1593: The dreaded alchemist, black magician and spy Dr John Dee is missing...
Terror sweeps through the court of Queen Elizabeth, for in Dee's possession is an obsidian mirror, a mysterious object of great power which legend says could set the world afire.
The call goes out to celebrated swordsman, adventurer and rake Will Swyfte: find Dee and his feared looking-glass and return them to London before disaster strikes. But when Will discovers the mirror may help him solve the mystery that has haunted him for years - the fate of his lost love, Jenny - the stakes are intensely personal.
With a frozen London under siege by supernatural powers, the sands of time are running out. Will is left with no choice but to pursue the alchemist to the devil-haunted lands of the New World - in the very shadow of the terrifying fortress home of England's hidden enemy, the Unseelie Court.
Facing an army of these unearthly fiends, with only his sword and a few brave friends at his back, England's greatest spy must be prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice - or see all he loves destroyed...
Will Swyfte continues to be an audacious a character as ever. Fearless to the point of recklessness, he will stop at nothing to achieve his goals. Still haunted by events in his past, Swyfte is willing to follow Dr Dee to the very ends of the Earth if it means he will get some answers. So driven by his inner demons there are times when Swyfte almost comes across as arrogant or unfeeling. It's nice to find a main protagonist who is not 100% perfect. He has flaws and his battle to overcome the Fay of the Unseelie Court is, at least in some part, a battle to overcome his own failings.
As the plot unfolds Swyfte's brothers in arms get some exciting plot developments of their own. The dynamic between John Carpenter and Robert, the Earl of Launceston, that has been one of my favourite elements of the trilogy, takes an unexpected turn and their relationship is forever changed. In the previous novels, there has always been very defined roles for both of these two men. If you have read books one and two, you will appreciate why, but desperate circumstances lead to desperate measures and in turn something entirely new. I always enjoy when a writer throws me a curveball and does something that defies my expectations. As an aside The Earl of Launceston remains my favourite character from the entire series. He works perfectly within the confines of the story and has some of the most memorable moments.
Irish spy Red Meg O'Shee also reappears in this novel and it is still a pleasure to find she is more than capable of holding her own against Swyfte, their ongoing battle of wits is a constant delight. O'Shee and Swyfte may work for different governments but there is a begrudging respect for one another as well as a never-ending game on one upmanship.
My only minor criticism relates to a new character called Bloody Jack Courtney, a ship's captain, who helps Swyfte in his journey to the New World. Unfortunately, he only appears in a handful of scenes but I loved his manic attitude, it was infectious. I have to be honest and admit that once he appeared I found myself hoping for more. Perhaps I can convince Mr Chadbourn to write a novel based around Red Meg and Bloody Jack's exploits, I'd have difficulty putting into words how much I'd love to read that.
I wouldn't dream of posting anything too spoilery but I think it is fair to say that this novel's ending will most likely leave fans wanting more. Those that have read Mark Chadbourn's previous work, specifically The Age of Misrule, will appreciate that the Swords of Albion is already part of something much larger and I hope that there is more left still to explore. I got to the final page of the book and was hoping to see, like the end of a James Bond movie, that Swyfte will return.
When I reviewed book two in the series, The Scar Crow Men, I confidently made the following statement -
If you are looking for a novel that contains just the right amount of swash with an added dash of buckle then look no further. There are swords fights and chases aplenty and the action is perfectly balanced with the intrigue and conspiracies of Elizabeth's court.
Now that I have read book three I'd liked to amend that slightly. Never mind a book, if you are looking for a trilogy that will more than adequately swash your buckle look no further. Betrayal, treason and trickery with just the right amount of unworldly magic all come together to create a fast paced, character driven action fantasy.
on 30 April 2012
This is the final book in the Swords of Albion trilogy and it ties everything up well, not too sweet but not too harsh a sting at the end. A more layered book then the first two, more to chew over in the mind about the way human kind thinks, feels and what drives us. Will Swyfte finds his answers though not necessarily the ones he wanted (are they ever?).
Grace has grown as a character, and Launceston is fab. Something very bad about him that makes him very likeable. He's possibly the best written character in the books for me.
It ends with it open for more in the future from the secret spies of England but properly concluded. It left me very satisfied with the whole series, beautifully written with enough pace to keep me turning the pages.
Another winner for me.
on 30 October 2012
Considering this is the third book in the trilogy, I'd expected the action to start straight away. Instead, the plot is somewhat stilted at the beginning, I felt like I had to drag myself through the first 70 pages or so (hence the 4 stars).
However, after that, the book was great. Having thoroughly enjoyed the first two books in the series I wasn't let down. It was a good mix of otherworld and historical action, which Chadbourn manages to weave together seamlessly. The twists in the latter half of the book were excellent (I don't want to give them away, but they probably didn't do my blood pressure any favours), and the only disappointment I felt was at the end, when there wasn't any more.
I also have to say I completely loved the development of the relationship between Launceston and Carpenter, so perfectly written between two such flawed characters, who ended up like brothers in the end - watching those two interact was one of the highlights of the book. Although I would say the first book is the best, the whole trilogy is a good read, and definitely worth your time. Here's hoping this isn't the last we've seen of Will Swyfte.
I love it when two seemingly improbable worlds collide and as such Mark Chadbourn's Swords of Albion series has brought the Fey and historical fiction together in an epic Elizabethan mash up.
It's quirky, the characters are people that you want to be around and when you add an author as skilful as Mark with sleight of hand, it leads to something very special.
Add to this great prose, solid dialogue alongside an overall arc with many twists as well as devious manipulation and this is a series that has been a pure joy to read.