The Glass God - Kate Griffin

...It's like growing as a mushroom, or growing as a bit of mould in a damp bathroom or something, only better."*

 

The Glass God (Magicals Anonymous #2)

by Kate Griffin

 

Recommended for: Fans of whimsical, imaginative urban fantasy who won't mind the style. You definitely have to read Stray Souls first, and while you can probably get away without it, I'd recommend finishing the Matthew Swift series as well.

 

Sharon is just beginning to settle into her new position as "community support officer for the magically inclined."  She's getting the hang of office life (her tricks include the book Management For Beginners, multicoloured highlighters, post-it notes, and having only one subordinate, her IT-manager/ druid/ lackey/ admirer Rhys), and she's finally getting around to setting up speed-dating for the polymorphically unstable and bingo for retired witches.  It's all going so well--of course, it can't last.   The first discordant note is a cryptic warning from a lamp-post druid.  Then Kelly Shirling, PA to the Midnight Mayor (aka guardian of the night, protector of the city, sorcerer, electric angel, creature of the telephone wires, muleheaded little pillock named Matthew Swift, etc, etc), turns up in Sharon's office, gushing, proffering donuts, and casually mentioning that Sharon has been "promoted" to Deputy Midnight Mayor and that, oh, yes, the Midnight Mayor has mysteriously disappeared. Congratulations and have a donut and, when you get a moment, do you think you can find the Mayor and also figure out why all he left behind was a blue umbrella?

 

In my opinion, one of Kate Griffin's moments of genius was to take the series away from Matthew Swift.  Don't get me wrong, I love-love-love Swift as a character.  He is tremendously flawed and delightfully unreliable--you don't even realize how chaotic and weird he is until you see him from the third-person--and given that he's also a somewhat-dead partially-possessed sorcerer, his brand of batshit-craziness never gets old. However, he's also depressive and angry and has done some truly unforgivable things,[1] and practically everyone he's ever met has seriously considered killing him.[2] As I've previously mentioned, one way in which the Magicals Anonymous (MA) books differ from the Matthew Swift books (MS) is the camaraderie.  Swift is lonely and isolated, and his few sidekicks have an approximate 80% mortality rate.[3] Literally every MS book starts with a refrigerator female and ends with Matthew Swift standing over a pile of corpses of his enemies and allies, with the reader far more aware than Matthew that his choices have led to this outcome.  

 

Sharon, is, on the other hand, a people person, and she collects a quirky and exuberant coterie around her. I think Sharon is a truly fantastic main character.  Griffin's description:

"Sharon exuded the brightness of a firefly, the confidence of a double-decker bus, the optimism of a hedgehog, and the tact of a small thermonuclear missile."

Personally, I find Sharon bemusing and rather delightful.  She is extremely bossy ("These are difficult circumstances and interesting times so can everyone just shut up and do what I say?") and positively fierce in her defense of minority rights ("I guess what I'm saying is...I'm not a scary feminist person, I'm just a scary people person.  What do you think?")  She is autocratic and demanding and utterly fails to recognize this, and she's so very forceful that almost everyone she meets ends up as either her minion or her quarry.  Basically, talking to Sharon Li is like being savaged by a politically-correct Pekingese masquerading as a pit bull.

 

And then there's Swift himself.  This book does a much better job of gracefully sidelining Swift, and the irony of the method is absolutely delicious.  While I love that he is no longer the main character, his absence is rather important to the plot, and every casual mention of him slapped a silly grin on my face:

"Usually when he disappears it's to blow things up, or engage in nefarious acts with dark forces, but this time there's been none of that, so I'm a little concerned."
"You're concerned that things aren't blowing up?"
"You have met him," Kelly pointed out.

I also loved the rest of the cast. Rhys, Sharon's IT-manager/hyper-allergic druid, combines a weak will, mute adoration, general ineffectiveness, and surprising bursts of competence with a rather adorable jealousy, and also attends a non-druidic feminist book group in his off-time.  Miles, Alderman and Sharon's self-proclaimed minion, mixes James-Bondsian hypercompetence with a rather impossible level of cheerfulness and has a tendency to attempt to solve everything with tea.  Then there's Kelly, who is so disturbingly optimistic and enthusiastic and free from irony that not even Sharon can quite believe she's real, from her political correctness:

"Now you point it out, the idea of having tea with a creature capable of rending me limb from limb had been something that bothered me.  But now that I think about it, it's just a social stereotype, isn't it?"

to her professional zeal:

"Obviously I'd be honoured to die fighting nobly for you and your cause," said the Alderman. "But if you have any useful advice on the most productive manner in which I could heroically lay down my life for the sake of others, it'd be greatly appreciated..."
Sharon stared into Kelly's smiling, breathless face. "You know, I get as how this isn't a great time to ask, but are you ever actually kidding?" 

