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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 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
Mark Chadbourn Message Board
Interview with Mark Chadbourn

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Sandy Auden

With its complexity and rich mythological backdrop, it's almost compulsory to consider The Hounds of Avalon from a number of different viewpoints. There are multiple layers to the story and many threads of connectivity to the previous volumes but there's just not enough space to consider every aspect here. So let's choose two of the best viewpoints and start by zooming in, up-close and personal.

Hounds is the third and last in The Dark Age series, which has focused on a second set of Brothers and Sisters of Dragons as they come into their powers. We've already met three of the team in Devil in Green and Queen of Sinister, and now we're introduced to the final two that make the mystical Five required to save the world. And the world is in dire need of saving. First, the re-emergence of magic in The Fall has dealt a body blow to humanity, breaking civilisation apart; then a plague has wiped out large swathes of the population, leaving the remnants cowed and weakened; and now, they face a creature who is the very essence of anti-life, the opposite of Existence, the Void.

The British government have failed to produce an effective weapon to stop the Void's hordes as they sweep down the UK, wiping life from the countryside and cities. In desperation, the government capture Mallory, a Brother of Dragons, to see how they can utilise him in the fight against the army of the Void; but in doing so, Sophie, one of the essential Five, is shot and abandoned, left to bleed to death. Helped by another Brother of Dragons, from within the government ranks, Mallory escapes to search for the first group of Brothers and Sisters of Dragons, seeking their waning powers to fill the gap in their ranks and help them face the end of Existence.

Looking at the detailed level, this is yet another intensely entertaining novel for several reasons. Mark Chadbourn's flowing prose and evocative word usage skilfully recreates his trademark features: a dynamic plot that embraces many geographical locations, as well as emotional advancement; and obvious Celtic mythological influences with an underlying, latent symbolism. The difference this time is that he has opened the book with a smaller adrenalin rush that usual -- despite a failed experiment, a touching death and a number of spooky encounters in the first chapter, this is still Chadbourn with his foot off the gas. And he's finally taking a closer look at the new government regime that was created after the Fall. His harsh opinions about authority figures are maintained from previous volumes and it's often difficult to tell whether the government or the Void are supposed to be humanity's greatest threat.

Taking a step back, for the wider view, does anything change? From here, you can see that all of Chadbourn's novels are stand alone (including this one -- just) and the author has seamlessly incorporated characters from all five preceding books into this third volume. You don't have to read the previous five books but if you have, the experience of The Hounds of Avalon is all the more satisfying.

From a distance, you can see how the Brothers and Sisters of Dragons have been coming together over the centuries to fight side-by-side; how the latest recruits have evolved with difficulty into their special roles; how Mankind has slid relentlessly down the slope into oblivion despite its resistance; and how the ancient past is echoed through to the distant future. You can see an intricate story structure with a logical progression and many, many inter-connected events. And there's a strange sense of wholeness about it all, a hint of something bigger despite part of the structure still being veiled from view.

From here, the ambiguous ending of Hounds is actually more reassuring. It feels right that there is more to come and indeed The Kingdom of the Serpent is already being written. Which is something of relief, because this is a series that pushes your expectations, challenges your intelligence, and keeps you coming back for more.

Copyright © 2005 Sandy Auden

Sandy Auden is currently working as an enthusiastic reviewer for SFX magazine; a tireless news hound for Starburst magazine; a diligent interviewer/reviewer for The Third Alternative and Interzone magazines and a combination of all the above for The Alien Online. She spends her spare time lying down with a cold flannel on her forehead. Visit her site at The Auden Interviews.

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