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“We be light, we be life, we be fire!
We sing electric flame!
We rumble underground wind!
We dance heaven!
Come be we and be free!”
--The Electric Blue Angels


Matthew Swift is the titular protagonist of the Matthew Swift (sometimes called the "Urban Magic") series of books by Kate Griffin-- a pseudonym for author Catherine Webb. The Matthew Swift series take place in an alternate London where magic not only (somewhat covertly) exists, but has evolved and changed over time with the progressive march of technology and urbanization.

The first book in the series, "A Madness of Angels (The resurrection of Matthew Swift)" starts just as Matthew wakes up from the dead. Matthew Swift was a moderately skilled city sorcerer until he was brutally murdered by a shadow creature sent by someone for his refusal to summon the Electric Blue Angels from the telephone wires.

The Electric Blue Angels aren't actually Abrahamic angels, they are energy beings and gods of the telephone wires (and, by extension, they have significant power over the internet), made out of the leftover life of people's conversations and living electricity. Circumstances of Matthew's death result in him flirting around the wires with them for two years, and when he is inadvertently resurrected by the same sorcerer who killed him, he wakes up no longer the mediocre brown-eyed sorcerer, but a significantly more powerful blue-eyed one, and his thoughts are disconcertingly split between the use of "I" and "we"...

The rest of the first book is more or less a straightforward revenge novel. Matthew wants to find the person who killed him, and the angels want to find who brought them to life. Later books follow Matthew and the angels as they deal with threats, both magical and mundane in nature, that come after both him and the city of London itself. Such threats include (but are not limited to): the corrupt, immortality-seeking sorcerer who killed Matthew to begin with and has wiped out every other urban sorcerer, the personification of the literal Death of Cities that seeks to destroy London from the inside out, a cult of magic-hating, wizard-killing zealots led by a self-serving sociopath, a manifestation of every sin committed in the cover of darkness, an updated, cyberpunk-style faerie court war, a drug war involving a highly addictive narcotic that ups a persons magical ability at a steep price, Aldermen, and much much more.

As of this writing, there are four different books in the main series, and two books in the sister series Magicals Anonymous which takes place in the same world, but follows a different character, Sharon Li: a granola girl who believes in the power of positive thinking that also happens to be a city shaman-- the physical manifestation of the will of the city. Unlike the Swift books, Sharon's books are told from a few different perspectives on a chapter by chapter basis. Sharon's series is loads of fun so far, but I recommend reading Matthew's books first because there are a few in-jokes and references, and also because some character interactions are a lot funnier if you already know who's involved.

Metatextually, the two most intriguing aspects of the Matthew Swift series are its treatment of magic and narration style.

One of the ongoing themes in the books is the evolution of street magic. For example: instead of looking at animal entrails or the flight patterns of birds, seers watch the way plastic bags move in the wind. A way to seal killer specters (who no longer look like ring wraiths, but instead like faceless teens in white hoodies who listen constantly to their headphones) is to stick a cigarette into an almost-empty beer bottle. The smoke tangles the spectre and they get trapped. Why? Because people believe you can drown anything in the bottom of a beer bottle. At one point, Matthew meets a gorgon whose hair is made from CCTV cables with cameras on the ends. Since Brits get free healthcare, any time someone is injured, they can get to a seemingly abandoned hospital where magic doctors will take care of them (provided they pay their taxes), and the most powerful object a city wizard in London could have is an Oyster card.

There are multiple urban "gods" like the Electric Blue Angels that were created with cities; the Bag Lady who is the manifestation of the quintessential "crazy lady pushing a shopping cart", the Beggar king who is the friend and protector of the homeless and was created when the first human being died alone in the cold a crowded city, Fat Rat who is the big rat living in the sewers (who also happens to be made of metal wire), the Neon Court (which is actually the remnants of the old faerie courts; the fairies were dying out once people started caring more about UFOs than faeries, so the court had to move and is now all techno-rave and cyberpunk-y mixed with Hollywood-style glitz), and so on.

More "traditional" nature-based magic does exist, but only in rural or underdeveloped areas that aren't frequented by the main characters, and so aren't really seen (in fact, Matthew admits he's useless outside of cities, and one of the books has someone take him out to the countryside, rendering him essentially powerless).

As for the narration style, the story is told from the first person point of view, but constantly switches between "I" and "We" depending on who is doing the thinking. Matthew and the angels are in a close symbiotic relationship (as Matthew's presence is the mental-insulation that is keeping them from going insane and the angels are the only reason Matthew is alive), and they repeatedly claim that they are not two separate entities in one body, but actually one consciousness ("I am the electric angels, we are Matthew Swift"), but both of them are unreliable narrators. The narration itself dispels the notion that they are entirely one being as they do, very rarely, disagree on things, and Matthew is shown several times taking charge of situations where the angels are too afraid to. (One reason for this insistence might be as a coping mechanism; it's repeatedly implied by other characters that Matthew probably has some form of PTSD, and he and the angels are eachother's crutches.)

I don't mean to imply that the books stand on gimmicks, because they don't. On the surface, the premise is similar to other urban fantasies with sarcastic narrators --Dresden Files probably being the closest-- but the writing, the characters, and stories are all strong in their own right and unique to Griffin, and to say that "It's just Dresden Files with X" is doing a disservice to both series.

I cannot recommend these books enough.

Books in the series are:


He glanced up as I entered and, for a moment, looked almost surprised.
"Mr. Swift!"
"Ta-da!" I exclaimed weakly.
"You're still..."
"Still not dead. That's me. It's my big party trick, still not being dead, gets them every time.”
-- Mathew Swift

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