulations of city life, nestled in the supernatural underbelly of twenty-first century London. In this world “Life is Magic” and, as the possibilities are too vast to be contained in one series, Griffin’s lucky fans are getting a second chance to explore the city’s magical community.
Stray Souls is the first book in Griffin’s Magicals Anonymous series, which is set in Matthew Swift’s fantastical London and is very similar in style and substance. Although he’s standing by to lend a hand when needed, in this series Matthew hands over the reins to a third person narrative of a whole host of paranormal oddities, led by the up-and-coming Urban Shaman, Sharon Li.
Keeping things modern, Stray Souls begins with Facebook and satirises the power of online communities and a self-help-obsessed society when protagonist Sharon, who can walk through walls and turn invisible as long as she keeps moving, and a batch of magically-challenged (to use the politically correct term) beings at various ends of the supernatural spectrum, form a support group to discuss their various problems. The group, which includes an obsessive-compulsive vampire, a druid who’s allergic to nature and stressful situations, a troll with culinary aspirations and a banshee named Sally to name a few, end up providing more than emotional support for their founder when she is given the title of shaman and recruited to save the city from losing its soul and its inhabitants from a nasty case of disembowelment by maim-loving creatures from the netherworld.
Unfortunately for Sharon, there are no manuals or self-help books on shamaning and the people who seem to know what’s going on are unhelpfully cryptic. Relying on guesswork, cursing and the individual talents of her new gang of magical misfits, Sharon has to discover her potential fast if she’s going to save her city from a fate worse than death.
Although it’s not the most original plot in the world, Griffin’s technique of building imaginative myths around the many wonders of modern London and populating them with vibrant and witty characters who eff and blind but ultimately get the job done, makes the journey incredibly enjoyable as her absurd cast of characters continue Matthew Swift’s legacy of conquering evil and saving the much-endangered city from the perils of wordplay and pointy-toothed philosophising bad guys. Griffin’s sharp wit and remarkable talent for description demonstrate the complex variety within urban society and paints London in such stark detail that it’s easy to see the magic through each distinctive portrait. She effortlessly captures the unwritten codes of conduct, the territorial nature of the city’s inhabitants, and each seemingly-individual feeling induced by every perfectly described location or piece of architecture, and she does it with an inclusive wink and nudge.
While continuing the successful tone of her previous series, Griffin has made some improvements in Stray Souls, with punchier paragraphs and a refined undercurrent of satire and exploration of certain themes within her work. The sardonic look at society remains throughout, with the chapter headings made up of generic self-help advice (“A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single Step”) and much of the dialogue includes the general sentiments of youthful vaguery (so like, um, yeah…). She pays particular attention to the loneliness of living in such cramped and polluted conditions by focusing on the outcasts and socially confused – Stray Souls referring to the wandering folk that comprise the self-help group as well as the missing essence of the city – and accurately depicts modern British culture without looking down on it; each witty description overflowing with her obvious love for the place.
What I’ve always loved about this much more interesting London is the magical elements, which we’ve had more opportunity to see from this series’ new characters. Sharon’s Shaman powers allow her to walk through the different layers of the city, seeing the shadowy essence left behind by the past lives lived there. Becoming one with the city, she can see the truth of what’s been, which sometimes means finding decaying bodies, but she can become invisible and get from Walthamstow to Tooting without taking the tube so I think that makes up for it.
Although it’s interesting to see a new variety of supernatural species populating this magic system, I found it a little off-putting that they all seem to have come out of the paranormal closet since Matthew Swift’s day, with vampires going to the dentist and mystical forces generally being less-subtle in their day-to-day activities. With more characters, there also seems to be a lot more dialogue in this book, and many similarly witty characters are often fighting for their voice to be heard. They are all great characters, amusing in their own way, but at times the sheer amount of banter and swearing seems unnecessary and like it’s trying too hard to be funny.
Ultimately though Kate Griffin’s standard is at an all time high and, although I miss spending 400 pages with the hugely entertaining Matthew Swift, I hope her new fleet of characters are here to stay.
The second book in the Magicals Anonymous series, The Glass God, is out in July. I may well review it then so watch this space.