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The Hounds of Avalon
Mark Chadbourn
Gollancz, 374 pages

The Hounds of Avalon
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 Age Of Misrule
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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'It is an idea, a notion of negativity. Where we see a threat, some would see nothing at all, for it is only defined by what it is not. Darkness and despair enfold it.'

'Does it have a name?'

'Many names, but none capture its essence, for how can you describe something that is not? Legends call it the Void.'

The third instalment of Mark Chadbourn's Dark Age sequence introduces two new Brothers of Dragons, in the form of Hunter and Hal. The former is the archetypal British special forces soldier, whose brutal trade has turned him into a larger than life character. Someone who is the consummate professional when in the field, but has no time for petty rules or morals when he's off duty. Hunter spends his down time enjoying life, which usually includes as much wine and as many willing women as possible. Counterpoint to Hunter is Hal Campbell, a clerk at the Ministry of Defence, whose idea of a good time is rooted in academia. The two men have forged an unlikely, but firm friendship. Each one possessing skills and qualities that the other admires, and can never have for themselves. As the story begins, the anti-life known as the Void has begun to make its move, sending enormous numbers of Lament Brood rampaging across the British countryside. This new invasion is the last thing the remaining population needs, coming as it does in the aftermath of the Fall, as depicted in The Devil In Green and the plague which was the subject of The Queen of Sinister. This time the enemy is all but unstoppable, as those who are killed fighting it are literally absorbed and reanimated as unfeeling, zombie-like, Lament Brood infantry.

In The Hounds of Avalon we get some answers to questions which have been nagging away since the Age of Misrule series. Finally, we discover what happened to the British government and military forces during the Fall. We also have an up close and personal view on exactly what they've been doing since the Battle of London, where most of the RAF was destroyed by Fey forces. In addition to the two new Brothers of Dragons called into being by Existence, we see the return of some old favourites. Sophie Tallent, Sister of Dragons and major league practitioner of the Craft. Mallory, trained as a Knight Templar and armed with the supernatural sword Llyrwyn. Caitlin Shepherd, former Sister of Dragons and some time host to the terrible Fey warrior spirit known as the Morrigan. Ruth Gallagher, Shavi, and Laura DuSantiago from the Age of Misrule also make appearances, as Hunter attempts to bring together a new five. Five, being the magic number when it comes to those empowered by the Pendragon Spirit. Two major players from the Age of Misrule, Ryan Veitch and Jack 'Church' Churchill, are not present in physical form, but nonetheless play their parts. Veitch, an unwitting traitor to the original five, is now the subject of a cult, who believes that he will return from the dead to lead them. Church, is even further away, lost in space and time, but the part he is destined to play eventually becomes clear, at least to Hal.

Any more explanation would risk revealing too much, so let me just say that those who have been following this series will already have a pretty shrewd idea of how Church fits in to the grand scheme. All of the Brothers and Sisters of Dragons mesh together well, and by the time they meet, Chadbourn has done such a good job with his characterisation, that nobody is upstaged. As might be expected, there are clashes, but those which are obvious are offset by others that are delightfully unexpected. There's a lot of action in this book, veering between uncomfortably close personal battles and epic conflict on a vast scale. This is nicely juxtaposed with quieter moments, where both human and Fey characters are allowed to reflect and develop. Most of what occurs centres around Oxford, the new seat of British government, but there are essential forays into other areas, both in the UK and the Otherworld. Hunter provides the brawn and Hal the brains, each working in his own way to save humanity.

As with his previous works in this world, Chadbourn's take on the true nature of magic, magical creatures, and the way that humanity reacts, is superb. In the sub-genre of magic versus modern technology, he remains unsurpassed. My sole criticism is the on-going issue of what happened to the rest of the world. What we learn in The Hounds of Avalon strongly suggests that the remnants of the British military have more than enough resources at their disposal to reach further afield. At least as far as formerly powerful, geographically close allies, such as France. But such issues are sidelined with a blanket statement about not being able to contact other countries. On the one hand, the plot is clear and easy to follow with the UK as its sole focus, but on the other, we're left wondering what wonders and madness are to be found, out there in the post Fall world. Having said that, choosing not to deal with anywhere outside of the UK gives Chadbourn the breathing room to dwell on the nature of those who would govern us, from a very British perspective.

In summary, The Hounds of Avalon features a wealth of memorable characters, more twists than Chubby Checker, and an ending which smacked me right between the eyes. The last few pages will leave most readers screaming for more. If you are sick to the back teeth with humdrum fantasy fodder, hairy Hobbits and boy wizards, Mark Chadbourn is the cure.

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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