To be honest, this was my second go at the book, I’d picked it up once before and started it, and been put off by the use of “I” and “we” interchangeably in the opening pages. Just not in the mood at the time, perhaps, but since then I’d seen it mentioned a couple of times as something original and not-to-be-missed. And I’ll admit that even now, I found the beginning just a tad fey - the reader adrift with the newly-revived Swift, uncertain even whose head it is you are in - so that I fervently hoped that it would get down to something a little more concrete soon. Well, that concrete turned out to be the streets of London, dirty, familiar, infested with pigeons, reverberating to the distant thud of the underground, at once joyous and sinister in its squalor.
When Swift returns from death, somewhat augmented, to the discovery that all his friends have died horribly, he’s bent on revenge and prepared to make allegiances wherever he can find them. Recruiting an ad hoc army of bikers, religious fanatics and characters from the city’s own mythology, he starts picking off the henchmen of the man he holds responsible, a fight which escalates so rapidly that he fears there must be a traitor amongst his allies. But despite his resurrection, Swift knows that he’s not really hero material and his confidence in his magic is undermined by what he fears must be the eventual outcome. It’s this humility which makes him so attractive to the reader:
I felt that it should have been drizzling, perhaps with a thundercloud or two overhead; it would have suited my mood. As it was, the day was crisp and clean, a thing of bright light and cold, empty blue skies, big and pale. I sat with my arms curled around as much of my aching body as I could comfortably achieve, and tried not to wobble a newly loosened tooth. There was probably, I knew, some spell or other that could repair the damage, but I wasn’t about to try mystical dentistry and somehow felt the whole thing was beneath me. James Bond never had to go for emergency dental treatment; Jackie Chan never smiled a smile of gold crowns; Bruce Lee didn’t spend the final credits of any kung fu film sitting with his arms wrapped round his belly like he had food poisoning, feeling sorry for himself – therefore, neither should I. Besides, from what little we knew and what we could guess, dentists were a species we wished to avoid.Swift is not the only appealing character. I was rather sad that Jeremy the troll made such a fleeting appearance, but there were others I liked too, including the slightly daunting Mrs Mikeda. People and events are described in a dense and lyrical prose which crackles with the electricity of the blue angels in Matthew's mind. Here, too, magic usage has a logical connection to the surrounding world - even down to power of the humble Oyster card - with an individualism which feels natural and right, and carries with it some striking images. It's a worthy successor to Neverwhere and, since the magic of a place is a creation of its locality, history, architecture, mythology and even its inhabitants, I wonder if Griffin can do this with other cities as well as London? That would be truly wonderful.