'Street Magic', the first entry in Caitlin Kittredge's Black London series takes readers on a ride through a dark new urban fantasy world. Readers of Kittredge's Nocturne City series should come in with no expectations, good or bad; this series is completely different in both style and tone.
As the most talented writers are able to do, Kittredge takes a common premise, big bad ghoul wants to come back to life and needs to take over a primary character in order to do so, and makes it her own. The world of the Black is unique and captures London's noir roots, in the dark and twisting streets and alleys, and foggy nights echoing with history. Although she does struggle a bit with normal London, tending towards a punk rock tourist's view of the city, (it is certainly never that easy to get a parking spot), those who haven't spent much time in London aren't likely to notice.
Kittredge's characters put urban fantasy norms on their head, an excellent thing as far as I'm concerned. Pete Caldecott, the female lead, is a police detective with a dark and damaged past. Although she's strong, and won't be taken advantage of (see the interactions with the ex-fiancé), unlike many female urban fantasy leads, she is not bitter, broken, and angry at the world. Despite her lack of knowledge of the Black (and magic generally), she is the decisive and physically strong member of the duo, an unusual UF division of labor. Even more unusual, compared to many of the UF heroines I've read lately, she is a true leader; she knows the limits of her own knowledge, and has a good sense of Jack's abilities and problems. She knows when to step back and when to lead. With the exception of a single poor decision, (other UF writers please, please take note), she is not constantly running off into situations that she lacks the knowledge and background to handle. Although the fight scenes could use a little work, I like that Pete, without becoming superhero-esque, is able to physically fight characters who have relied purely on magic for too long.
Jack Winter is a former punk rock singer, legendary (past tense, as most assume he's dead) mage, and current heroin addict. Just who he is, where he comes from, and what he's gone through and why, are slowly revealed throughout the book, answering questions as the story unfolds. Jack is physically, and likely emotionally damaged, from his years as a junkie; unlike most urban fantasy, he is not physically able to protect Pete, and without this crutch to fall back on Kittredge develops the character in unexpected ways. Although the initial descriptions of his drug use and detox are quite realistic, his recovery is a bit too quick and falls by the wayside later in the book; another minor detail, but still an important one. Several other plot points, including Pete's relationship with her father, her dreams, and just how Jack survived that night in the cemetery, were also dropped. Although it's likely that Kittredge is reserving them for a later book, they could have been left more smoothly in this one.
As numerous reviewers have mentioned, Kittredge's version of British-speak leaves a bit to be desired. Although Jack may be a tongue-in-cheek homage to Billy Idol and Spike (of Buffy fame), they themselves are caricatures of Brits, and the author should have realized that their speech is not realistic. As an American living in the UK I have found that, with a few exceptions, the primary differences in language are accent and speech patterns, not vocabulary. In addition, even those differ widely by region and social class, thus there should be greater differences between Jack and Pete's speech. However, as another reviewer correctly pointed out, numerous successful series, including Jim Dresden's Harry Butcher, have begun with rough/inaccurate depictions of language, culture, or the physical location. If they had been condemned we would have lost some fantastic writing, and the author deserves a chance to correct the problem.
`Street Magic' follows Pete and Jack as they make their way through London's in-between world, trying to save the life of a little girl, and stay alive at the same time. An excellent mix of physical and magical action, interesting secondary characters, and an education in the Black, keep the book moving steadily. The world of Black London is enough to overcome the myriad of minor flaws. I enjoyed this book quite a bit, and am looking forward to the second.