Several of the Magicals Anonymous folks, as well as cast regulars (including the indomitable Dr Seah) also pop up, helping Sharon to kick ass in her own unique way:

"I could totally walk through it [the door]. But I don't want to do it and, like, violate your civil rights or anything."
"Unless you're an agent of evil," suggested Rhys.
"Unless you're an agent of evil, or merely a kinda adjunct of evil, or like evil's PA or that, in which case I actually think there's an argument to be had." 

Sharon is also introduced to some of the groups from the MS books, including (groan) the Tribe, an individualist, anarchistic group of self-mutilators who speak in a headache-inducing combination of leetspeak and texting abbreviations. 

 

The plot itself starts out strong and practically glued me to the pages.  I adored Sharon's unique methods of investigation, interrogation, threat, and compromise.  Trailed by the faithful and practically mute Rhys, she usually starts out by attempting to self-actualize everyone she comes across, but when threatened, she can also be amusingly abrasive:

A voice said, "I have a gun."
It was old, male, matter-of-fact. Rhys turned grey. Sharon grabbed him by the sleeve, pulling him towards her, and still holding the umbrella aloft called back, "Yeah? Well, I've got a druid!"

At the same time, as an apparently ungrateful and unappeasable reader, I do have a few complaints.  While I complained about a tendency towards anviliciousness in the MS series, this book's lack of moral drive made it feel a little hollow and anticlimactic, a little contrived, to me. 

The plot felt weak to me, especially the ending. Part of the problem is that this is the fourth time that type of anticlimactic chasedown and conversation with the killer thing has been used in the series, and part is the . In all of Griffin's books, the conflicts tend to be driven by a single, somewhat sympathetic antagonist, whose outrage or corruption creates a mountain of magical mayhem. However, in this case, the antagonist never felt genuine to me. He's a sociopath, yes, and a twisted fuck who abused his daughter emotionally, but his big plan doesn't make sense. What did he expect to do, take over the city in a massive carapace a la the StayPuff Marshmallow Man?  How could no one have picked up on what he was doing? Why did his feet have scars? What was he banned for? It didn't feel to me like there was a huge backstory and I wasn't receiving--it just felt...shallow.

As superficial as glass.

 

Add to that the utter lack of resolution of the whole Old Man Bones thing, as well as the contrived inconsequentiality of it all, and I'm less than thrilled with the plot of this one.

(show spoiler)

In addition, while you may be able to get away with reading Glass God without the Swift books, you're definitely going to miss a lot, from the Tribe's tumultuous background to the references to Swift and Kelly's pasts.  For example, without the MS books, the impact and meaning of a spiritual encounter with a dragon will be as mystifying as it is mystic.  

It definitely won't have the oshit-she's-becoming-the-Midnight-Mayor realization that it has for readers of MS#2.

(show spoiler)

At the same time, Griffin has moments of Pratchettesque quotability, from the thoughtful:

"All that happens if you speak your mind is people tell you your mind must be broken."

to pure Sharonisms:

"Prejudice is what you get when stupid people go about judging the whole rending-talons thing without bothering to see if the talon is actually holding a fucking ice cream!"

We also get Griffin's unique version of a tour of London, including forays into Hampstead and Southwark.  Forget that dreary expanse of nothingness on the book's cover; it definitely should have looked like this:

 

There's even smidgeon of romance and a touch of a love triangle, which, despite my general dislike of the trope, I thought was managed both tastefully and amusingly. Despite my complaints about anticlimax, there were some truly epically awesome moments towards the end ("legs"--just saying).  While I'm still looking forward to the day I can title an MS/MA review "phoning it in" (I have pun addiction issues), this definitely isn't that book.  

Thank you, Ms Griffin.  This book--the whole series, in fact--has truly--and often quite literally-- been a blast.

 

[*]

I hope that quote doesn't count as a spoiler. What I love about it--apart from the content--is that even without context, it clearly comes from Matthew Swift after he spent too much time (i.e., more than two minutes) with Sharon Li.

(show spoiler)

[1]

Believe me--I still haven't forgiven him for bk4--the culcuidae: creating a creature with intelligence, utilizing the souls of those who died, and converting them into a being of eternal rage and vengeance, sending it out without free will to serve his own purpose? If that doesn't come back to bite him in the ass, I am going to be severely depressed. That bastard.

(show spoiler)

[2]

In this book, Kelly and Sharon join the gang, so by my calculations, every single named character he has met has considered it.  Way to make friends and influence people, Swift.

(show spoiler)

[3]

My back-of-the-envelope calculation: Dana[X], Motorcycle-Guy[X], Analissa[X], Vera[X], Oda[X], Dees[X], Penny, Nabeela[X], Kelly, Templeman[X].  Disturbed by how many of them are women? Same here, especially when you realize that 100% of the refrigerator-ones are female, while 100% of the men are traitor-type.

(show spoiler)

 

~~Other links~~

my review of Madness of Angels (Matthew Swift #1)

my review of The Midnight Mayor (Matthew Swift #2)

my review of The Neon Court(Matthew Swift #3)

my review of The Minority Council(Matthew Swift #4)

my review of Stray Souls (Magicals Anonymous #1)

my book updates for The Glass God (Magicals Anonymous #2, aka this book)