The famous ‘law of diminishing returns’ suggests that The Minority Council will of course be the weakest of the Matthew Swift novels by Carnegie Medal winning Kate Griffin (awarded as her alter ego Catherine Webb). That may be true, but there is plenty to recommend about this raw slice of urban fantasy.
In Griffin’s first, Swift is brought back from the dead. In the second, he must take on the Death of Cities and he becomes the Midnight Mayor. The third sees him battling various sects and orders in the city. The Minority Council sees him taking on the very people he works for. It also sees the introduction of that clichéd fantasy trope: the addiction to a magical drug. In this case, the drug is dust, and the kingpin is the fairy godmother.
So what of the plot? Something is killing trouble-making kids. The homeless are disappearing and it’s not the usual pattern. And that is upsetting the Beggar King. The Aldermen, Swift’s employees, are proving less than trust-worthy. Penny, Swift’s apprentice, is trying to go on a date. What Griffin does deftly is bring these different plot strands together. The story is full of ideas we’ve seen before, and characters come and go, and yet you don’t mind.
When we’re introduced to a powerful teenage magician mid way through, it strikes me that the Midnight Mayor should have had some inkling that he existed. However, it is the ride that is the key in this series, not so much the literary technique. The characters are interesting and varied, but they rarely, if ever, do anything that surprises the reader. It doesn’t take away from the enjoyment. You know Swift is going to get through to the end after some violence and some improvised conjuring and some less than charitable behaviour to his colleagues. You know he’ll end up crossing London, seeing its sights, and musing on its history and its magics. You know he’ll end up licking his wounds and despite it all, emerging victorious; hollow, Pyrrhic or otherwise. The book is still a great read.
Griffin knows London and feels its power. She understands what people who have lived there feel when they walk down a street or ride the tube or sit in a park. I would image that translates well to other cities. I doubt, however, that someone of a more rural persuasion would necessarily get it. Although I could be wrong.
Unlike the books 2 and 3 in this series, there is a lot less back story the reader needs to be aware of. The gangs and orders and Swift’s history are only mentioned in passing and so you don’t need to have read the previous efforts in order to enjoy this. I wouldn’t recommend it, but you could read The Minority Council as a standalone novel, to a point. Whether you chose that option, or have read the others in the series, there’s enough in this to make it an enjoyable romp with a little bit to say about city life too.