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Jack of Ravens
Mark Chadbourn
Gollancz, 374 pages

Jack of Ravens
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 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

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'"It's the four of us against God. Or the god that created this world, at least.'

"That's about the size of it." Church said.

"And it controls an army of ten billion supernatural spiders.'

"Yep."

"I think you're going to need a bigger sword."'

From the ideas engine that is the mind of Mark Chadbourn, comes something risky and highly ambitious. Risky, because it crosses a lot of genres, and ambitious due to its scope and the author's attempt to write both prequel and sequel to earlier titles within the same story. The premise is that Jack 'Church' Churchill, hero of the Age of Misrule series, has been thrown back in time by the enemy of Existence, to Celtic Britain. He has a sword of the gods in his hand, but no knowledge of how he got there, and only sketchy memories of his past battles. The one thing that is crystal clear, is his enduring love for Ruth Gallagher, who is now 2,000 years into the future from where he stands. Abducted into the Far Lands, Church plans to wait out time there, until the age where Ruth can be found rolls around. Unfortunately for him, but happily for readers, Existence and its enemies have other plans. Thus begins an epic, if somewhat eclectic journey, through time and harrowing circumstance, encompassing sojourns in the era of imperial Rome, the Elizabethan age, Queen Victoria's England, World War II London, and America of the 60s, including the drug-soaked Woodstock festival. The supporting cast is made up from numerous Brothers and Sisters of Dragons across time, including vignettes of what is happening in the present to Age of Misrule favourites Ruth, Shavi, Laura and Veitch, various famous faces from history, Niamh of the Golden Ones, and a sprinkling of new characters. Best among these are Jerzy, also known as the Mocker, a court jester remade by the terrifying Court of the Final Word, with a surgically fixed grin that reminded me of Tony Blair, Salazar, an entity composed of supernatural spiders, and the Libertarian, an evil Phantom Stranger like overseer for the Army of Ten Billion Spiders.

If the above ingredients make you think that Chadbourn has made another good start in his follow up the Dark Age sequence, you'd be right. Although, not without qualification. On the plus side, I found the characterisation, with a single glaring exception, was up to the author's usual high standards, the premise ingenious, and the story faster than a speeding bullet train. There were nods to Cinderella, The Da Vinci Code and The Matrix, deliciously nasty plot twists, acerbic humour, and dirty great spiders. I hate spiders. The negatives were Niamh, who in previous volumes was an aristocratic, otherworldly wise, arch manipulator. In this book she is little more than a lovesick puppy, following Church through time. There is a nice pay off, but this is tossed in like a hand-grenade, with no explanation, for now. There were also a couple of critical escapes, which required a little too much suspension of disbelief. One of Chadbourn's strengths in previous works, has been his ability to make such things both clever and credible, as opposed to clumsy and convenient. Most jarring, were the introduction and dodgy removal of a super weapon, the Existence Shears, out of nowhere, and another scene where the original Bothers and Sisters of Dragons have their most dangerous foe unconscious at their feet, only to leave him where he is in favour of going on the run. Sometimes I heard the fingernails of the plot scraping down the blackboard of believability. But, you've got to love a writer who has one of his main characters soul sucked by something unpleasant lurking in her wardrobe. Even when it feels like the wheels might come off the bus, the story keeps rolling, and momentum carries it over the rough spots.

In conclusion, Jack of Ravens contains a lot less of the gritty urban modern and ancient supernatural mix that made Chadbourn's reputation, but attempts to reach further than most cross-genre works. Dark magic, well researched mythology, the 60s counter culture, sword swinging action, alternate history, light horror, romance, and even a dusting of philosophy concerning the nature of reality are all thrown into a roiling pot. The final creation is a patchy, though still highly readable book, which ends in an intriguing, slightly baffling fashion, pregnant with the promise of the feast yet to come.

Copyright © 2006 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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