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Always Forever (Age of Misrule, Book 3) by Mark Chadbourn
Cover Artist: John Picacio
Review by Benjamin Wald
Pyr Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781591027416
Date: 28 July 2009 List Price $15.98 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Age of Misrule:
* World's End
* Darkest Hour
* Always Forever

In this final volume of his fantasy trilogy, Mark Chadbourn brings the looming crisis he spent the first two books developing to a head. In a modern Britain into which the gods and spirits of Celtic myth have returned with devastating result for the human inhabitants of the earth, a final confrontation looms. Balor, god of destruction, has been reborn and, along with his servants the fomorii, gathers his power to destroy all life. Technology has ceased to function at all, emphasizing the changes that have come over the world and further endangering the normal people caught up in the changing world. The brothers and sisters of the dragon, five ordinary people who are charged with defending the world, are scattered and two appear to have been killed. Overall, Chadbourn has certainly succeeded in stacking the odds against his heroes.

Over the course of the novel, the scattered brothers and sisters of the dragon must both attempt to reunite their members, and save one who appears dead, while at the same time convincing the ancestral foes of the fomorii, the Tuatha de Danaan, to aid them in their battle against Balor. Meanwhile, they must fear a traitor in their midst. Throughout the novel the plot proceeds at a breakneck pace, with none of the periodic loss of momentum that marred the first two volumes. In many ways this is the best novel of the series, with the speed of the plot catching the reader up and distracting attention from some of the flaws of the series. Unfortunately, those flaws are still present and continue to mar the story.

Having come to the end of the series, some of the elements that have frustrated me in all of the books have come into clearer focus. One of the main themes of the series as a whole is the insufficiency of rational thought, and the need to give greater emphasis to emotion and intuition. The failure of technology, and the rise of magic and the supernatural, is repeatedly referred to as the end of the "age of reason", and a return to an earlier, purer relationship with the world. This is not a theme to which I am particularly sympathetic. To claim that science and reason are monolithic dogmas that exclude anything they can't explain strikes me as simplistic, but this is the explicit assertion of this series at several points. Furthermore, it seems like cheating to demonstrate this point by making up fictional events that prove it to be true. The main justification for the claim is that science can't explain the existence of the supernatural beings that populate the book, but this is hardly an argument applicable outside the fictional context.

Whatever one thinks about the merit of the theme itself, however, this creates certain difficulties for the plotting and description in the series. Since rationality has been devalued in favor of intuition, none of the actions undertaken in the characters quest can be reasoned out. Instead, each step along the path to defeating Balor must be either intuited, or revealed by helpful gods, spirits, ghosts, or some other deus ex machina. This explains the looseness of the plotting overall. With no rational planning involved, it is impossible for the reader to predict where the story is going, or why the characters must perform certain actions rather than others. It is all handed down from on high, according to the demands of the story.

The same theme creates a weakness in the descriptions of the various creatures and events encountered in the course of the story. Because of the focus on emotion over intellect, much of the description is in emotional terms. Supernatural creatures are described in terms of how they make the characters feel, whether it be awe, horror, disgust or so on. Reading about how the characters feel failed to evoke any of the corresponding feeling in me as reader, and so many of the descriptive passages left me cold.

These flaws are to some degree ameliorated by the sense of urgency that pervades the novel, pulling the reader along too quickly to notice the occasional weaknesses of the plot. Having followed the characters over the preceding two novels created an attachment to the characters, and I found myself touched by their struggles and romances even when these were somewhat crudely rendered. It was also gratifying to see the characters transform from frightened and powerless in the first novel to effective and powerful in their own right by the third. The ending is marred somewhat by over-foreshadowing. The various prophecies and visions of the future leached away some of the surprise, at least for me. Still, the ending was forceful and the conclusion was exciting and entertaining, if not entirely satisfying.

Always Forever was a quick read, and a fun one. I enjoyed the non-stop action, and the various loose threads were brought together skillfully. I found it worth reading, although not outstanding, on its own merits, but I don't find the series as a whole to be worth the time I invested in it. The series has an interesting premise and a few good moments, but I wouldn't really recommend it.

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