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Almost by definition, middle novels of a trilogy are tedious. They are like traveling through Kansas & Nebraska on a coast-to-coast road trip. The first flush of new discoveries is over, yet the settling in to accepted conclusions is still to be anticipated. A speeding ticket seems mandatory across the prairies of any literary trilogy. Or, the car breaks down and you run out of money and go home.
In my review of World's End , I've already opined a desire for Chadbourn to take another run through the editing machine. Up that a notch, especially if you're reading straight through, as there's ample re-living and re-telling into redundant character explanations. If you need a re-hash, Chadbourn thoughtfully provides a 12-page synopsis of the first volume.
That said, I think Chadbourn rises magnificently to the challenges of the interim novel. The traditional theme of defeat is crowded with deceits that strengthen his overall appearances-vs-reality motif. The Danann, or Golden Ones, are seen past their initial bedazzlements to more Machiavellian conceits, while some of the established band of heroes take surprising spins on their own, fated prayerwheels. But, even though the killing and subsequent re-birth of the leader, Jack Churchill, sets the start of the novel, resurrection is not as important as a re-alignment of the characters' sensibilities. The standard lofty goals of High Fantasy are scrutinized, as "even the smallest thing has passion in it" (Gollancz PB, IBSN 1857987667, 2nd impression from 2004, c.2000, p.42). The major conflict always has a means-to-an-end sheen to it. Should one person perish to save the world? Fortunately, there's no battle slaughter of Rohanians to stop Sauron's spew, so the choice is not terribly hypocritical.
Again, here's a refresher list:
There is this inkling seeping throughout the book that technology and progressive thinking engenders laziness, decadence, disillusion, and deception. The solution appears to be a forceful feeding of the older, more staunch and narrow notions synonymous with agrarian and feudal societies. The cliché of what doesn't kill you makes you stronger is paraphrased by many of the heroes with a suspicious Calvinistic twang, and castigations like "it's one of the great arrogances of man that we consider we are constantly evolving" (p.151) is just downright despotic. The Medieval pillory of Courtly Love that is burgeoning in both Veitch and Church—the manly men of the group—seeks transformation of women into objects rather than individuals, and the verbiage that "there always has to be a sacrifice . . . I suppose there's a price to pay for everything" (p.461) reads more like donning a hair shirt than a life lesson.
But Darkest Hour ends like it should: with foreboding and loss, but a sense of renewal and strength is eminent, as Britain , like an abandoned backyard, slowly turns to seed. Hopefully, the kernels of both an archaic morality and a code of heroic honor will "evolve" with the changes true magic brings.