World's End: Book One of the Age of Misrule
Victor Gollancz / Orion Books
UK Hardcover First
424 Pages ; £16.99
Date Reviewed: 02-25-02
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel
Here's a novel that tells you right off the bat that it's the first in a series. That's not always a good thing, but in this case, it turns out to be just what the (script) doctor ordered. In spite of its 'first in a series' designation, 'World's End' does not induce cross-room volume hurling at its conclusion. It ends up being a great setup for an interesting and entertaining take on the fantasy quest. It reads like lightning, the characters are interesting and have the ring of truth about them. And the world it creates is really quite fascinating, much more interesting than the world it ends.
That would be our world, the one that ends. Chadbourn's novel posits that as the (fake) millennium rolled over, and the world's IT staff breathed a sigh of relief that their Y2K patches had been correctly installed, reality itself began to change. The age of Science and reason came to an end -- slowly, in increments -- and the Age of magic and supersition, the age of misrule, began. For all the fantasy elements in this novel, it reads much more like a Stephen King style horror thriller. It begins as Jack Churchill (Church) and Ruth Gallagher both witness a crime committed by something that should not exist. From then on out it's a chase, as they race to find out what is happening to the world and slowly find out that they are the only ones who can do something about it.
Alas, what they cannot do is reverse the process. What they can do is to prevent the triumph of a supernatural evil, the likes of which has only been roughly imagined in ages past. What's nice here is that while the evil is implacably evil, on the opposing side, the Tuatha De Dannan, are rather ambiguous in their opposition. They consider humans beneath their notice, in much the way we generally regard bacteria as beneath ours. However, when disease strikes the world, we pay attention, and eventually, so do the Tuatha De Dannan, who correspond roughly to "elves".
But they are not elves, and though Church, Ruth, and others are brought together to go on a quest, it's certainly not your normal quest. While it does occasionally read like one long chase scene, it's an interesting chase scene, and to this American reader, the characters ring pretty true and show some interesting depths. It's certainly not your usual knights in shining armor scenario. Chadbourn has done a wealth of research -- he offers a bibliography at the end of the novel -- and it shows. His monsters and demons and gods and goddesses are not just James Bond villains in frocks. They're alien and complex creations from Celtic myths and literature. Moreover, Chadbourn has a fabulous visual imagination, and the scenes of wonder and terror he creates fly right off the page and into your own private wide screen theater. The conclusion is only a breather. Two more volumes will follow. But from your vantage point in the year 2002, those two volumes have come to pass. I'd suggest getting all three while you're at it. Prepare for a marathon.