Review: The Sword of Albion by Mark Chadbourn (Bantam)

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Mark Chadbourn is back with a new publisher, new editor and a new storyline. After completing a trilogies of trilogies (The Age of Misrule, The Dark Ages, Kingdom of Spiders) which focus on the present at a moment when magic reappears in the land and a group of heroes called the ‘brothers and sisters of dragons’ are brought together to protect us from ancient and evil forces. The Swords of Albion shows us that even though the sequence is complete the battle never ends.

1588: The London of Elizabeth I is rocked by news of a daring raid on the Tower. The truth is known only to a select few: that, for twenty years, a legendary doomsday device, its power fabled for millennia, has been kept secret and, until now at least, safe in the Tower. But it has been stolen and Walsingham’s spies believe it has been taken by the ‘Enemy’.

And so it falls to Will Swyfte – swordsman, adventurer, scholar, rake, and the greatest of Walsingham’s new breed of spy – to follow a trail of murder and devilry that leads deep into the dark, venomous world of the Faerie. As Philip of Spain prepares a naval assault on England, Will is caught up in a race against time in pursuit of this fiendish device…

Will Swyfte made a brief appearance in Jack of Ravens but it might not be the same Will Swyfte. Chadbourn enjoys playing with time and with the very basis of humanity and our reactions and interactions with each other.

England’s greatest spy (who if he was alive now would doubtless have his own cartoon series, comic book, and clothing line!) doesn’t just fight the Spanish – even though they are a threat to Queen Elizabeth and England they do not represent the true enemy and this is where the thrust of Chadbourn’s trilogy of trilogies comes together in this new story. However, with so many layers of myth heaped upon the ‘brothers and sister of the dragons’ there is sometimes slow movement in terms of action in those books.

Not so with Swyfte’s tale. He is an all out Elizabethan action hero. No time for debating the wonder of the cosmos here. This is a man with a mission. He has to rescue what has been stolen and we breathlessly follow Will for most of this tale as he pursues the Enemy across England all the way to Spain and back again.

I guess the problem for me is that Chadbourn’s skill isn’t necessarily in action but rather in the moments of connection between characters. And those moments seem few and far between in the Swords of Albion. Our action-hero protagonist always has to be doing something. We follow him as he runs across rooftops, hides amongst shadows and impersonates people on sailing ships.

But for all those action sequences, and there are lots to choose from, they feel slightly too pared down, like there isn’t enough space to follow who is stabbing who or what is being set fire to by whom.The other problem is that there isn’t much time for Chadbourn’s characters to grow. We find out more about them and their motivations and some of these are quite shocking, but the characters almost all come away as similar, albeit more familiar, as when we first met them.

And for a writer that has for so long been a champion of consequences, it feels odd not to have more cause and effect on an individual level, though it is certainly present on a grander scale. The door is left wide open for the next in the sequence.

As a long term readers of Chadbourn’s work, there is a huge shift needed as Swyfte is very different from Chadbourn’s other heroes. He is darker and goes above and beyond the level where the ‘dragons’ would have stopped.

So we have a new Chadbourn, new-ish characters, and a new way of storytelling. New readers have nothing to fear here. This a perfect jumping on point. The nature of the Enemy is revealed in enough detail, although old readers will have a greater understanding of the Enemy’s nature and role.

They will be seeing a different side to Chadbourn than has previously been on display. I’m hoping that the next book will add more depth to the detail, so it doesn’t feel as if all the action is whizzing past in a blur.

Chadbourn deftly mixes period feel and modern day, with Swifte gaining a touch of James Bond and Dee getting a touch of Q. He gets the tone and balance just right. I can’t think of any real moments where I was drawn out of the story to question a detail or the tone or feel of the period. It felt convincing that these events could be happening in this way to these characters.

For a change of style Chadbourn has managed to break away from his earlier work, infusing it with some fresh air. Unfortunately , as I mentioned earlier, it feels that he’s taken the work slightly too far into ‘action’ away from  his strengths at delving deeper and peeling away what is seen from what is not.

At this point I’m undecided. I’m hoping that Chadbourn can find a rhythm in the next book, a balance between the depth he’s gone into previously while not speeding along so fast that moments are lost.

He redeems himself in the end, pulling off a moment of brilliance in the revelation of a secret that puts a completely different spin on events. And thus he has left me wanting more.

***

This review was first published last year in SFRevu

The Sword of Albion is out now in paperback and book 2, The Scar-Crow Men is out now in TPB.

