So I really did not like Kate Griffin’s A Madness of Angels, and I think one reason why is that it’s structured around a false mystery.

What I mean by that is… okay, this is going to be easier to explain by contrast. So consider those M.L.N. Hanover books, right. They start off with a bit of action that’s not entirely clear—who are these guys? why is he trying to do this thing?—then cut to our protagonist narrator, who does not know anything about this action, but quickly gets dumped into it. So there’s a genuine mystery, and we follow along with the protagonist, finding out the stuff with her, including some characters infodumping at her and the whole works.

And so A Madness of Angels does something that seems similar at first: We get a bit of unclear in media res action, which introduces a bit of a mystery, right—who is this guy, how did he get in this situation, all that. But the difference here is that it’s only a mystery to the reader. The protagonist narrator understands perfectly well what’s happening (give or take a few minor points), but the book is so committed to its false mystery structure that it can’t just have the narrator narrate to us. It has to keep us in the dark, slowly doling out pieces of information and giving us cryptic hints about what’s going on that we couldn’t possibly understand, but which are supposed to be tantalizing.

At first, you roll with it; it’s pretty normal to go through an action scene and not be entirely clear about what’s happening, and have the narrator fill you in afterward. (That’s a pretty common story structure in Butcher’s Dresden books, for instance.) But when you get to a pause point, where the narrator should go back and fill you in… he doesn’t. And he keeps not filling you in for at least the first half of the book, keeping you in this false suspense.

And of course, the reason the book is structured that way is that if you take away the false suspense and false mystery, there’s not a whole lot there. It’s bland, generic urban fantasy with characters that have literally zero personality or distinctiveness. I want to say that it’s not a terrible book, and it probably isn’t in some sense. And yet at the same time, I quit reading it 2/3 of the way through, because I just gave zero shits about any of the characters or any of the storylines of the book.

Not recommended.


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