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The Age Of Misrule
Volume 1 -- World's End
Volume 2 -- Darkest Hour
Volume 3 -- Always Forever
Mark Chadbourn
Gollancz, 1584 pages

World's End
Darkest Hour
Always Forever
Mark Chadbourn
Mark Chadbourn's writing career began in 1990 when his first published short story won the Best New Author award in Fear magazine. His first novel, Underground, was followed by Nocturne (nominated for British Fantasy Society Award for Best Novel), The Eternal, and Scissorman. He has also written a non-fiction study of the paranormal, Testimony.

Mark Chadbourn Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Queen of Sinister
SF Site Review: The Devil In Green
SF Site Review: World's End
Mark Chadbourn Message Board
Interview with Mark Chadbourn

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil

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"Guerrilla warfare," Ruth said. "I like that. We turn our weakness into a strength. Move fast, strike hard and be away before they can respond."

"Excuse me? Are we living in the same world?" Laura said. "These are things that can crush us faster than you can get on a high horse."

British author Mark Chadbourn might be described as the anti-Tolkien. Not because he displays any special antipathy toward the great man, but rather due to the way his Age of Misrule trilogy grabs standard fantasy fodder by its danglers, and squeezes hard. This is not a story which involves noble elves doing good deeds, cute little blokes with furry feet, or scruffy sods claiming to be the returned king. The ingenious premise questions what might happen to our reality if the gods of Celtic mythology returned, slap bang into the middle of the modern world? Does it signal the end of the age of science? These questions dive head first off the standard fantasy diving board, into relatively uncharted territory, resulting in an edge of the seat, highly credible, page turner which I found compulsive reading.

World's End, begins prophetically with a gradual encroachment of a New World Order, driven by intrinsic magic. Early on, we glimpse the new face of this reality, through the eyes of two human strangers who have a disturbing encounter with one of the Fomorii, a malevolent creature of dark magic. Neither have any real idea what they've seen, because their minds and bodies instantly rebel, which is a reaction to something that human senses were never designed to cope with. We learn that the majority of faerie and supernatural legends are based around sightings and dealings with one of two groups, the Fomorii, also known as Night Walkers, and the Golden Ones, remembered in Irish folklore as the magnificent god-like Tuatha Dé Dannan. But of more immediate concern is the knowledge that a new war between these creatures is about to break out, with humanity caught in the middle and increasingly regarded as an irrelevance due to the failure of technology. Emerging from the ensuing chaos we meet Jack 'Church' Churchill, Ruth Gallagher, Shavi, Laura DuSantiago and Ryan Veitch, who are brought together, seemingly by chance. The five are given the task of locating mystical objects -- sword, spear, stone and Grail. Objects which can be used in concert to free the self-exiled Tuatha Dé Dannan, who are the one force strong enough to roll back the coming Fomorii hordes. The five, dubbed Bothers and Sisters of Dragons, have only one tool to help them in this mission; the Wayfinder; a magic lantern with a flame of blue fire which points in the direction of the nearest artefact on the list. These standard fantasy clichés are spiced up with faerie politics, inter-species racism, and a slew of distinctly uneasy relationships. World's End concludes with a cliff-hanger built around the Fomorii master plan, which involves the reincarnation of their banished god; a creature of ultimate evil named Balor.

Darkest Hour continues the story, with the Brothers and Sisters of Dragons forced to work together despite serious personal conflicts. The author cleverly keeps a pot of their private motivations boiling beneath the surface. What makes these characters so good is that they are written as real people, desperately trying to cope with a complete shift of power, which has pushed humanity further down the food chain. Their heroism is, for the most part, not something that comes naturally. For this reason, it feels much more real than is often the case with fantasy characters. Another element which works well is that both the Fomorii and Golden Ones are presented as alien in much of their thinking, and ruthlessly obsessed with their own long term agendas.