 

Green Review: Destroyer of Worlds by Mark Chadbourn

CONTAINS SPOILERS

Title: Destroyer of Worlds
Author: Mark Chadbourn
Pages: 336
Genre: Fantasy
Standalone/Series: Kingdom of the Serpent: Book 3 (and the end of a trilogy of trilogies – The Age of Misrule, The Dark Age and Kingdom of the Serpent)
Release: Out Now in Paperback
Publisher: Gollancz

Synopsis

It is the beginning of the end . . . The end of the axe-age, the sword-age, leading to the passing of gods and men from the universe. As all the ancient prophecies fall into place, the final battle rages, on Earth, across Faerie, and into the land of the dead. Jack Churchill, Champion of Existence, must lead the Brothers and Sisters of Dragons in a last, desperate assault on the Fortress of the Enemy, to confront the ultimate incarnation of destruction: the Burning Man. It is humanity’s only chance to avert the coming extinction. At his back is an army of gods culled from the world’s great mythologies – Greek, Norse, Chinese, Aztec, and more. But will even that be enough? Driven to the brink by betrayal, sacrifice and death, his allies fear Jack may instead bring about the very devastation he is trying to prevent . . .

CONTAINS SPOILERS – Summary is SPOILER FREE

I can’t say this enough – though I’m going to be very careful this review is most likely going to CONTAINS SPOILERS so you have been warned. The Summary is spoiler free.

Comments/Thoughts/Analysis

Before I start with Destroyer of Worlds I want to take you back a bit. The wonder of Amazon is that you can check on when you bought things. And when you look at a particular books it reminds you that you have them. So if I look at Worlds End it says:

You purchased this item on 28 Jun 2001

and after I finished reading it I put this on Twitter at 3.05pm 16 March:

So that was the end of @Chadbourn’s 9 Vol sequence – am sad and happy – bloody brilliant – the end is the beginning! I’m blown away.

Why am I saying this? Well it’s the final book of a sequence of three trilogies: The Age of Misrule, The Dark Age and Kingdom of the Serpent. And one I’ve been reading for almost nine years so I’m more than invested in its outcome.

So was it worth the wait? Undoubtably. I’d read it again right now from the beginning. And I probably will though I’ll be reading the Pyr Books editions rather than the Gollancz ones. But that’s OK as the Pyr covers are stunning. I’d better get back to this book.

By the time we reach the end the stakes for our original Brother and Sisters of Dragons (Jack, Ruth, Veitch, Shavi and Laura) is literally the end of the world. We’ve know each of them intimately. We’ve seem them all change, adapt, grow and die. We’ve been through all their struggles and challenges.

But even then Chadbourn manages to do something surprising with them. They and the people that have joined them along the way like Tom, Hunter, Hal, Catlin to name a few. He shows us that nothing is black or white and we always have a choice.

We can accept the world around us or we can strive to change it. Sometimes we don’t think we’ve succeeded but by trying we’ve actually achieved more than we thought and we put in motion changes that will ultimately help us and those around us.

And there are lots of lessons about life and living. Some characters die. And I was saddened by each of their deaths. They weren’t always happy but their stories and lives will stay with me.

Chadbourn has built up his skill of using the patterns in myth and their parallels and connections to build his story after focusing on Celtic myth for most of the sequence we now have the other great Dominions making a stand with humanity. He gives them the same injection of personality and individuality that he does for every other character. I love his version of Thor.

Most of the screen time is spent with following several interchanging groups of characters as they go about their various tasks. Chadbourn keeps everything tight and relevant. He creates pauses in action when needed to give the characters a small time for processing and rebalancing before setting them off again.

He also takes them down different routes than you might expect. There are some startling revelations. But in the end as it has from the beginning it boils down to the relationships between the characters and the choices they make. They aren’t your normal heroes but they are what normal people become when they become heroes.

Summary

It’s the end. All the other books have been building up to this point. Not all characters survive. And none are the people the same as they were at the start.

Chadbourn skilfully pulls the threads of myth and weaves them into his own powerful and penetrative tale about our potential as individuals to be more than fragile creatures.

Chadbourn leaves on a high and a hint that the end is also the beginning.

A perfect ending to a series that requires almost immediate rereading to enjoy the journey all over again.

SR09 Review: Lord of Silence by Mark Chadbourn (Solaris)

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Lord of Silence by Mark Chadbourn
Published by Solaris and Out Now in UK (US release is 28th July)

I’m sure I’ve said it before but Mark Chadbourn via his heavily linked trilogies, Age of Misrule, The Dark Ages and Kingdom of the Serpent, is my favourite writer of modern fantasy. You’d this makes reviewing a work that isn’t linked to this series a little hard. And you’d be right.

Lord of Silence is and isn’t a departure for Chadbourn. Still here are the themes of anti-heroes, friendships, religion, symbology, and hidden knowledge but this time we’ve moved from modern day, multi-continent, multi-religion setting to a city-state surrounded by an almost impenetrable forest though the multi-religions remain.

