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Now that the genre of Fantasy has taken off like a video cellphone into modern tastes and sensibilities, genre mutants and deserters from other camps are lining up to have their picture taken with John Q. Public. I won't bore you with all the details, but simply waddle through the sub-genre now called Urban Fantasy by some. Like everything else, it is not new; it's just freshly painted to the colors of the modern palate.
Urban Fantasy presumes a hidden, usually more important layer of reality lurking around or co-existing inside our mundane, modern civilization. Its codes, morals, and goals are shockingly different and pose a conflict to the established norm. Almost all supernatural identifications are engulfed in this definition—especially the hip, comic-book vampires like Blade and Selene—but they are more associated with the broader genre now called Dark Fantasy, which is just Horror without the embossed or foil-stamped splatter covers.
But when you overlay the traditions of Heroic Fantasy, the specs demand a quest taken on by heroes—usually reluctant ones when they're sensible, average Joes and Janes—involving dragons, ogres, turbo-charged artifacts of significance, and demon-gods so formidable that underwear changes once a day rise beyond just proper dressing etiquette.
So, pack the Handi-Wipes, because World's End is merely the first of a trilogy labeled The Age of Misrule . What you see on the cover of this 557-leafed volume is what you get by page 76, and they keep on smokin' from more than page turning after that. A synopsis would be too verbose, so think of this review as more of a preparation.
The shock that there is a completely different reality penetrating into ours like steam rising out of a manhole cover finds Jack "Church" Churchill "bowed by the boredom" of living in a society stripped of all "supernatural wonder for some modernist sense of community" (Gollancz PB, IBSN 1857989805, 3rd impression, c.1999, p.4). He is wrung out by the suicide of the love of his life Marianne and dripping obsession to find out why. Like Frodo, he is the self-doubting skipper fighting with the steerage of his so-called destiny.
Joining Church early on is Ruth Gallagher, a solicitor with a history of controlling men and always following the proper course in life. She suspects an inner strength and confidence, but timidity keeps her parameters quite narrow. She is perfect fodder for wily Gods like Cernunnos who brands her into patronage.
Tom Learmont is the Gandalf of the group. He looks like an old, burned-out hippie, but dispenses information as craftily as a crooked blackjack dealer in Reno . Although sour and brooding with gems like "the universe is not like clockwork. [It] is like stoats fighting in a sack, bloody and chaotic, and any rules there might be could never be glimpsed by you" (p.70), he nevertheless keeps everyone up to speed on the strata, complexion, purposes, and power players of Otherworld which is rapidly usurping the Fiery Network of Earth.
If you invest in the Grail theme of this book making its discovery team "the King, a Good Knight, a Maiden, the powers of Life and Death, a Hermit" (p.338), then Ryan Veitch is Lancelot. He has the dangerous edge of a criminal, yet with a moral code incorporating atonement and loyalty. Somewhat childlike in his emotional development, he's still the guy you want watching your back.
Then there's Shavi the Sufi. East Indian, he's the mystic, the meditater, the seer into others' consciousness. He grounds the group with his calmness and balance. He's the duality of "the overlapping of the visible and invisible worlds, yin and yang, the conscious and the unconscious, masculine and feminine natures" (p.334) that polarizes the universe.
The final member of the Brothers and Sisters of Dragons is Laura DuSantiago. She is the most difficult, both in personality and conception. She is glib, sarcastic, mean, insensitive, anti-social, and quite uncourageous, yet there's a warm, loving, hurt child beneath her over-defended exterior. She seems to add nothing but sometimes-witty, mostly-cruel barbs, and it is astonishing the other characters don't drown her to death in her own bile. Her assessment of the group is "'a screwed-up techno head, an old hippie, a woman with a poker up her arse, a drugged-up fey romantic, a murderer and—' she nodded towards Church '—him. Some big fucking champions'" (p.428).
Welcome to the new and improved, 21st Century, Tolkien dreamteam.
If the characterizations are not expansive and complex enough, there's the multiple layers of mythology that almost requires underlining while reading. This is not a put-off; the diversity adds richness, depth, credibility, and bolts and bolts of Blue Fire interest in both history and real-life wanderlust. It is mainly Celtic in origin, peppered with Scottish, Norse, and Pendragon lore.
The underbelly of this adventure, however, is the fanciful Otherworld mythology and its' devising hierarchy of Gods and Goddesses. These omnipotent, preternatural beings "and everything they deal with are so alien they are unknowable . . . [and] too terrible for your mind to bear" (p.275). They are the absentee landlords serving eviction notices to humanity while various races war among themselves for dominance. The fiends are easy to discern, but possible allies are as elusive as an indisputable UFO sighting.
While you're reading, it might help to refresh on things like:
For further, scholarly pursuits, author Chadbourn provides his research bibliography at the endpages.
This is not a seamless stew of existing myths and chimerical notions with Heroic Fantasy structure seasoned on angst-ridden characters set in modern England. Like most series, it is weighty in places, especially when dealing with characters' motivations, feelings, and desires by explaning instead of integrating them into the action. At times I wished Chadbourn would have gone through just one, more edit to eliminate weedy sentences that grow like character notes rather than insight. And, of course, there are numerous sidebar pourings out of the main plot cauldron like Ruth's encounter with Nina the Witch who teaches her the unfeigned, albeit pornographic version of how to use a broomstick. But these are easily forgiven, considering the thrill of the journey and the wonder of its destination. My biggest criticism is that the American publishing industry has not been perceptive enough to hawk this worthy trilogy to the US public.