Picking up right where he left off in World’s End, Mark Chadbourn continues the tale of the returning Gods and Legends of Celtic Myth in Darkest Hour, the second novel in The Age of Misrule trilogy.
Chuch, Ruth, Shavi, Laura, and Vietch, collectively the Brothers and Sisters of the Dragons, along with their advisor Thomas the Rhymer, attempt to assist the more benevolent Celtic gods the Tuatha Dé Danann as they try to quell the more sinister Fomorii from destroying the world. The Brothers and Sisters are charged, through mysterious and ambiguous messages from various mystical beings, to prevent the return of Balor, the embodiment of Evil.
With the characters and impetus of the series established in World’s End, Chadbourn can focus on the details here. However, he doesn’t do that at the expense of moving things forward and just settling things into a typical middle book. We get to know the characters better and see them interact. The world change isn’t as much of a surprise at this point in the storyline and the characters bloom into distinct individuals. Furthermore, they each come into their own as modern avatars of their mystical ancestors – Vietch as the dangerous warrior, Church the reluctant leader, Shavi the mystic, Ruth the Triple Goddess, and Laura…Laura’s role is somewhat ambiguous through most of this novel.
That may be my only (one of two) problem with Chadbourn’s second Age of Misrule entry – Laura. She is an extremely unlikeable character, with very few redeeming qualities who continually warrants a slap to the face or kick to the ass. Her mean-spirited and selfish attitude provide some balance to the spiritually accepting Shavi and her romance with Church at best is awkward and forced.
While Laura’s role in the Brothers and Sisters of Dragons is ambiguous and unclear, Tom’s role in the story becomes less so. He continues to provide cryptic advice to Church and cause some flare-ups in the group, but his knowledge and will to do the right thing redeem him as a character.
Although Chadbourn does delve deeper into the characters in this novel, he doesn’t do so at the expense of the mythic travelogue he’s been undertaking in this series. Each landmark along these character’s journeys is steeped in real world history and Chadbourn mines much of that for great mythic effect in the novel and trilogy’s storyline as a whole.
The characters in the book have continually remarked about the true nature of the Formoii and the Tuatha Dé Danann as creatures and beings humans can barely comprehend. In fact, the characters have said perhaps a better way to think of these ancient beings is as aliens. In essence, the Golden Ones, Formoii and many of the other creatures are operating on a world-awareness not akin to human understanding. Chadbourn captures this disorientation quite well throughout the novel.
In Darkest Hour, Chadbourn continues to play up the atmosphere of the novels. Continually tilting between fantastical and horrific, and sometimes unsettling, through the main characters and those bystanders they encounter, he manages to give a fearful and dark aspect to the world changing events. In that sense, these books could appeal to fans of mythic fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy, dark fantasy, and horror. In essence, he’s doing a lot of things and doing them pretty well. Even with the returning dark gods, one could even say there’s a Lovecraftian feel to the powers at play.
As I read this book and reflect on World’s End, I couldn’t help shake the feeling of similarity to Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry. Granted, Kay’s trilogy focused on college students being thrust into a secondary world of myth and magic with Celtic echoes and Chadbourn’s heroes are adults whose world is overcome by Celtic myths and gods. The dark overtones and some of the events resonate either by coincidence or mining some of the same myths. That said, Chadbourn’s work is distinct and his characters are unique.
Darkest Hour works very well in the trilogy sequence and smartly, Chadbourn provides a brief recap before plunging into the proper story of this novel. The other problem which I hinted at earlier, and it is even more minor than my issues with Laura as a character, is that at times I got a video game/plot-coupon feel to the novel. That is, the characters are racing around collecting things in order to get to the next stage in their journey. This aspect didn’t necessarily detract from my enjoyment of the novel, it was just a storytelling device of which I took note.
In conclusion, Mark Chadbourn continues his dark and entertaining Age of Misrule trilogy – some resolutions, some tidbits that hint at things to come, and an overall entertaining novel. As with World’s End, John Picacio has done another marvelous job with the cover and design of this book. The immediate Shelf Presence of the complete trilogy should work well to encourage readers to pick up these books, and they’d be lucky if they did.
© 2009 Rob H. Bedford