Sunday, December 12, 2010

World's End - Mark Chadbourn

I've been a wee bit busy this week, with a labour law exam and a new kitchen being placed on Monday and Tuesday. I've managed to read quite a lot of Stonewielder by Ian C. Esslemont but it doesn't look like I'll finish it in time for a review this weekend. Instead I am running this older review. It was written in April 2009 and as usual, it needed a bit of editing. I'll put the second part of this trilogy up on Random Comments as well some time in the next year.

World’s End by Mark Chadbourn is the first book in the Age of Misrule trilogy. The book was first published in the UK in 1999 and in 2009 Pyr has released all three in with about a month between them for the American market. The trilogy is set in the UK, probably just before the end the 20th century. Although in some ways it is a typical fantasy novel, the choice of characters and the use of contemporary British English set it apart somewhat. Which is what saves the novel from mediocrity, thematically it is not ground breaking.

Nobody knows it yet, but the world as we know it is about to end. After millennia of absence the Faery are back in town. Some of the darker elements among the Faery are preparing to take over the world. Their presence is still unnoticed by most of the population but strange things are happening all across Britain. Jack “Church” Churchill and Ruth Gallagher are unfortunate enough to witness one of these strange occurrences. What seems to be an ordinary murder at first glance clearly has a supernatural aspect to it. When Ruth and Church begin to understand what is going on, they wish they’d never found out.

Soon the two of them find themselves on the run from all manner of supernatural beings trying to silence them. Fate has another role in store for them though. Ruth and Church are the first two members of the Brothers and Sisters of Dragons, a group of people bound to the land and humanity’s only hope of survival. While the darker elements of the Faery are already loose, the only force that can oppose them is still bound. It is up to the Brothers and Sisters of Dragons to free them. To do that they need for ancient artefacts hidden in several places in Britain and they need to do it before the Beltane festival. With all manner of monsters in hot pursuit and time running out, a desperate search for the artefacts begins.

So… a group of unlikely heroes in search of mystic artefacts that will help them save the world from eternal darkness. All pretty standard D&D stuff really, the only thing that is missing is the pseudo-medieval setting. Still, I am pretty sure that if you like that sort of thing, this will not be the book you are looking for. Chadbourn’s story is firmly rooted in our present world, with characters who are very reluctant to release their troublesome everyday lives. They are half believing things will go back the way they were on the one hand, and pitying those who do not yet know things will never be the same again on the other.

The Brothers and Sisters of the Dragons are not a happy bunch. Each of them is dissatisfied with their life in some way and deep down, none of them really want the world to return to normal. All of them feel guilty, usually related to a (violent) death in their surroundings. Perhaps that makes them a bit more likely to eventually embrace their new world, especially when they find out the deaths are not a coincidence. The way they discuss this in British English, using a lot of slang at times, really drives home how different British English and American English is. Schools around here teach British English but we are exposed to American English a lot more, blurring the lines for a second language speaker. I guess it takes a native speaker to demonstrate the difference.

There is a library full of fantasy books out there that rely on Celtic mythology as a theme or source of inspiration but I have rarely read a book that does it so thoroughly. Chadbourn introduces us in rapid succession to a number of mythical creatures, gods and objects, usually accompanied with a brief explanation by Tom, the man who serves as a guide to the brothers and sisters. The Wild Hunt, the Green Man, Lugh, the Maiden/Mother/Crone, the Formorians, the Tuatha Dé Danann and of course the Arthurian legend are all worked into the story in one way or another. Many of these will not be entirely unfamiliar to readers of fantasy, several of these figures are used in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series for instance. It may sound familiar but not many authors explore these myths to the extent Chadbourn does.

All this Celtic myth does not slow the story down however, Chadbourn takes us at the speed of a car chase through a number of locations significant in Celtic Mythology and the Arthurian legend. I have visited a number of these locations myself twenty years ago (Dartmoor, Tintagel, Stonehenge). Chadbourn’s description of the places and the route the party takes is described in such a way it would be possible to track down for the real fanatic reader. The way he describes a number of places I haven’t seen, Glastonbury in particular, makes me wish we had taken a detour back then.

What to make of World’s End? After reading it I am left with mixed feelings. There are aspects of the story I liked a lot. Chadbourn is obviously very versed in Celtic mythology and he uses this to great effect in the novel. He also makes sure not to make his story into a black and white, good versus evil kind of book. On the other hand the plot is pretty standard in fantasy. I didn’t entirely escape the feeling I had read this book before. The final part of the book suggests the plot of the second part in the trilogy, Darkest Hour, will be more interesting. For me that is enough to tip the balance, I guess I am on board of book two.

Book Details
Title: World's End
Author: Mark Chadbourn
Publisher: Pyr
Pages: 419
Year: 2009
Language: English
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 978-1-59102-739-3
First published: 1999

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