As the story progresses we discover that the five did not come together by chance, but as a result of lifelong manipulation. Both sides of Faerie regard humans as paws to be used when convenient, either by exerting influence through characters the five meet, or more directly by installing a Caraprix. These are small, symbiotic creatures not unlike those used by the Drakh in Babylon 5, which can control humans. Among those whom Church and his band encounter are Callow, an eccentric wanderer and part-time psychopath; Tom who is legendary as Thomas the Rhymer; Niamh, one of the elite Tuatha Dé Dannan; Cernunnos, once the lord of the Wild Hunt; Calatin, a half-breed Fomorii chieftain; the Bone Inspector, the last of those who guarded the countries ancient sites and Mollecht, a rival sorcerer to Calatin, whose life force is kept together by a murder of crows, circling in a tight formation around the space where his physical body used to be.

The overriding theme of Darkest Hour is the continued failure of human technology, and with it any real hope of combating the invaders. Stripped of its science -- the human equivalent to magic -- mankind quickly reverts to a near feudal society. This transformation of a world dominated by science to a world in which magic rules is mostly handled in a credible fashion, with a common effect being the loss of mains power. Electrical products either don't work at all, or are at best sporadic. Mechanical devices fare slightly better, but those which rely on the availability of mass produced man-made products, such as petrol, are rendered dangerously limited.

Always Forever concludes the trilogy. The world has been altered almost beyond recognition. Industrial processes are a memory, governments are no more, and the global military have been crushed. This is the only real negative of the series, as Chadbourn does not reveal quite enough about how this spectacular fall progressed. However, this decision is likely to have come about because delving too deeply would've been another story. We do learn that law and order has broken down leaving the big cities in chaos, and civilised society now consists of small communities, taking care of their own needs.

Jack Churchill and his companions have shown themselves to be more than Fragile Creatures, as the Golden Ones call humanity, but their group is shattered and blown apart in the aftermath of a devastating defeat. What they need are powerful allies, and the only viable source are the Golden Ones. Failure to enlist their aid will mean the remnants of humanity are certain to fall before the promised Night Walker carnage. The big problem is that, despite building a reputation and doing the Golden Ones an enormous favour, most regard him as being tainted. This is due to a near fatal encounter with the Fomorii, which left its corrupting marks on his body and soul. In order to rid himself of this dark stain, he must make his way to the home of the Gods, described in legend as Western Isles.

During the course of this journey, accompanied by Ruth, aboard a Fey vessel called the Wave Sweeper, we are shown more about how the Golden Ones perceive time. There are also provocative glimpses into their social order, and the bare truth concerning how and why Niamh of the Tuatha Dé Dannan has manipulated the life of Jack Churchill. Fellow travellers aboard the Tardis-like Wave Sweeper include a smorgasbord of supernatural life, such as the Walpurgis and Will-o'-the-Wisp. Chadbourn even has time to throw in a whodunit sub-plot, concerning the murder of a lower ranked Golden One. Elsewhere, the other Brothers and Sisters of Dragons are having their own deadly adventures. Particularly memorable among these are the trials faced by Thomas the Rhymer and Ryan Veitch, who are kidnapped by the evil and sadistic Tuatha Dé Dannan Queen of Heart's Desire. It was the Queen who, in the distant past, held and remade Tom in her otherworldly stronghold, the Court of the Yearning Heart, literally taking him apart and rebuilding him for fun.

Over the course of 1584 pages that comprise The Age of Misrule, the characters are put through a mangle of emotions including loss, redemption, love, honour, friendship, guilt, and rebirth. Their humanity and the efforts they make to hang onto it, is what binds the vast and sprawling story together. Chadbourn's characters interact and converse using distinctly British frames of reference and sarcastic humour, which turns many of them into friends we've never met. Nobody is one dimensional, and all the major players have depth. Church and his group of reluctant heroes make several forays into otherworldly territories, but the main plot is always brought back to what remains of their ravaged country. The Golden Ones and Fomorii are equally well presented, and developed through actions and motivations which are human enough for us to understand, but never so close that we forget how alien they are. The end result is a deadly bright clash of cultures and concepts, which I have no hesitation in calling essential dark fantasy.

Copyright © 2005 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at www.inkdigital.org.


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