Mark Chadbourn brings his Age of Misrule trilogy, itself the first trilogy of a set of trilogies, to a close in Always Forever. The world as we know it is barely recognizable, order is lost, technology has all but vanished, fae creatures walk the world and a band of people who are avatars of heroic myth are the world’s only chance of salvation against the returning evil of Balor.
Throughout the trilogy, Chadbourn has managed to imbue his fantastically altered world with mythic resonance and homage to some of his literary predecessors. Balor’s all seeing eye is, of course, reminiscent of Sauron’s all-seeing eye from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. However, Chadbourn makes this powerful image work within the context of his novel (and entire storyline).
One of the running mysteries throughout the three novels is the identity of the traitor in the group. This was mentioned in World’s End, ran through Darkest Hour and comes to a head here in the final novel. Each character had been played as the potential traitor, with a red herring thrown in towards the end, but the resolution is logical. And that’s one admirable thing about Chadbourn’s writing and storytelling, they flow well together as the plot progresses and is logical within the context of what came before.
In terms of the character arcs, the Brothers and Sisters of the Pendragon Spirit diverge a bit from what Chadbourn laid down in the previous two volumes. Laura’s sacrifice in Darkest Hour comes to fruition in this final volume and though painful for her, as character she is a lot less grating in this volume. Shavi’s fate near the end of the second book seemed rather decided, but one archetypical journey from Vietch helps to change that and change Vietch physically as well. Perhaps the least surprising development is how close Ruth and Church become, especially considering they were the first two characters to meet in World’s End.
Probably my favorite new fantastical addition in this magically transformed world is the Wave Sweeper, which is a case of a bigger-on-the-inside-than-it-is-on-the-outside device. The ship contains a multitude of fae and fantastical creatures, including gods, the Walpurgis (sort of a spiritual vampire), the Afanc as well as many others. The early scenes of Church on the ship were very good and what made them so enjoyable was the sense of fun they exuded – I wouldn’t doubt if Chadbourn had a ball crafting this ship. In some ways, the ship reminded me of the fantastical, all encompassing mansion in James Stoddard’s criminally under-looked novel The High House.
How does the series as a whole rank in today’s current crop of fantasy literature? Very well, I think. Chadbourn’s writing is both evocative and clear, the imagery he conjures is resonant, while still being original. At times, the plot throughout the trilogy does have the video-game feel of it in that the characters must find an object to keep going. Early on, and Chadbourn seems to have grown out of this habit by trilogy’s end, chapters or mini-chapters broke with characters blacking out. In that sense, it was very nice to see Chadbourn’s writing and storytelling skills grow and mature as the story progressed.
Flavors of Horror, Dark Fantasy, Mythic Literature, and Epic Fantasy blend very well and that might be the strength of the trilogy. Chadbourn doesn’t sacrifice one for the other and balances the subtleties of each subgenre very well throughout the three books.
In the end Mark Chadbourn has told an entertaining and evocative story, with the balance between originality and homage, as well as the journeys (most of) the characters helping to make this a standout trilogy. With all three volumes together, John Picacio’s art and design make these books as enjoyable physically as they were to read.
© 2009 Rob H. Bedford
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