Posted on June 13, 2009 by alanajoli
There are some rare talents in fantasy these days whose words coast along like poetry while depicting a world full of dark and terrible dangers: drugs, monsters, and magic among them. Crafting a balance between artful and gritty writing – such that the language doesn’t shy away from either side of the equation – is incredibly difficult. Caitlin Kittredge has mastered it.
To my shame, Street Magic, which I received earlier this year as an electronic advance copy, is the first novel I’ve read by Kittredge, despite the fact that I own some of her earlier books. They’ve been sitting on my TBR pile, just waiting for me to catch up with other review titles and series titles that always seem to come first. I can tell you with great confidence: no longer. I’ll be picking one up to read as soon as I finish this review.
Happily, Street Magic: A Ghost Story of Black London is the first in a new series, which means there will be plenty of stories to follow heroine Pete Caldecott, Detective Inspector of the New Scotland Yard. As *Street Magic* opens, readers see a scene twelve years ago, when Pete had her first brush with magic, in the company of Jack Winter, a singer (as far as Pete knew) and a mage. The results are catastrophic: a ghost is freed and Jack is, Pete believes, killed by the spirit, torn to shreds in front of her eyes. But in chapter two, twelve years later, Pete follows up on a tip about a missing girl and finds that Jack is still alive. Despite being a junkie, Jack used his magic to find out where he missing girl could be found, and Pete – who
has given up fancy for logic – takes his advice, against her better judgment. When Jack proves to be right, she believes he might hold the key to finding the next children who have been kidnapped in the same fashion.
Though Jack hates her, for reasons she doesn’t understand, he allows himself to be coerced into helping – and eventually champions the cause when he realizes the depth of the magic behind the kidnappings.
Told through the filter of Pete’s view point, Street Magic dances through both modern London and the alternate Black London – the place where magic thrives beneath the surface – with aplomb. Both worlds are at the same time concrete and ethereal – as though they could shift out from under the characters at any minute, despite their feeling of reality. Both Jack and Pete are real people, seeped in self-doubt while, at the same time, being confident in the abilities they know they have. That seeming contradiction only makes them more solid as characters – they are complex in their feelings and motives, thoughts and actions. Pete is thoroughly aware of when she is making choices that are completely illogical, despite her desire to
embrace her logic, which makes her feel genuine and true to herself: possibly being so for the first time in twelve years, from the moment she first touched magic to when it is suddenly reentering her life.
Most of the other characters are peripheral, and not as fully fleshed as Pete and Jack, but that also serves the narrative. The secondary characters are defined primarily by their relationships to Pete or Jack rather than as entities on their own, making them almost part of the setting rather than individuals. That aspect gives the setting some of its richness – the feeling that the places themselves are alive and moving. Kittredge also uses many of the mythological tropes I love to see appearing: mixed in with demon summoning and witchfire are the Green Man, bansidhe (banshee), and the Morrigan. This is an urban fantasy driven primarily by magic of humans rather than fae (no shapeshifters or vampires in this world thus far), and
that very human centered approach in some ways makes the setting even darker – instead of monsters committing wrongs, men are doing evil against each other. (Nevermind that some of the men have been dead for quite some time.)
Street Magic has just come out in bookstores, and it is well worth picking up. It may well be the best novel I’ve read this year – which is saying something, because I’ve read a number of excellent ones!
Review by Alana Joli Abbott