Review: The Neon Court

Posted: May 31, 2011 by in Books We Like (4/5 single_star) Meta: Kate Griffin, Urban Fantasy

Matthew Swift is the epitome of the urban sorcerer. Proof: he takes the bus. But there are ways he’s not your usual sorcerer, the least of which being that he serves as the Midnight Mayor of London. He also shares a body with the blue electric angels. And he’s got a conscience.

But being the Midnight Mayor is not all roses and bon-bons. Sure he’s got a fleet of aldermen to do his bidding… assuming they’d listen to him (it’s hard to take a guy seriously when he wears grubby t-shirts). And sure he’s powerful enough to have defeated the destroyer of cities in THE MIDNIGHT MAYOR (EBR Review). But now in THE NEON COURT (Amazon), the underground Tribe and the fae Neon Court have declared war over a murder—with London as the battleground—unless Swift delivers the chosen one.

THE NEON COURT starts off chaotic, like the first two in the series, jumping right into the action. We’re swiftly caught up in Swift’s dilemma: Oda, the vigilante from the previous novels, has somehow magically summoned Swift into a burning building. He arrives to find Oda’s blood all over the floor and a gaping hole in her heart. But what does Oda’s rather fatal condition (strangely enough, she’s not dead yet) and the war have to do with each other? Well, it takes the entire novel to figure it out.

If you enjoyed A MADNESS OF ANGELS (Amazon) and THE MIDNIGHT MAYOR, then THE NEON COURT is more of the same awesomeness. You could read NEON without having read the previous two, but there will be a few confusing spots as a result. Kate Griffin has kept a consistent momentum and voice across the series, even if the plots are somewhat similar: everyone in London is gonna die unless Swift saves them. And obviously he’s the only one who can do it.

Swift is a complicated character. He’s easy enough to like, and his first-person PoV is engaging. Well, there is, however, the odd use of ‘we’, when referring to himself and the angels that inhabit his body—and therein stems the complications of personality. The electric blue angels are pure energy, magical beings without thought of the future, who take action when they see the need. But they’re forever bound to a mortal body who must deal with the consequences of those actions. It makes for an interesting dynamic. Fortunately, Swift isn’t a wimp or else the angels would have killed him long ago from sheer negligence. He’s clever and creative, as he moves around London, trying to help Oda, and stop the war between the Neon Court and the Tribe. Poor guy wants to do the right thing, but sometimes it’s just impossible.

As a result of the events at the end of THE MIDNIGHT MAYOR, Swift now finds himself with an apprentice: Penny. One can’t let a powerful sorceress loose on the city without proper training first. Like Swift, she’s no wimp, but then again she’s new to this whole magic business, and sees things for the first time that are mighty troubling. Their interactions are entertaining; the dialogue gets silly at times, but on the whole it’s clever and snappy. Oda, whom we knew little about in previous novels other than she’s a psycho, magic-hating, gun-toting, religious zealot, gets more back story. It’s presented in clunky way, but is still important to the story.

Griffin must have decided to have a little fun with this plot, so she took the ‘chosen one’ trope and turned it on its head. What does it mean to be ‘chosen’? Who does the choosing? She also explores themes of relationships—but not the romantic kind, her books don’t have the sexuality found in the majority of urban fantasy. Here, it’s the relationships between siblings, co-workers, the people you hardly know but who seem to affect you, nevertheless, and how these relationships shape events.

Matthew Swift is the epitome of the urban sorcerer, but he's also not your typical sorcerer in THE NEON COURT.

One of the best things about this series is the urban magic, how it’s called up by the routines of life and environment that is the city. Griffin’s prose brings out the details: the smells, the sights, the sounds that makes the city hum with the magic energy that people like Swift can tap. The prose will catch some readers off guard, even those who like reading urban fantasy, because it’s less straightforward. The pace is consistent and quick, but is still slowed down by the more descriptive prose. These things didn’t bother me, and are ultimately rewarding.

By the time I got to the climax, I was all wrung out. Swift seems like he’s going to fall apart at any moment. I have no idea how he’s going to possibly survive. Every imaginably horrible thing has happened. And it all leads up to a… climax that falls a tad short. It does all make sense, and if I’m being honest it did make me tear up, but it didn’t quite match the rest of the story. It works. Mostly. But in THE NEON COURT it’s the journey more than the destination.

  • Recommended Age: 16+
  • Language: Penny the wise-cracking apprentice has a serious potty mouth
  • Violence: Yep. Poor Swift gets beat up a lot. There are quite a few fights and graphic imagery. The body count gets uncomfortably high.
  • Sex: Not even the least whiff of romance

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