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The Devil's Looking Glass
Mark Chadbourn
Bantam Press, 379 pages

The Devil's Looking Glass
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 Scar-Crow Men
SF Site Review: The Sword of Albion
SF Site Review: Destroyer of Worlds
SF Site Review: The Burning Man
SF Site Review: Jack of Ravens
SF Site Review: The Hounds of Avalon
SF Site Interview: Mark Chadbourn
SF Site Review: The Hounds of Avalon
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

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil

'And then it will be too late,' Carpenter snapped. 'We will never see Dee again, and this land will be overrun by the things that walk with printless feet and cast no shadows on this earth. And then you, you red-headed puttock, will know what it is like to thrash in the throes of a nightmare from which you can never wake.'
The year is 1593, and England's greatest spy, Will Swyfte, is on another do or die mission. This time it is in pursuit of missing black magician John Dee. Without Dee, the slowly failing magical defences that have protected England from the worst ravages of the Unseelie Court will surely crumble. Dee carries with him an obsidian mirror; an object of power that legend tells could set the world aflame. Swyfte and his crew of anti-heroes, Carpenter, Strangewayes, and Robert, the Earl of Launceston, set out to find the magician and return him to London before it is too late. The rescue mission is almost completed, when an attack by the Fay results in Dee slipping out of the spies grasp, but accidentally leaving Swyfte in possession of the magical mirror. In its dark reflection he discovers a way to briefly communicate with Jenny, his lost love, who was taken by the Fay some fifteen years previously. As London is subjected to a supernatural siege, with Winter itself as a weapon, Swyfte and his companions charter a ship and set off for the new world, racing across the Atlantic.

Author Mark Chadbourn can usually be relied upon for at least three elements in his stories; characterisation, credibility of the world he creates, and a plot that races like a flaming whippet on crack. The Devil's Looking Glass, being the last in his Swords of Albion trilogy, is no exception. Considering that in modern times, the USA is known by its enemies as The Great Satan, I found it a darkly ingenious twist to make it the home of the Unseelie Court! A location and concept that I would love to see Chadourn explore in an up to date setting. In this story, Will Swyfte once again leads his companions through a series of improbable, yet hugely entertaining escapades, as they chase after the mad magician. Also back in the mix is the Irish spy Red Meg O'Shee, who is amusingly credited with influencing Dee with her thighs. Bonking the poor old sod senseless would be more like it, but those who aren't happy with wanton sex scenes will be relieved to learn that what is depicted falls on the right side of subtlety. The only hint of 50 shades of grey here, are the disguises of the Fay. Speaking of which, the leading supernatural characters such as Lansing, Deortha and Mandraxas are all finely honed, and utilised in deliciously unsettling and often fascinating ways. Indeed, there is no one writing today who presents the Fay better or with more depth than Mark Chadbourn. The depiction of their homeland is also spot on, shifting between the beautiful and the grotesque in such as way as to leave the reader uncertain as to which one is the true face. Or if either vision is accurate. Outside of the main players, including the ever intriguing Earl of Launceston, the best new supporting character is ship's captain Bloody Jack Courtney. A sailor who is something like Jack Sparrow's kick ass uncle. A tad underused here, there is potential for Bloody Jack to appear in another work. As for the plot, it is not too much of a spoiler to reveal that Will Swyfte finally finds the truth about his long lost love, and the twist in the tail, although slightly predictable, is a good and convincing one.

The positives of this novel far outweigh the negatives, but I must confess to being less than enthused by Grace, whose sole purpose throughout the series seems to be as a pain in the arse. Not that PITA's can't be valid, it's more that for such a character to work well enough, they must be something more than a talking plot device. I also found it hard to accept that this naive girl could evade detection by England's greatest spies, until it was too late to remove her from their mission. Also less than stellar was the character of Tobias Strangewayes, who spends almost all of this book being an unstable liability, and at the last is used in a way fails to surprise anyone, including the cast. Criticisms I level only because the rest of what is on offer here is superior storytelling. In summary, The Devil's Looking Glass delivers a satisfying conclusion to the Swords of Albion sequence, and craftily dangles the lure of more to come, if the gods of publishing so decree. It may not be the best thing that Mark Chadbourn has ever written, but that still puts it streets ahead of most works in this genre.

Copyright © 2012 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

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