Chadbourn has us follow two main threads starting with the murder of Idriss’s greatest hero. Vidar, the Lord of Silence has to take his place. The murder makes the start of events that are going to shake the foundations of both Idriss and Vidar. Vidar must solve the mystery of a three thousand year-old religion and its connection to the vampiric jewel imbedded in his chest.

And to be honest it’s quite an interesting mystery. Especially when you look at all the clues that are placed and the revelations throughout the story that gives a few twists in the tale. It’s not billed as the start of a series but you can see that by the end the possibilities for one are opened up.

As much as I enjoyed it by the end there is a strange sense of frustration in parts that I’m was missing something. The trouble is that Chadbourn is trying very hard to keep things from the reader and not to make things obvious. So it does get slightly confusing and the questions that come up don’t really have any satisfactory answers.

Like the nature of the forest and why it is surrounding Idriss – there is an answer of sorts but the greater sense of the place is left out. This partly because as it might spoil the sense of claustrophobia but also that there are more tales to tell and they might come to reveal more.

This holding back does make it a little tricky in the middle but we get back on track when Chadbourn reveals more evening bringing the question of science into this seemingly straight fantasy novel.

I feel that I’m treating Lord of Silence slightly too harshly as it is supposed to be less deep and more action than Chadbourn’s big series. The trouble is it seems that he’s fighting with himself not too go exploring more and delve deeper into the characters and the world with the action parts. The balance isn’t quite there.

The good thing is that if there are any more books he’s laid a good foundation with both characters and the world they inhabit – he’s definitely knocked down the walls of Idriss only to bring more enemies to the gate.

Overall a Chadbourn has made a worthy stab at traditional fantasy giving it his own twist. I’d just like to have seem more exploration of the world and people of Idriss but I was happy at the end and possibilities he’s left open.


Review: The Burning Man by Mark Chadbourn

Title: The Burning Man
Author: Mark Chadbourn
Publisher: Gollancz
Published: 17 April 2008
Review Copy

The Burning Man brings the Brothers and Sisters of Dragons closer to the end of the world. And after eight books (three in Age of Misrule, three in The Dark Age and this is the second in The Kingdom of the Serpent.) it has been a long and challenging fight. The lives of the characters have been torn apart and rebuilt, as has the world around them. Magic has been released and it’s now being extinguished. The Brothers and Sisters have one final chance to stop the magic and hope in the world being extinguished forever.

As hinted at in Jack of Ravens the Tuatha Dé Danann are not the only Gods to be awakened in the world. As events have spiralled the quest of the Brothers and Sisters of Dragons brings them in contact with other Great Dominions some aren’t as friendly to the cause as others.

Mark Chadbourn is one of the best writers I have ever read regardless of genre. He manages to mix characterisation and storytelling so that one feeds off the other and neither is sacrificed. Not an easy thing to manage as stories need an emotional core without being emotional and soppy and characters need a journey and purpose no matter how much you like then.

In The Burning Man the pace never slows. That’s partly down to Chadbourn’s non-indulgent style. He gives just enough information and moves on. So this whole section is told in 329 pages and at no point do I feel short changed. He’s crammed in a lot.

It’s partly style but mostly he’s built up so much momentum that the story carries you forward. It’s rarely that I pick up a book just to see what happens next whilst waiting for a computer to boot or software to install (I got a new computer and usually I’d be staring at the machine keeping an eye on progress) or in ad break or choosing to read over everything else.

There were several sad and surprising moments, events happened where I wanted our heroes to hold on to their happiness a few moments longer and twists came seemingly without warning (though the signs I think were there if I’d have been paying a bit more attention).

Chadbourn has managed to make each of the characters rounded; they have their flaws, their own strengths and their own agendas. They act and react in their own and sometimes surprising (but not out of character) way.

I’d love to say more but if you’ve read this far it’ll only spoil it and if you haven’t it’s not going to make much sense if I said more about the plot apart from he ends The Burning Man in such a way that I have no idea if or how are heroes are going to save the world and what world they’ll end up saving.

I can’t wait until Book Three of The Kingdom of the Serpent.

10/10

Additional:

Here are links two reviews of books two and three of The Dark Age cycle.

A review of Jack of Ravens is here.

An overview of the series so far by me is here.

Review: Jack of Ravens by Mark Chadbourn

Jack of RavensTitle: Jack of Ravens
Author: Mark Chadbourn
Publisher: Gollancz
Published: 6 December 2007
Price: £7.99
Review Copy

Jack of Ravens continues Mark Chadbourn’s exploration of myth, archetypes and human nature. He does a lot more besides that but these are the backbone of the cycles of books that started with World’s End. Jack of Ravens starts with return of Jack Church who disappeared (or died depending on your point of view) at the end of the Age of Misrule trilogy and who was brought back following the events at the end of The Dark Age cycle.

Chadbourn has definitely taken the long view when it comes to this series. As one book builds on the next and each cycle seems to come to end only for something greater or deeper or darker is then revealed.

