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Stray Souls by Kate Griffin
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2121779,489 (3.71)29
  1. 10
    Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch (LongDogMom)
    LongDogMom: Both are a bit quirky, set in London, and deal with the spirits of things, magic and murder.
  2. 00
    The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde (LongDogMom)
    LongDogMom: Similar quirky feel to the writing and is also about discovering magical abilities in an urban setting.

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Stray Souls is the first in the Magicals Anonymous series, which follows on from the Matthew Swift series. It contains spoilers for the Matthew Swift books, and so will this review. If you’ve yet to read any of Kate Griffin’s urban fantasies, I suggest you start with the first Matthew Swift book, A Madness of Angels, instead.

Something has gone missing from the soul of London. More and more pieces of the city’s spiritual landscape are being cut away, while something stalks the night and leaves behind the bloodied remnants of those who have looked upon its anger, and this time it’s a problem that can’t be fixed by a sorcerer like Matthew Swift. He needs a shaman, and the only ones available are Sammy the Elbow, a goblin who has managed to piss off most of the city’s major players, and newly awakened, totally untrained Sharon Li, whose efforts to run a support group for troubled supernaturals have landed her at the head of a dubiously helpful tribe of banshees, giants, vampires, necromancers, almost-druids, and individuals best described as et cetera. Under Sammy’s tutelage, she’ll learn to walk among the hidden truths that lie beneath the city’s surface, and maybe, with the help of a few friends, bring back what’s missing from its ravaged soul.

One of my comments about the last Matthew Swift book, The Minority Council, was that I felt Matthew had come too far from his lowly origins to be the right person to tell the tale anymore. Despite being the kind of person who shies away from the trappings of his office as much as possible, as the Midnight Mayor he is simply too connected for the story to have the urgency of the first couple of books, where the game of survival was such a critical part, and not every threat can be on the scale of Blackout, who taxed all of his resources and then some. Although I love Matthew as a character, I was optimistic about the change in protagonist breathing some fresh new life into Kate Griffin’s sorcerous London. I didn’t quite get what I was hoping for.

There was a bit of farcical humour in The Minority Council (too much, for my tastes), and the author seems to have used the transition into the Magicals Anonymous series to really let that side of her writing run free. Nearly all of the characters here are a bit caricaturish and twee. Sharon is like a cross between a bargain bin self-help book and a freshly graduated management consultant, only she talks like she’s on MTV. Perhaps there are plenty of 22-year-olds that are that annoying -- I find almost everyone under the age of 30 annoying by default these days, so I’ll leave that judgement to the less misanthropic -- but I read plenty of books with younger protagonists who don’t drive me up the wall that much. Rhys the sneezing almost-druid is every hapless nerd from the last 30 years of sitcoms with a bit of magic slapped on top. Kevin the OCD vampire is another tired excuse to portray a popularly misunderstood mental illness as quirky and funny, which it isn’t. And Matthew? Matthew is so unrecognisable that it feels like reading a fanfic or a tie-in novel, where the author has the broad details of someone else’s creation right but can’t capture the character’s voice. He’s given awkwardly contrived reasons to be cryptic when he’s usually so headstrong, and otherwise largely reduced to limp humour (and since when does he go around greeting people with ‘Wotcha’?).

The actual story being told here is, in the main, pretty good. One thing I’ve always liked about Griffin’s setting is the elements of London’s culture that have fused into archetypal beings. The Beggar King. Fat Rat. The Bag Lady. The blue electric angels, perhaps. I like the idea of exploring what would happen if such a critical piece of the city’s collective soul were ripped away, and with their intimate ties to the city’s spiritual landscape, a shaman is the perfect character to take us on that journey. It’s just a shame that it had to be this shaman. That said, the main villain is under-explored as a character, particularly given the utilisation of a myth that is very far from native to London. London is certainly a deeply multicultural place, but given how intimately connected these books are to the London identity and their deeply felt sense of place, it seems a little jarring to pluck something so major from cultural beliefs that have their home so far from England and yet to not touch upon that culture at all.

On a technical level the writing is still a significant step above the average urban fantasy, and I think that knowing Kate Griffin can do so much better does prompt me to be harsher in my criticisms. I’ve gone a little easy on the rating despite those criticisms, because I think if I let go of any expectations from the Matthew Swift books -- which perhaps I should, but the strong connection between the two doesn’t make it easy -- then, as urban fantasy goes, it’s certainly entertaining enough. But if I’m really going to enjoy these books, I hope that the author will trim the cast a little and let the remaining characters grow into actual people, because flat cutouts spouting too many slapstick lines won’t do it for me. We know the dial goes to 11. That doesn’t mean it has to.

