Alone and on the run, Elizabethan England's greatest spy must defeat a dark and bloody plot. Or die...
The Scar Crow Men by Mark Chadbourn is the second novel in the Swords of Albion series. It sees the return of Will Swyfte, gentleman spy, and his ongoing battle with the dark forces that threaten Great Britain during the reign of Elizabeth the First.
Two years have passed since the events in the first novel and Swyfte is facing troubles both at home and abroad. Different factions vie for Elizabeth's favour and in the midst of all this political maneuvering one of Will closest friends is killed. While members of the royal household continue to plot and scheme the Unseelie Court, the Fay, have begun to tear down the magical defenses that protect all humans from their evil. They have unleashed the Scar Crow Men to help bring about a shift in power that will allow them control everything.
There are a couple of things that I think elevates Mark Chadbourn's writing beyond the norm.
He really knows how to set a scene, his descriptions of Elizabethan London are rich and vibrant. I was truly engrossed by the level of detail and found it all marvelously evocative. Nothing is sanitised in this version of the capital city, the streets are dirty and the houses are disease ridden hovels. There is a chapter involving an escape from a plague pit that is memorable for being particularly gross. That imagery is certainly going to stay with me for a while
Chadbourn also peppers his vivid landscape with many fantastic characters. Will Swyfte is a charismatic charmer and has the air of a real hero about him. Though only human, he will stop at nothing to rid the country of the threat of the Fay. They are more powerful than him but he is willing to give everything in order to stop them. Swyfte's associates John Carpenter and Robert, Earl of Launceston are an enigmatic duo. John Carpenter is an ugly, scarred man who is keen to put all the horrors he has witnessed behind him. He is torn between duty and love. Robert, meanwhile, is even more of a puzzle. He reads as an almost Dexter Morgan like character, a genuine sociopath. He is driven by his colleagues to constantly do the right thing for Queen and Country but is utterly devoid of conscience. His reactions to the situations he finds himself in are unpredictable and compelling to read.
As well as the return of existing favourites there is also the introduction of a new female character known as Red Meg. She comes across as a female equivalent of Will and I enjoyed the dynamic that they shared. It was great to see a strong female presence that gave everyone she meets a run for their money. I hope to see her return in the next book in the trilogy.
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.
I've been a huge fan of Mark Chadbourn since I first stumbled across The Age of Misrule omnibus in my local branch of Waterstones back in 2006. Since then I've read just about everything he has written and I have found his work to be exciting and insightful. Like its predecessor, this novel is another seamless blend of high adventure with historical fantasy.
The Scar Crow Men is available now.
on 6 June 2011
Mr CHADBOURNE has again taken his readers to the Elizabethan age with a book that is impossible to put down. With vivid characters and plot Mr CHADBOURNE weaves in and out of the history and mysteries of the age. Will Swyfte is straight out of the mold of the Elizabethan adventurers, Grenville, Raleigh, Drake, etc. Mr CHADBOURNE also reminds us that this was before the Age of Enlightenment, and folk belief, superstition, and magic were everywhere - and most especially at the court of Queen Elizabeth.
on 6 June 2011
Last year Mark Chadbourn introduced us to Will Swyfte, spy and adventurer-extraordinaire, his spy companions and their struggle for Queen and country against England's human and magical enemies. Swyfte is back in The Scar-Crow Men, a novel a tad darker than the first `Swords of Albion' novel, but also better. Swyfte is, like before, a joy to accompany as he fights continuously mounting perils, unravels twisted conspiracies and, yes, saves the day. In terms of historical fantasies, Chadbourn's books are quickly setting the bar for what defines high caliber fiction.
A return to Will Swyfte's world is welcome, though The Scar-Crow Men was a bit difficult for me to get into. Thrown directly into the thick of the action, there is very little time to orient oneself. Eventually the characters and certain other familiarities pulled me into the story to the extent that this second novel felt somewhat more gripping than its predecessor. This can perhaps be put down to the more sinister atmosphere of the novel which is at once more intriguing and thrilling.
More than one might expect, Chadbourn's books aren't just about fun spy stories in an Elizabethan setting. That would be great, mind, but what he offers the reader in his `Swords of Albion' books is those great spy stories, but coupled with some well fleshed-out characters that have a lot of chemistry in their interactions. In fact, this second novel provides remarkable insight into some of its characters' minds. The dark mood of the novel impacts the characters - Swyfte especially - and in turn this has affects how we as readers relate to them.
