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The Queen of Sinister
Mark Chadbourn
Gollancz, 349 pages

The Queen of Sinister
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 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


'It wasn't just the stink of decomposition that fouled the hall. The corpses leaked a yellow greasy pus from the suppurating sores where the swellings had blackened and burst like alien fruit. It pooled on the floor, became sticky underfoot, smelling like rotten apples dusted with sulphur.'
A mysterious plague is killing all that it infects. Caitlin Shepherd, a local GP, is doing what she can but knows it's not enough. The plague seems incurable and unstoppable. Then things get even worse. Caitlin's husband, Grant, and their young son, Liam, also become fatally infected, and a supernatural menace invades the town. The newcomers ride beasts like horses only larger, and are wreathed in a sickly purple mist, which causes despair in all who encounter it. Caitlin names them the Whisperers, after the sibilant noise she hears whenever they're near. Crippled by grief, Caitlin thinks she cannot continue, but is rescued by her friend, Mary Holden, the local herbalist, and part-time white witch. With Mary is a grumpy old man named Professor Crowther, who says Caitlin is a Sister of Dragons, and it has fallen to her to find a cure for the plague. The problem, is that the cure is not anywhere on Earth, it's somewhere in the Otherworld. Having no other purpose, Caitlin goes with Crowther, and so the quest begins. Before finding a crossing point to the Far Lands, they meet up with three others; Mahalia, a teenage girl, Carlton, a mute boy who possess subtle supernatural abilities, and lastly, Matt, a man who claims to be looking for his missing daughter, who was kidnapped by the Faeries.
'"You'd think he'd take off his hat and overcoat in this heat," Caitlin said.

"He thinks it makes him look like Gandalf," Matt replied caustically, "when actually it makes him look like a fat old git in a hat and an overcoat."'

Playing to his strengths as a writer, Mark Chadbourn ensures that we get even more than first meets the eye. Caitlin is revealed to be suffering from multiple personality disorder. Inside her mind are also Briony, and old woman, Amy a scared young girl, and a terrifying fourth persona, hidden in the shadows. As Caitlin and company journey across the Far Lands, Mary Holden realises that something is wrong, and that she must embark upon her own quest. This she does, accompanied only by her cat, Arthur Lee. Unfortunately, Mary is being tracked by something that is trying to kill her. In parallel with this, Caitlin has unsettling encounters with a dark knight, whose face is concealed behind a boar's-head helmet. Chadbourn takes care to provide us with satisfying amount of information regarding the returned gods, their various Courts, and some of their history. Among the memorable supporting cast and plot devices are the Yeti-like White Walker, Lugh the diminished lord of the Court of Soul's Ease, the deadly mask of the mad God Maponus, and a boy called Jack. A human, kidnapped as a baby, Jack was taken apart and remade into something more than human, by the Court of the Final Word. Meanwhile, back on Earth, we finally see what has happened inside one of England's big cities. In the burned out heart of Birmingham, we meet Thackery and Harvey, who are eking out an existence, avoiding the local biker gang who have taken it upon themselves to eliminate plague victims. Life looks hopeless, with no way out through the gang-controlled territories, until the pair encounter a strange young woman wandering the streets, barely able to function and unaware of who she really is. When the truth is revealed, Chadbourn presents one of his best drawn and most dangerous characters.
'The air around him shimmered and became like glass, ballooning out across the garden. Escaping figures were thrown into the air wherever it passed, limbs falling away as if they had been severed by surgical knives, organs pulled free and dismantled with a lazy curiosity by invisible hands. Soon the air was thick with black moths.'
The Queen of Sinister is much closer in style, to the author's Age of Misrule trilogy. The sense of magic and wonder is back, thanks to an interesting, ensemble cast, up to their necks in an inventive, never less than entertaining plot. Elements weave and interweave, providing a fast paced adventure both in and out of this world. At long last, there's an explanation for one of the big questions left over from the Age of Misrule. As with his previous works, Chadbourn excels when it comes to action sequences, exposition, and realistic dialogue. All are maintained at a high standard throughout. The ending, I felt was slightly discordant, but on the plus side, it was not what I'd expected. In the Far Lands, nothing is exactly the way it seems, and so I strongly suspect that what happens is not final, and only a pause for breath.

Copyright © 2004 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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