Jack of Ravens by Mark Chadbourn
At the beginning of the year, I devoured (pun intended, Mark might get it) Mr. Chadbourn’s Age of Misrule trilogy. It is only fitting that I end the year with the start of the following trilogy, Kingdom of the Serpent, and the enjoyable romp through history that is the first book, Jack of Ravens. This book is not only a good vs. evil fantasy tale that chronicles the fight through history, but it imagines a world outside of our world, a (dare I say it) “Matrix” like veil, leaving you wondering which is real and which is fantasy. Chadbourn does an excellent job of weaving in historical figures into a timeline that asks the participants to bend their minds and look behind the veil.
And dragons! What more do you need?
The Age of Misrule series started with the world as it is today, a world of reason. Jack Churchill and the rest of the five of the Pendragon Spirit, rode the wave of chaos that spread as technology failed and a battle began with Fragile Creatures (us humans) initially serving as collateral damage…but in the end being the weight that tipped the scale.
Some spoilers for that first series after the break.
At the end of the Age of Misrule series, the five Brothers and Sisters of the Dragon take on Balor. Jack Churchill finds that Ryan Veitch, one of the five, has been corrupted and manipulated and is forced to kill him. Turning on the gigantic and powerful dark god Balor, against overwhelming odds he kills Balor (or banishes him) but Churchill is sucked into the void.
Jack of Ravens starts out with Churchill thrust back into the Iron Age, sword in hand, most of his memory wiped out by a spider embedded into his skin. He fights alongside the people there against beasts similar to the Formaii. As he weakens under the attack of the spider, the people take him to a place of ritual. There he is healed, and four of the people with him join him to be the first five of the Pendragon Spirit / Blue Fire / Brothers and Sisters of the Dragon. They battle creatures across the land, and in his travels he meets Niamh, of The Golden Ones / Tuatha De’ Danann (Queen of one of the courts from the first trilogy). This is the first time they meet (in the initially trilogy she was watching over him in the future), and she tricks him into accepting gifts and he falls under he command. She puts him to sleep while the other four of his original five are brutally slain. Despairing, he follows Niamh to the other world of The Golden Ones. The one thing he can remember from his previous life is his love for Ruth.
He returns to our world (The Fixed Lands) in the age of Rome (time runs differently in the Summerlands), to search for Niamh’s brother Lugh. There he finds that his original four were slain by a resuscitated Ryan Veitch, bent on vengance, seemingly only remembering that Church betrayed him in the end. Church finds that the enemy is Anti-Life, The Army of Ten Billion Spiders, evil incarnate and several other names, and they are bent on changing history so that the Blue Fire (symbolizing hope, happiness) and Existence are controlled and nearly extinguished, replaced by despair. Veitch is hell-bent to kill as many Brothers and Sisters of the Dragon across time as he can to prevent Church’s five from the first trilogy from defeating the Army of Spiders.
This starts a battle across time, with Church trying to save as many Brothers and Sisters as he can, ensure the continuance of Existence and the Blue Fire, get back to Ruth, and leave clues for his Brethren in the future, while Veitch and a host of other baddies try to kill them and to leach the Pendragon Spirit / Blue Fire out of Church and generally make sure that the bad guys win. Gods from many walks of life join the battle on either side. The timeline goes through the ice age, Rome, the country of Venice, World Wars, the sixties and modern times. Will Swyfte and John Dee (from Chadbourn’s Swords of Albion series) make a brief appearance as well.
As with the first trilogy, Chadbourns descriptions of the Summerlands and the creatures that inhabit there are fun to read: just enough fuzziness and chaos to describe the indescribable. The conflict of Veitch, the personality change of the haughty Niamh and the flagrant disregard for life of the Libertarian, plus the Seelie Court, are all enjoyable pieces. And it is always good to see a battle fought through well-described ages of history.
At times Church is too “good” to be believable, but that’s the way heroes are supposed to be. There is also a “flower power good/war bad” implication in the recent history which is a bit black and white, though I read it as representation of the hope vs. despair theme of the novel.
And, I thought the book could end right where and how it ended and have been a complete and satisfying story, though I could be proven wrong once I read the next one in the series (which I am off to find).
Full disclosure: I received this book from Mark Chadbourn in a trade of signed copies for my novel Software by the Kilo.