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The Scar-Crow Men: Swords of Albion, Book 2
Mark Chadbourn
Bantam Press, 490 pages

The Scar-Crow Men
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 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

'May God have mercy on your soul,' Cecil croaked, clutching on to the wall for support.

Launceston pulled the knife from his arm and threw it. The blade spun, glinting in the candlelight, until it rammed into the paneling, singing for a moment before falling still.

'I have no soul,' the Earl said.'

The Scar-Crow Men is the second novel featuring the daring escapades of Will Swyfte, England's greatest Spy of the Elizabethan Age. While the book can be read as a stand-alone, there is much to be gained from knowing what has gone before, as chronicled in The Sword of Albion. The year is 1593, plague is ravaging London, and no one feels safe, including Will Swyfte. When his friend, the playwright Christopher Marlowe, is killed in a pub brawl, Swyfte believes it is an assassination and vows to track down Kit's killer. Even if the power of the state appears to be set against him. Worse still, the spy detects the malignant supernatural influence of England's secret enemy, the Unseelie Court. We soon learn that the Fey are positioning their forces just out of reach of this world, ready to launch a full scale invasion. Using the plague to mask their activities, the Unseelie Court are replacing key figures with their own creations, as they murder their way toward the terrible moment when England's magical defences crumble.

More assured, and in some ways less hectic than the first book, The Scar-Crow Men expands the alternate history that the author has imagineered. As always with Mark Chadbourn, there is no shortage of shit-streaked realism and precision penmanship. This time around, Will Swyfte is also more likeable, in the main due to subtle adjustments which allow his humanity to shine through. It is a welcome enhancement, and one that gives readers reason to care more for the character. Also making a return are Swyfte's support network, the spies Launceston and Carpenter, his assistant Nat, and token love interest, Grace. Featured in noteworthy supporting roles are the Queen's Magician Doctor Dee, and an Irishwoman sometimes know as Red Meg, who proves to be an equal to Will Swyfte in all ways. Including as a potential romantic match, albeit in a relationship that will never run smoothly. Red Meg, and her agenda, provides a means to really open up the story into new, wild territories. Happily, Meg's presence also helps to phase out Grace, who although less annoying than in the first book, still feels more of an obstacle than an attribute. One other newcomer which I must mention, is a murderous inmate of Bedlam asylum named Griffin Devereux. A complex, multi-layered character, Devereux is someone I hope will feature again as the long game unfolds. This time around the Fey characters are a little more deeply drawn, and as a result convey a better sense of creeping menace. In particular Fabian of the High Family, who is conducting gruesome experiments to break and remake humans into a form that is of more use to the Unseelie Court. The author also introduces another new element in the form of am organisation named the School of Night. This is a group composed of powerful and influential people who work clandestinely against England's true enemy, beyond and outside of the splintered authority of the English government. Whether the School of Night are destined to become more of a threat to freedom than the inhuman creatures that they oppose, remains to be seen.

With thrills and spills aplenty, The Scar-Crow Men is a solid continuation of Chadbourn's current sequence. The inter-meshing of the wider themes with the central character's very personal quest to bring the killers of his friend to justice never grates, and its resolution while a tad predictable still satisfies. Just about the only thing I could find to detract from an otherwise exemplary effort, was the speed with which a magical kill switch was obtained, understood, and used in the latter part of the book. This minor gripe aside, I found myself entranced, and my enthusiasm to find out what comes next remains undiminished.

Copyright © 2011 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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