In Jack of Ravens Chadbourn changes tack again in his exploration of the Fixed Lands (here), the Fragile Creatures (us) and the Tuatha Dé Danann (old celtic gods who influence our lives but in this book there is hint that the world also has gods from other denominations) But instead of confining himself to the near future and the ancient sites of Britain of previous books instead Chadbourn takes us through time and across continents as Jack Church tries to stop the darkness that has altered history to make its plans work.

The best part of each book is that as the reader gets more exposed to the world that Chadbourn has created the more he changes the rules. Here he gathers again the heroes and some villains of past books but they are changed and how they act and react is different as the events that have shaped them previously has changed.

I could go on about the layers that have been built into this series and the connections that are pulled, rewired, crossed and severed as the story is told but that would spoil it. The nature and effect of experience is a major theme.

There is one slight problem with Chadbourn’s storytelling is that it relies on the reader putting things together.Lots is left unexplained but makes a lot of sense if you consider what has gone on before. But in the case of this book if you haven’t read The Dark Age and ideally the Age of Misrule you may lack the knowledge to care about Jack’s journey through 2,300 of history.

Which would be a great shame as Jack of Ravens gave me several ooo and ahh moments as I realised how events were playing out. Chadbourn also has a wonderful imagination. The characters and places of the Far (Faery) Lands are as tangible as they are fanciful.

Overall, Mark Chadbourn has again proved himself an amazing and imaginative story-weaver (he’s laid so many threads) that kept me breathless from beginning to end. I can’t imagine what he has planned for The Burning Man but I can’t wait to find out.

9/10

Additional:

Here are links two reviews of books two and three of The Dark Age cycle.

And an overview of the series so far by me is here.

Review: The Hounds of Avalon by Mark Chadbourn

The Hounds of AvalonTitle: The Houds of Avalon
Author: Mark Chadbourn
Publisher: Gollancz
Published: 08 June 2006
Price: £6.99

There are some writers who build whole new worlds and some who raise questions about the world we are already in. Mark Chadbourn has created his own brand of urban fantasy by building a story around the myth and legends surrounding the British Isles and asking what if these old Gods and creatures of myth and legend returned?

The Hounds of Avalon sees a diminished British government coping as best it can when an unstoppable army of mystical creatures attack with intention of eliminating everyone in their tracks as they march towards Oxford, the government’s new home. Their only hope of salvation is the actions of those chosen to be champions of humanity; those known as the Brother and Sisters of Dragons. But the government doesn’t realise how important they really are.

To say more about the plot would end up with me getting in a muddle, giving away spoilers and confusing you. Because, unofficially, this is book six in the series and book three in the second story arc, so a lot has gone on already to get to this point (see here for details).

You can read it as a standalone but some of the significance of the events and characters might pass a new reader by. Though saying all that Chadbourn does a grand job keeping the events self-contained enough so that the story works in its own terms and is accessible enough for new readers and those of us who has left it a while between books.

What’s impressive is the amount of action, information, and emotion that Chadbourn builds into each page. His skill is how he weaves the exploration of what it is to be human with a story of what could be the last moments of the human race. He shows how we all deal with situations differently; some of us hide away, some of stand and fight, but in the end we all have a role and we can’t always see the role we play or how vital it is.

Chadbourn’s other strength is that he sets a lot of different threads in motion, some placed books ago, as he recalls to the roster characters who had fulfilled their jobs in previous books and it seemed that they had no further role to play.

As a storyteller he keeps the reader moving along a roller coaster that could come off the tracks any second and the characters could fail in their missions and the world could end before they have chance to fight back. One thing he does show is that there is always hope. Oh, and the end really isn’t the end.

Personally I’d say read all the previous books as Chadbourn is a master storyteller and all the other books in the series are tell different parts of the tale but stand in their own right as masterpieces of fantasy.

An excellent end to The Dark Age sequence and sets us up for the next one with The King of Serpents and the first book, Jack of Ravens.

Score: 10/10

Mini-Review: The Queen of Sinister by Mark Chadbourn (Gollancz)

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The Queen of Sinister by Mark Chadbourn
Published by Gollancz

I’ve just finished The Queen of Sinister and I can’t wait until I start The Hounds of Avalon.

Mark Chadbourn‘s writing is compulsive and his plotting tight and complex. He is also thoughtful and the world he has created is both fantastical and grounded in the human spirit; as the novel explores what it is to be human and what we can achieve is we think beyond what we are.

There are lots of twists and turns along the way. Even though you can consider this a stand alone novel. It follows on from the Age of Misrule
trilogy as well as the first in the The Dark Age Trilogy. I would wholeheartedly reading them from the beginning especially for the scene in the Royal Mile.

This is one of the best fantasy series ever written.