Monday, May 16, 2011

Book Review: World's End (Age Of Misrule #1) - Mark Chadbourn

 When Jack Churchill and Ruth Gallagher encounter a terrifying, misshapen giant beneath a London bridge they are plunged into a mystery which portends the end of the world as we know it. All over the country, the ancient gods of Celtic myth are returning to the land from which they were banished millennia ago. Following in their footsteps are creatures of folklore: fabulous bests, wonders and dark terrors As technology starts to fail, Jack and Ruth are forced to embark on a desperate quest for four magical items - the last chance for humanity in the face of powers barely comprehended.

I had to struggle with this one. I make it a point that I won’t stop reading a review copy of a book, as the publishers were kind enough to send me a copy. I wanted to put this book down so bad that I could taste it, but I didn’t. I read it all the way to the end…but it didn’t help.

Imagine this if you will. In one volume (of a multi-volume series) the author attempts to jam as much information into it as is humanly possible (even though as a series he has much more time to do so), so much so that nearly the entire thing is like one repetitive encounter with various sects of the big bad’s after another that acts alongside info dumps.

Mark Chadbourn’s Age Of Misrule series starts off with the book called WORLD’S END, and while it has a fascinating premise and even starts off really well, it quickly descends into repetitiveness, info dumps and a plethora of Celtic mythology that, try as it may,  just doesn’t interest. The main characters are, for the most part, flat and depth-less. Church and Ruth are the only ones fleshed out and that’s mostly because they pine and moan about the ones they lost in the past, but overall even they could get grating. Things went south for me when the reasons for technology not functioning anymore and magic on the rise, plus the addition of elder species like the “evil” Fomorians comes across as only moderately menacing, and that’s wholly because Chadbourn keeps repeating the process of “evil attacks” “heroes escape harm somehow” over and over again, simply dropping new creatures into the mix.

Along the way there are revelations about what is really going down with the world and how it won’t be the same again, but I always found myself wondering why the baddies don’t do more to total the world. I mean there is a great action setpiece in which a dragon (puzzlingly named “fabulous beast”) attacks the M4….but after that I kept asking myself, you know if there are dragons, why don’t they just take out power centers and leave Britain in utter darkness and cold. Like seriously. I’m not usually one to give the whole “why didn’t so and so do this and it would have been easier” complaint, but here it’s not like it would have made things easier, and in fact would given the protagonists a bigger hill to climb, and perhaps make things more interesting. It was just a thought I couldn’t get out of my head.

Beyond this, there is mention of many Celtic legends and myths most of which, while innocuous,  are somewhat interesting...if not overly so. Chadbourn of course has to bring in the concept of the Wild Hunt, and that is something that (surprisingly enough) has begun to saturate the urban fantasy and fantasy it in the form we know it in, or in a disguised form. It's overused and totally left a bad taste in my mouth....simply because I care less about it than any other mythological idea. Seriously, I'd rather read a lost Homer novella where Odysseus shows us how to peel potatoes.

There also seems to be a running theme in this about technology as a type of big bad that ruins the world anyways. Magic overtaking it. Born in the early 1960’s, Chadbourn doesn’t even really need to tell us that he grew up in the prime hippy-era late 60’s to early 70’s and I am sure that influenced him with his writing.  However, in a culture that is currently flourishing with technology, the preachyness of that is not well disguised and sticks out enough that it actually bugged me. Only so much more because an author like Alastair Reynolds does the whole environmental awareness thing in his books, but it’s never brutal or preachy and always comes across as subtle and interesting, not to mention thought provoking. Here it just feels like that guy all by himself outside your office in a tye-dyed, patchwork poncho with a homemade sign, protesting. It’s quaint at first, but in the end it is just pointless and annoying.

Lastly, the end of the book sets up the sequels and I found myself actually thinking: My god, I couldn’t read another one of this series if I tried. It just had too much that I had to struggle through to make it worth my while to go on, and there are other author's books begging to be read.

I don’t like ending reviews on bad notes, and I’d like to give Chadbourn some praise. The writing is not bad overall. Aside from the flat characters, the actual prose itself is decent enough and fairly readable. I would actually say that a lot of the book can be considered at a YA reading level in fact. It’s not complex, but it just gets mired in its own information is all. The writing only starts to fray with repetition and the aforementioned character depth. Overall the man knows how to tell a story, I am just not sure that this rambling story should have been all crammed into the first book, and I’m doubly unsure that I would ever want to hear the rest of the story. It just wasn’t for me. I mention all this only because I feel that I’d love to give Chadbourn another try with one of his unrelated works, but I’m going to give his books a rest for a while first, and I certainly don’t want to finish the Age Of Misrule series.

However, I am perfectly sure that this book would appeal to other folk. My taste is not everyone's taste. There is a story here that, if you think it interesting will probably enjoy. My issues with the book may not bother some of you folks and you might think this is a great series, so I'm not going to discourage reading it. In fact seek it out and give it a bit of a perusal if you think I am off my rocker (which has been known to happen, usually with beer), as it could be a great read for you.

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