Review from Bookette.net ( )
  Snumpus | Aug 24, 2017 |
Nancy Pearl'd it. After about 100 pages, I just couldn't find any reason to continue reading this. ( )
  lesmel | Mar 3, 2017 |
I know the majority of readers liked this story, but I just can’t find the appeal in it. I found the very short chapters to be disjointed, especially since the narrative of the main character, Sharon Li, is interrupted by several other characters telling their stories. Perhaps if the dialogue had been more cohesive and less choppy, the story would have flowed better. I know there is a decent plot there somewhere – it is just so buried among the bits and pieces of what passes for humor and eccentric story-telling that I gave up looking for it. ( )
  Maydacat | May 12, 2016 |
Very short chapters

which is an odd writing style

It's not even as if we're following that many characters.

In retrospect it would have been better if I'd realised this was the start of a linked series mid-way through an already developed universe. The best bits are probably the character profile sheets where various magic users who are having difficulties with their lifestyle introduce themselves.

Otherwise it's a reasonably generic urban fantasy, although most of the characters don't know what they're doing. An embattled mayor has found some allies in his struggle against a creepy bank that seems to have trapped one of London's key guardians. His allies come about through a facebook self help group, founded by one Sharon Li, who didn't know she was a shamen until someone told her. She spends quite a bit of time berating people who assume she knows what that involves.

It was enjoyable, and there are some great bits of descriptive text, clever similes and well worked metaphors. But the juxtaposition between those and the choppy paragraphs didn't really work for me.

Maybe I should have started at the beginning of the universe (if the publishers had deigned to indicate this), but if it's all this choppy I doubt I'll bother. ( )
  reading_fox | Mar 30, 2016 |
One day, for one moment, Sharon Li knows every thing about her city. It's too much for her mind to handle, so she forgets, but the experience leaves her with the unsettling ability to walk through walls or become invisible. A fan of self-help books, Sharon decides to start a support group using a facebook invite. This is the start of Magicals Anonymous, a strange mix of creepy (a necromancer constantly in search of new skin-care products, who measures his magical output in the body mass index it takes out of him), odd (a banshee in love with modern art, who communicates with a white-board to avoid killing everyone), pitiful (a druid who is allergic to magic) and annoying (Kevin, the vampire who can only drink O blood and is hysterical about germs). My absolute favorite character was Gretel, who started out as a troll scaring the cars who passed over her bridge, but who was lured out by the smell of human food. After Sharon discovers that a financial company has been enslaving spirits and using them to manipulate the markets, this rag tag bunch of oddities is forced to save London.

This is set in the same London as the Matthew Swift stories (which start with [b:The Madness of Angels|1358915|We Heard the Angels of Madness|Lisa & Diane Berger|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348466968s/1358915.jpg|1348677], and are wonderful) and the magic systems continue to be creepy, amazing, and incredibly creative. This series spends much more time being funny, sometimes at the expense of the plot or the pacing. I really wish the characters' punctuation-free rambles had been shorter and less "naturalistic" (by which I mean, characterized by lots of "likes" and "he's all" and stream-of-consciousness), because so many climactic moments were spent with characters making witty slang-ridden speeches instead of doing anything. ( )
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
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It was raining when Sharon Li became one with the city.
Then he couldn’t shake the feeling, imagined or not, that as she dragged him out of Burns and Stoke with a cry of “Come on, druid, make yourself useful!” she hadn’t bothered to open any doors. Which was unfortunate, because he hadn’t logged out of the servers at Burns and Stokes before shutting down, and if refusing to obey the laws of matter was disconcerting, failure to observe proper security procedures was just bad IT.
Eddie: “Usually these beasties just sit around in the city and do shit,” he explained, “like the ‘soul’ isn’t a fucking commodity! Fuck that! I say to you , fuck that! This is the twenty-first century! Time for the fucking soul to earn its way.”
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When Sharon Li unexpectedly discovers she's a shaman, it's not a moment too soon: London's soul is lost. Using her newfound oneness with the City, she sets about saving London from inevitable demise, but the problem is she has no clue where to start. Meanwhile, a mysterious gate has opened, and there are creatures loose that won't wait for her to catch up before they go out hunting. Now Sharon and her motley crew of magical misfits must find a way to save the world.… (more)

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