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Where Monsters Gather

Stray Souls  (Magicals Anonymous, volume 1)

By Kate Griffin I 

26 Oct, 2015

Miscellaneous Reviews


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This is the first book credited to Kate Griffin that I have reviewed here — but it is not the first book by this author to appear on James Nicoll Reviews . Kate Griffin and Claire North are both pen-names for the prolific Catherine Webb. I have no idea how to disambiguate this on my website’s author roll. 

What do you do if while out walking one day, you find yourself, however temporarily, at one with the whole of London, unexpectedly imbued with the abilities and responsibilities of a shaman? If you’re the suddenly shamanic Sharon Li, you found Magicals Anonymous, a support group for the mystically perplexed. 

And just in time, because one of London’s gods — Greydawn, Our Lady of 4 A.M. — has gone missing and monsters are stalking the streets. It’s just the sort of problem that falls into the purview of Mathew Swift, the Midnight Mayor of London; Mathew’s solution is to punt it over to an unprepared Li. 

The problem arises, as problems so often do in London, because of an investment firm. In the years after the 2008 financial market meltdown, Burns & Stoke struggled to keep its head above water. Then Mr. Ruislip stepped in to take control. He seemed to be just the sort of clear-eyed visionary who might save the company. True, Mr. Ruislip had a very shaky grasp of human niceties, but you have to expect that sort of thing from a wendigo. And it’s true that Ruislip’s grand strategy depends on the dark arts … but there’s no shortage of dabblers willing to risk their souls for a decent ROI at a company like Burns & Stoke. 

And Ruislip’s bold scheme came so close to working. If it hadn’t been for those meddling kids … 

If Sharon is to resolve the crisis successfully, she will need to marshal the talents of her tribe. Even if her tribe consists of a hypochondriac vampire, an art-loving banshee, a necromancer with skin issues, a socially-awkward troll, an off-model exorcist, an almost-shaman who never quite passed his exams, and a cleaning woman who isn’t really certain why she’s attending MA meetings in the first place 


North may not have worked out all the details when she started writing this book, but she clearly had a good outline. She knew what general shape was needed if the book was to work (and it would not surprise me if the first inkling of that shape was what if Pratchett wrote a modern Urban Fantasy?”). It would be no fun at all if our protagonist headed a team of invincible super-magicals. Magicals Anonymous had to be populated with underdogs, or at least people who gave the impression of being underdogs. As becomes apparent, Magicals Anonymous is indeed an impressive collection of super-magicals. However, their confusion, fears, and social shortcomings make them appear much weaker than they actually are. As the unfortunate Mr. Ruislip discovers in the course of the novel. 

Speaking of Ruislip, his narrative journey inverts that of the Magicals; he begins as seemingly unstoppable, they begin as hapless incompetents. As they rise, he falls. In fact, while none of the Magicals will ever learn what Ruislip’s true goal might have been, he and his opponents at MA have a lot in common. By the end of the novel, I had a certain amount of sympathy for the poor monster. Under other circumstances, the wendigo could have made a fine member of Magicals Anonymous. 

This book has a tangential connection to Griffin’s Midnight Mayor series. Only tangential, as here the Midnight Mayor is a useless tit cowering on the sidelines prefers to avoid direct, overt involvement in the crisis. He is a supporting character and plot-instigator, not a protagonist. 

It turns out that I am a sucker for comedic 1 stories about bands of misfits facing problems seemingly well out of their pay bracket. This book also hit the modern fantasy novels that juxtapose the fantastic with the mundane, to great comedic effect” sweet spot. As well as the books whose protagonists embrace values more recent than the Reformation” sweet spot. Two thumbs up (both hands). 

Stray Souls is available from Orbit in a variety of formats.

1: Comedic but also pretty violent in spots. Stray body parts galore.