Also, The Scar-Crow Men has a more refined taste than The Sword of Albion, freed of some of the clichés of that novel. Despite still being `England's greatest spy' it is becoming increasingly difficult to draw parallels between Will Swyfte and that other famous British Spy, James Bond, on account of his growth as a character and the story's evolution away from its more stereotypical roots. The Scar-Crow Men, unlike the previous novel, feels like it stands as a story of its own right, and not as stand-ins for characters and events we've seen depicted before in other fiction.
Part mystery story, The Scar-Crow Men is also possessed of an unforeseen reveal at the end. If a bit convenient plot-wise, this shocking twist elicits a more emotional response from the characters and the reader both. To that end, this final twist helps transition the plot and characters into the next phase of the overarching `Swords of Albion' story. Will Swyfte's second adventure, then, concludes with a flourish and a great sense of anticipation for the events sure to come in the next installment.
In turns exciting, tense and surprisingly poignant, The Scar-Crow Men is another great fantastical adventure to pull you along. Mark Chadbourn's Elizabethan saga is one definitely in the process of maturing. If these books can continue to get this much better from one book to the next, Chadbourn will have a hit series in his hands for certain. We can expect, I'm sure, to see more of Will Swyfte and his merry band of spies in the future and we'll be glad for it!
on 28 June 2011
Some might think a book set during Elizabethan times would have little relevance to contemporary culture. Yet, despite the setting and overt fantasy elements, The Scar-Crow Men is as much about our current political climate as it is about the fairies' Unseelie Court plotting retribution for their imprisoned queen.
The Scar-Crow Men is the second book in the Swords of Albion series by Mark Chadbourn, who is perhaps most famous for his break-out trilogy The Age of Misrule. The Swords of Albion series follows England's greatest spy, Will Swyfte, as he seeks to protect Queen and country against foes foreign and domestic, mundane or mystical. Although The Scar-Crow Men is the second in the series, knowledge of the first is not a prerequisite. Having missed the first book myself, I was easily able to follow the plot, and previous events were subtly revealed to the reader without cumbersome exposition that can otherwise kill a novel.
This time in The Scar-Crow Men, Will Swyfte is seeking revenge for the murder of his friend Christopher Marlowe (yes, the one who wrote Faustus), and uncovers a plot by the Unseelie Court that threatens to topple England itself. However, this time it is not just the faeries who are after Swyfte, but the whole of England, after he has been declared a traitor to the crown. The Scar-Crow Men is an edge-of-the-seat fantasy-thriller at its very best!
One of the greatest draws of this series is the seamless line between fact and fiction. Chadbourn weaves events and personalities of that time, such as Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Thomas Walsingam, to create a story that could almost be plausible if it were not for the strong fantasy elements.
Chadbourn's in-depth detail is such that I found reading The Scar-Crow Men in short bursts was best, as the sheer level of immersion was over-whelming. This is no bad thing, as the plot is more than sufficiently intriguing to warrant contemplation. However those wanting to switch their brain off with an easy read, rather than a great whodunnit, would be wise to look elsewhere.
The greatest strength of The Scar-Crow Men is Mark Chadbourn's attention to detail and the exhaustive research that was performed prior, and during, the writing of the novel. Chadbourn has captured Elizabethan England such that one wonders if he is from Galifrey. Chadbourn has captured everything, from societal mores and protocols, to contemporary modes of speech and phrases. Yet, despite this immersion, The Scar-Crow Men nonetheless remains accessible and is structured in such a way that new phrases are introduced such that their meaning is obvious.
Frankly, The Scar-Crow Men is a fantastic mystery novel, and yet again proves that trying to pigeonhole Mark Chadbourn into a single genre is an exercise in futility. The novel elegantly blends tropes and trappings from such diverse genres as historical, fantasy, mystery, thriller, and horror into a single fantastic story.
Fans of the Fae and the battles against them will absolutely adore this, the second novel in the Sword of Albion series by Mark Chadbourn. The character as usual are rounded, they have emotional aspects that can win out over sense and perhaps best of all it's a story of revenge, loss and discovery.
What Mark also brings to the table is decent prose, great dialogue and a great sense of pace that allows the reader to follow the twists and turns and regain their breath in the lulls to prepare for the next impressive action sequence. All in a great addition to the series and one that you really have to try if you love a different type of fantasy. Great stuff.
on 27 June 2011
This book was as good as the first in the series, although gets off to a slightly confusing start. Found the book thrilling and certainly a must if a Mark Chadbourn Fan. It does not start exactly where the first finishes, but is close enough. Be aware that there are 3 plots running through this book and all characters are involved in either all or some of them. Gets heavy reading a one point and I put it down for a day or so to get my head round the plots. Good read and enjoy this book.