Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Always Forever - Mark Chadbourn

Earlier this year I read World's End and Darkest Hour, part one and two in Chadbourn's Age of Misrule trilogy. I tried to get a copy of the final book as well but for some reason that took a lot longer than expected. I hate to leave a series unfinished so when my to read stack approached manageable proportions (meaning the stack is not quite as tall as I am) last month I decided to finally order a copy. Always Forever was first published in the UK in 2001. Pyr recently reissued all three with some new and very nice cover are by John Picacio (the cover for World's End has got to be one of the best of the year) with about a month between the books. In 2010 will be reissuing Chadbourn's Dark Age trilogy in the same fashion. These books are set in the same world as The Age of Misrule trilogy.

The Brothers and Sisters of Dragons have never been in worse shape. Shavi has been killed and Laura is presumed dead too. Tom and Veich are still in the north of England trying to decide how to proceed while Ruth and Church are on their way to the Cornish coast. There they hope to be able to find passage to the Otherworld, hoping to convince the Tuatha Dé Danan to join them in their struggle against the Formorii and their plans to bring the destructive god Balor back into the world. Time is quickly running out, the night of Samhain or Halloween, the time will be right for Balor's return. All five of the Borthers and Sisters of the Dragon must be there to prevent Balor from bringing about the word's end.

The Formorii are not content to wait until Samhain.As soon as Ruth and Church are trying to cross over to the Otherworld they are attacked. In England they are also wreaking havoc on the land, in particular on the now totally depopulated capital. London is turned into a ghost town, filled with ruins and burnt out vehicles. It is the place where Balor's power manifests itself most clearly and the place where he will eventually enter the world. If the Brothers and Sisters of Dragons can persuade the reluctant Tuatha Dé Danan to join them, this is where they must face the Formorii to decide the fate of the world.

In the previous two books the action was mostly set in different locales in the UK. Large sections of Always Forever are set in the Otherworld. One particularly interesting location is the vessel of the sea god Manannan. Church and Ruth hail it to get passage to the Blessed Isles. I very much enjoyed to part of the book set there, and he curious descriptions of the ship's interior. These scenes are something of a turning point for Church too, as he doesn't have Tom around to bully him in the right direction when he needs it.

The quest Tom and Veitch undertake to bring back Shavi from to the dead was a little less convincing. Generally, I feel that if you kill a character they ought to remain dead. Very few authors ignore this and really manage to get away with it. There was nothing ambiguous about his death, there for attempts to bring him back, especially when they succeed feel like a cop out. Chadbourn has made it quite clear on several occasions in the book that each of the five is vitally important to succeeding, more or less giving away the result of the quest. Chadbourn wraps all this in a wonderfully Gothic description of the land of the dead but it still feels like a bad choice to me.

Like in the first two books Chadbourn sets a brisk pace, in their race against time the Brothers and Sisters of Dragons can't really afford to lose any time. Being harassed by the Formorii every step of the way makes for plenty of action scenes. He also adds quite a bit to his already large set of mythical creatures and gods. If you enjoyed his approach in the first two books then Always Forever is going to be a fitting conclusion to the trilogy. I think the writing in the final part of the novel felt a bit rushed but it did suit the atmosphere of the book.

The Age of Misrule trilogy is not without it's flaws. It is light on character development and the way the Brothers and Sisters of Dragons are chased from one quest to the next takes on a Dungeons an Dragons quality, especially early on in the series. The great attraction of these books is the way Chadbourn deals with British mythology, the secret history of the land as he puts it by voice of Tom. There is a whole library worth of fantasy novels that borrow from this rich source but I don't think I have read anything that does so in such a comprehensive way as Chadbourn. The books takes us through a variety of myths associated with specific places in the UK. Having been to several of those places in person makes it even more interesting to read. Not perfect but all in all The Age of Misrule series was certainly worth reading.

Book Details
Title: Always Forever
Author: Mark Chadbourn
Publisher: Pyr
Pages: 469
Year: 2009
Language: English
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 978-1-59102-741-6
First published: 2001

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