World's End (Age of Misrule, Book 1)
by Mark Chadbourn
Cover Artist: John Picacio
Review by Benjamin Wald
Pyr Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781591027393
Date: 26 May 2009 List Price $15.98 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
World's End, the first book in the Age of Misrule trilogy by Mark Chadbourn, features many familiar fantasy tropes, including prophecies, ancient battles between good and evil, dragons, and magic artifacts. However, he manages to shake up these old favorites by bringing them all into the modern world. The main characters are mostly ordinary people living in our contemporary world, when the rules of that world are turned upside down. As the book progresses technology begins to break down, mythical creatures come out of the woodwork, and the obligatory forces of evil have begun plotting the downfall of humanity.
The story begins when Jack Churchill and Ruth Gallagher independently stumble on what looks like a simple mugging. When they intervene, the attacker reveals itself to be a shape shifting spirit, and from there both Jack and Ruth are down the rabbit hole. They learn that they, along with three others they encounter on their journey, are "brothers and sisters of the dragon", prophesied protectors of the land. The myths and legends of earlier peoples, particularly the Celts who once inhabited the British Isles, are all reflections of an earlier period when magic was pre-eminent, and mystical entities of great power and inscrutable motives walked the earth. That time has now come again, and the evil fomorii have managed to betray and exile the good gods and have free reign over the earth. The five brothers and sisters of the dragon must gather four powerful artifacts and use them to free the good gods from their exile before it is too late.
While the plot itself could be from any number of quest fantasy novels, the fact that the story is set in our world is a refreshing twist. This allows some interesting parallels between the safe, rationalistic world we currently live in and the worlds of horror, danger, and wonder that fantasy offers us a window into. At times this theme is emphasized just a bit too heavily for my taste, but it is generally effective and interesting. It also gives a sense of perspective to the wonders on display by putting them side by side with our everyday life. Its hard not to be struck by the contrast when the Wild Hunt engages in a night long car chase with our fleeing protagonists.
However, that being said this is not a book without flaws. Mark Chadbourn has the unfortunate tendency to tell us about his characters, rather than allowing them to speak for themselves. Character traits are either admitted to by the characters in conversation or else observed and noted by others, rather than being allowed to develop through the characters actions. This made it hard to really feel for the characters, at least at the beginning. In addition, the pacing is a little inconsistent. Most of the time the plot keeps you swept up in the action, but there are several stretches in the middle when the pacing gets a little repetitive as the characters are chased around collecting magical artifacts as if on a high stakes scavenger hunt. Luckily, the pace picks up towards the end and sweeps us along to a highly satisfying conclusion.
The book has some significant strengths which counterbalance these weaknesses. The setting is original, the imagery is powerful, and the action well written and engaging. By the end of the book I had become comfortable with the characters, and the ending combines a satisfying sense of climax with enough of a cliffhanger to draw me into the second book. Overall, I look forward to reading the next two installments in the series.