Stray Souls by Kate Griffin

Stray Souls by Kate Griffin Set in the same magical London as Griffin’s Matthew Swift novels , this novel skilfully introduces a cast of low powered or inept protagonists, giving a new and exciting perspective on the city.

The plot focuses on Sharon Li, a newly awakened shaman and self-help book addict, and the other members of Magicals Anonymous, a support group for those who have issues with integrating the magical and the mundane. When the spirit of London disappears ancient feuds and political struggles prevent Swift or other established powers from directly investigating, so Sharon is given the task. The rest of MA are soon drawn in.

As with the Swift series, the plot contains many real challenges without losing the feeling that magic is both powerful and close.

Unlike some urban fantasy series containing more than one supernatural species, Griffin manages to include several of the standard creatures of legend and types of magicians without either losing plausibility or requiring complex explanations.

As well as the core challenge of recovering the spirit, the book portrays the mundane challenges of being magical but not a power: Sharon struggles with a low-wage job to pay the rent on a shoddy flat even before her schedule is disrupted by the need to save the city.

Although Sharon is the lead protagonist, other members of MA are equally fleshed out, both directly through their involvement in events and by short chapters in the style of Alcoholics Anonymous testimonies detailing their issues. Some of the characters have the potential to be slapstick; for example, a hypochondriac vampire who wants to sue for adequate dental services. However, Griffin makes their concerns seem real issues and so the humour, when it comes, only serves to highlight how dark their world is.

The villains of the book are equally well-developed. The non-human threats clearly have very inhuman mindsets but also have backgrounds and desires that caused me to understand, and even sympathise with, some of their actions.

This is clearly written to be the first book in a new series so does not resolve all the sub-plots; however it does bring each of them to a natural rest point.

It is also set in the world of an existing series and so obviously runs the risk of either over-explaining to established readers or under-explaining for first time readers. Griffin seeks to address this with the trope of inexperienced protagonists and I found myself sympathising with their search for answers without cursing needlessly unhelpful background characters. As I have read the Swift series I am unsure whether it would lack clarity on its own.

I enjoyed this book thoroughly both for its plot and its vivid descriptions of urban magic. I recommend it to any fan of either urban fantasy or magical systems.

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