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The Sword of Albion
Mark Chadbourn
Bantam Press, 542 pages

The Sword of Albion
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: 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

'They can see a rabbit in a field ten miles distant. They can hear the breaking of an ear of corn from the same. They can smell your sweat, your fear, on the wind.'
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As Gene Simmons once told us, a world without heroes is no place to be, and it is a new hero from England's past which The Sword of Albion introduces. His name is Will Swyfte, and he's part Flashing Blade and part prototype James Bond, with a dash of Captain Jack Sparrow. Swyfte has more luck than a fistful of four leaf clovers, and accomplishes at least as many improbable escapes as Jack Bauer. All for Queen and country, overtly fighting the Spanish, and covertly locked into an endless battle with the supernatural forces of the true Enemy; the Unseelie Court. Author Mark Chadbourn arguably has the best take in the business of anyone writing about the Fey, and this book strives to continue what he's good at, without repeating himself. As usual, his research is meticulous and the world he creates feels grubbily authentic. The sheer squalor, day-to-day filth and cheapness of life in Elizabethan England is depicted so well, you can almost smell it. The fresh twists in this first episode of a new series is the setting, with its backdrop of the Spanish Armada literally looming on the horizon, and the action being centered around just one character. The latter is a serious departure, as Chadbourn's most successful works have previously been achieved using an ensemble cast of strong individuals, and multiple viewpoints. It's certainly different, but does it work?

The first hundred pages dragged a little, as scenes were set and characters introduced. I'd have preferred to be launched straight into the thick of things, and get explanations as the story progressed. But, when the book does take off, it goes like Ben Johnson with rocket boots, and rarely drops its blistering pace. The Sword of Albion is an all out romp, packed full of daring do shaped into cinematic scenes and cliff-hanger endings which make it hard to put down. Having said that, the author's artistry and skill as a storyteller are sometimes leaned on to compensate for what the plot lacks. For example, Will Swyfte's escapes are not so much to do with his brilliance, as the unending incompetence of his opposition. All of them, every time. The supporting cast are, with a couple of exceptions, nicely developed. Swyfte's colleagues, Carpenter, Mayhew and Launceston are the best of the bunch. On the Spanish side, there are interesting and sometimes pivotal rolls, and the charactersation of Philip of Spain, in secret thrall to the Unseelie Court, is well presented. More disappointing was John Dee, the Queen's Magician, who makes cameo appearances in the manner of Q in Bond movies. A use which I felt reduced what should have been a significantly darker, deeper persona.

Most troublesome, was the character Grace, the sister of Jenny, Will Swyfte's lost love who was stolen away by the Fair Folk. We're told that it is his personal mission to find out what happened to Jenny, but he is hindered in this aim by Grace -- rather stupidly -- putting herself in harm's way. Others may disagree, but I felt that the character was there purely as a device, and had little substance or merit of her own. I could not understand why, given that the Fey already had Swyfte's true love, they did not simply use her against him in fiendish fashion. Similarly, it was an unusual lapse of imagination that produced a scene where Swyfte is captured by Unseelie forces, who resort to water-boarding him! This exception aside, the Fey characters are as well conceived and creepy as readers of Chadbourn's previous works might expect. There is also a very nice reveal toward the end of the book, concerning a mysterious and highly significant historical event between the English and the Fey, which is obliquely referred to in earlier chapters. It's a bombshell which adds a whole new layer of colour and texture, yet left me wishing that I'd known the details earlier, as that knowledge would have added depth and meaning to key scenes.

Because so much of Will Swyfte's character is, by design, smoke and mirrors, I found it hard to really like or dislike him. He was simply a focal point for all that goes on around him, and might even have been better as a supporting character. Mark Chadbourn clearly intends to create a swashbuckling, charismatic action hero, but his strength as a writer actually lies in the darkness and depth of more interesting characters such as Launceston. Selling a sociopath as the lead character might have been more difficult -- except to fans of Dexter -- but could have resulted in a classic anti-hero. Someone who fought darkness with darkness, and was more interesting because of his flaws. In summary, The Sword of Albion was a fast, fun read, that I enjoyed despite Will Swyfte, not because of him.

Copyright © 2010 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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