REVIEW: Street Magic by Caitlin Kittredge
Dear Ms. Kittredge,
I think most readers who’ve heard of you are more familiar with your Luna Wilder series. While I have my reservations about the titular character of those books, I do think they’re a good way to pass the time. But I’ll confess: the series I’ve really been waiting for are the Black London books. My first exposure to this world was in your short story, “Newlydeads,” and although that piece of short fiction didn’t work out so well for me, the world and the characters of Pete and Jack stuck in my mind. So when I opened up a box from Jane to find an ARC of this inside, I immediately snatched it up and out.
Petunia “Pete” Caldecott is a detective inspector for Scotland Yard. Her latest case deals with the kidnapping of a young girl. She has no leads in the investigation until a tip leads her directly to the girl. But there are two problems. First, the girl has been mysteriously struck blind. And second, the informant is a man who died before her eyes when Pete was sixteen.
When Pete was a teenager, Jack Winter dated her older sister, MG (short for Morning Glory — the names in Pete’s family crack me up). He was hot, part of a rock band, and larger than life, all of which contributed to her massive crush. Then one day, Jack asked Pete to come with him to a cemetery so he could do some magic. Pete humored his whims — he’d always been something of a street hustler when it came to performing magic tricks and well, what teenage girl can resist the lure of the forbidden? Unfortunately, that day, she learned that Jack’s magic tricks might actually be more than sleight of hand and even worse, he saw him die because of it.
The incident traumatized Pete. She doesn’t really recall what happened that day because a part of her mind desperately wants to deny what it witnessed. I appreciated this aspect of her character. In so many books do we encounter characters who come face to face with the fantastic and paranormal and after a brief moment of hysterics or disbelief, accept it and continue on their merry way. Pete, on the other hand, completely denied what she saw and convinced herself it never happened. The book doesn’t make light of this decision on her part. There’s no mistaking that in doing so, Pete did herself some damage, which manifests itself through her recurring nightmares.
The discovery that Jack Winter is still alive forces Pete to face what happened on that day long ago. And she has to, because the newly recovered girl is only the first in a string of kidnappings that result in children drained of their sight.
Jack doesn’t make the process easier. The intervening years have not been kind. Since Pete last saw him, Jack has become a drug addict, strung out on heroin to drown out the presence of the dead, which he has been able to see since he was a child. Combined with the fact that he holds a lot of residual anger towards Pete for what happened that day, Pete has a lot on her plate.
Frankly, I think this is the best thing you’ve written to date. “Newlydeads” was the first work of yours I’d read, and I can definitely see a difference between that story and this one. I can’t even begin to explain how happy that makes me because if there’s one thing I hate, it’s falling out of love with a writer’s works due to a perceived decrease in quality. So major kudos for that. I think readers who aren’t fond of the Luna books should definitely give this a try if the premise sounds at all interesting because it is a different sort of book.
The relationship between Pete and Jack is the driving force in the story and, I assume, series. Pete has known Jack since she was a teenager but the rose-tinted glasses she once viewed him through are gone now that she’s an adult. Make no mistake. Jack has made many mistakes, particularly with regards to Pete and what went down that day in the cemetery. I wouldn’t ever call him a good guy but he falls into that area of grey that I like so much in my characters. I really enjoyed seeing how Pete worked past the memories of her hero worship to see the Jack as he is now: a hollowed out shell of a man who, let’s face it, is kind of a jerk.
That said, I do think the world Jack lives in necessitates him being a jerk. Nice people wouldn’t survive long in Black London. I really enjoyed that part of the worldbuilding. It was spooky, seeing the magical underworld overlapped with the “real” world. And speaking of which, I really enjoyed the London portrayed in this book. I’ve never been to London so I can’t say for sure but it certainly didn’t read like a generic city. That’s one of my major complaints about urban fantasy and paranormal novels. They all make a big deal about taking place in a cityscape but in so many cases, they’re interchangeable with little to no distinguishing characteristics. That’s not the case here. Everything, from the descriptions to the narrative to the dialogue, read as British, not American to me. But as I said, I’m not an expert here so if I’m wrong, I’m sure someone will correct me.
I was very pleasantly surprised by this book. Based on my reactions to your Nocturne City novels, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But having finished the book, I don’t regret picking up and, in fact, am very glad I did. I look forward to the next book and seeing what’s in store for Pete and Jack. B
This book can be purchased in mass market from an independent bookstore. No ebook because it’s St. Martin’s Press and they don’t want you to be able to buy a legitimate digital copy.
This is great. Thank you for the review, Jia. I didn’t like the first Nocturne City novel, Nightlife, at all. I haven’t read anything by Caitlin Kittredge since I bought that one, but I’ve been very curious about Street Magic. I was thinking about buying it over the weekend. Your review has pretty much finalized my decision to do so.
Ooh, this sounds like a good one. Definitely checking it out!
Thanks for this review. I had been hesitant to start this new series but your review has pushed me to the need to try it now.
I liked it, for all the reasons you said, and also the gritty realism. It may not appeal to everyone, but I thought it was exceptionally well-done.
Great review, definitely made me glad I picked this book up at the bookstore the other day (though I was kind of bummed I had to buy it in paper instead of in Kindle format). Now to have some time to read.
@Jory Strong: SMP really does need to step it up with the e-format releases. Assuming it follows the same pattern of the Nocturne City series, a Kindle format is coming… eventually. Other formats are harder to find and overpriced if the Sony price point for Night Life is any indication. Bleh.
*jumps up and down* LOVED this book. LOVED this book!!
I am really enjoying the book so far! It’s a compelling read and a very realistic for a book about magic. The British accent and London depicted are pretty authentic (having lived there for a while, I am comfortable asserting this). Kittredge either lived in the UK and London for a while or has a good ear for accents and did a helluva a lot of research.
It’s also a great police/ detective story. I also like the fact that magic itself isn’t romanticized (no majick or olde worlde faeries). It’s more on par with the Dresden files if I were to compare it with anything.
I wasn’t drawn to her other series, but I had to read this one. Unlike a lot of books, I can actually see this one as a tv series.
Hmm, thank you for the review. I’ve been sniffing around this book, thinking it sounded interesting, but have steered clear of Kittredge after reading the beyond trite Nightlife . If I never see another clichÃ©-ridden urban fantasy werewolf saga again, I’ll be a very happy camper. This sounds much, much more fascinating.
I bought my copy today. Again, thanks for the review.
I have to disagree with the authenticity of the dialogue statement. When it’s neutral — mostly no problems. When it tries too hard to be British — ouch.
Mostly it’s the attempts to use British colloquialisms that jar. Sure, I use outdated phrases for fun, ironically, or to make a point. Pete and Jack seem to use them absolutely straight-faced — it often comes across as dated. (Ninny. Bugger all used incorrectly — you add the ‘all’ and you’ve changed the meaning completely… Overuse of bollocks at every opportunity).
Americanisms (‘catsup’? Offering ‘cream’ with tea? Milk, you barbarian!)are fairly infrequent, so she’s done better with avoiding those than with the British-isms.
I know people who use bits and bobs of archaic phrases ironically, who borrow Americanisms for somethings. You can absolutely get away with quirks like that in the real world — or in fiction if people around react to it as irony/humour/quirkiness.
I really need some help on this book.
If anyone has a really good understanding and knows pretty much every detail & everything about it, I would love it if you could e-mail me and help me out with it.