Sunday, January 23, 2011

Darkest Hour - Mark Chadbourn

Whatever variety of the flu it is that is making half of Europe sick at the moment has hit me hard this weekend. I have two books waiting to be reviewed but right now I am no condition to write a coherent text about either of them. I pulled one from the archives I meant to add later this year anyway. Books one and three of this series have already been added to to Random Comments. It was originally written in May 2009 and needed only mild editing.

I read World’s End, the first book of Mark Chadbourn’s Age of Misrule trilogy a while back. World's End was published in the UK in 1999 but the books didn't make it to the American market until Pyr has released them in 2009 with about a month in-between the books. They have gone on to publish The Dark Age, a second trilogy set in this universe, as well. I thought World’s End was a decent read, Darkest Hour is better. Chadbourn maintains his fast pace and deep mythological connection to the land but lowers the D&D content. Being the second book in the trilogy, it does of course leave you hanging, so I'm trying to get my hands on the third book.

At the end of the first book Church and his companions have managed to free the one force that could stop the Formori, the Tuathe de Danaan, only to find out they are not interested in the job. In fact, they think Church and his companions unworthy to even make such a request, tainted as they are by failure and the corruption of the Formori. The Brothers and Sisters of the Dragon will not give up though. Formori plans for the return of Balor, the one-eyed god of death have been delayed, there is time to regroup and plan. A little time, but not much, the world as they know it is falling apart rapidly, technology is failing all over the place and the authorities seem to have no response to the difficulties they face. At the next festival, that of Lughnasadh, the Formori are sure to make another attempt to drag Balor back into the world and end it for all time.

Under the guidance of Tom the company goes in search of means to convince the Tuathe de Danaan to help them defeat the Formori. Again Church, Ruth, Ryan, Laura and Shavi will have to dive head first in a world that is unknown to them. When they ask the dead for help in a ceremony in the Highlands of Scotland, the trail leads to Edinburgh. The dead not only set them on the right trail, they also mention one of the five is a traitor. This of course, does not nothing to ease the already mounting tensions within the group. It is their darkest hour indeed.

In this book Chadbourn develops his five main characters further. Where in the first book they are mostly trying to stay alive, they now begin to assume certain roles in the company. Ruth gets a crash course in following the craft, Shavi’s shamanistic talents are put to the test, Ryan is turning into a warrior, and Church appears to have overall command (much to his disliking). Only Laura doesn’t quite seem to know what to do with herself and makes no secret of it. It puts her in conflict with Ryan in particular, but her relationship with the other members of the company are strained as well. We also learn more about Tom’s history. There is a lot more to him than the old hippie front we get to see in World’s End. This increased attention to character development does the trilogy a world of good.

As with the previous book, Chadbourn adds a lot of mythological references to the book by introducing a lot of supernatural creatures. He also delves into the history of Edinburgh Castle and Old Town district and visits the chapel at Rosslyn; a site that may be familiar to people who have read The Da Vinci Code. I think I prefer Chadbourn’s handling of the myths surrounding that building. With Church and his companions avoiding population centres whenever possible, we also get quite a bit of landscape descriptions. Scotland and Yorkshire in particular receive attention. They visit some of the lesser know neolithic sites, trying to find the old places of power and bring them to life again. The first book mostly leaned on the big, and well known sites with a collection to Celtic or early Christian mythology. This book dives in a lot deeper. If you are interested in in that aspect of the story and of Britain’s cultural and natural heritage this book is probably more satisfying than the first one.

One of the aspects I liked less about this novel is the tendency of the companions to go off on side quests. Even trying to avoid people they run into them from time to time. These people inevitably have problems dealing with he collapse of technology and the appearance of large numbers of quite dangerous supernatural beings. The temptation to fix a smaller immediate problem and ignore the big picture is always there. I guess you could say that if Church and his companions are to become the heroes of the land they will eventually have to deal with issues like that. In some cases the author throws these things in to develop the talents of one of the members of the group further. They don’t always lead to actually resolving the problem however, and they are quite often dropped when the character is being forcefully reminded of the big picture. This makes some of these scenes rather unsatisfactory to read.

All in all I liked this second book in the series better than the first. A lot of people will mention the problems middle books usually suffer, but personally I never really felt these weaknesses occur quite as often as many reviewers seem to believe. Darkest Hour doesn’t suffer from them anyway, unless you count ending on a cliffhanger as a problem. Given the improvements over the second book I am very curious where Chadbourn will that the third one. Always Forever has just placed itself high on the to read list.

Book Details
Title: Darkest Hour
Author: Mark Chadbourn
Publisher: Pyr
Pages: 469
Year: 2009
Language: English
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 978-1-59102-740-9
First published: 2000

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