Always Forever is the third novel in the AGE OF MISRULE trilogy by Mark Chadbourn, and at the start of this final installment, things definitely aren’t looking up. As Darkest Hour ends, the five Brothers and Sisters of Dragons are scattered and broken, and the dark god Balor is loose in the land again. If the five heroes can’t somehow stop Balor by the festival of Samhain, when he comes into his full powers, it may spell the end of humanity.
In one sense, Always Forever is a direct continuation of the first two novels in the series, World’s End and Darkest Hour. The Brothers and Sisters of Dragons, aided by True Thomas the Rhymer, travel across England, with occasional forays into the Otherworld of myth and legend. They meet people, fight monsters and interact with gods. Moments of genuine mysticism alternate with hectic hack-and-slash action and all-too-human bickering. The dialogues are, as always, well written and entertaining. The many references to contemporary culture provide yet another contrast between the normal world and the new, surreal age (with my new favorite being the conversation between Jim Morrison and Tom in this novel).
On the other hand, there are a few changes in Always Forever that make this novel a departure from the first two books. For example, in the earlier books, I really enjoyed the powerful contrast between the mundane English countryside and the supernatural creatures invading it, which led to some memorable scenes. In Always Forever, much of the first half of the novel is actually set in the Otherworld, on the “Ship of Fools”, and the lack of contrast with the normal world made that section feel more bland than the rest of the series — it frankly dragged a bit for me, despite containing some of the most surreal scenes of the series. Also, the Tuathe dé Dannan now seem less alien than before, which takes away some of what made them so exciting before: you can see factions in this group of formerly unknowable gods or near-gods, and they suddenly appear much more vulnerable. All of this causes them to lose some of their prior mystique, which for me was one of the most attractive aspects of the series until now. On the other hand, the fact that Mark Chadbourn defies expectations by continuing to build up the complexity of an already challenging concept like the Tuatha dé Dannan is admirable.
I don’t often highlight this aspect of books in my reviews, but this trilogy deserves an exception: the three recent US re-releases by Pyr make a gorgeous set of books, thanks to John Picacio‘s cover illustrations and Nicole Sommer-Lecht‘s book cover designs. The contrast between the terrifying creatures on the covers (Cernunos, Mollecht and Balor, if I’m not mistaken) and the five comparatively tiny heroes is a perfect illustration of one of the trilogy’s recurring themes. The books — all in Pyr’s sturdy trade paperback format — make an instantly recognizable set on any shelf. As far as book design goes, this edition of the AGE OF MISRULE trilogy is flawless.
If you enjoyed World’s End and Darkest Hour, you’ll find much to like in this concluding volume of the AGE OF MISRULE trilogy. While one of the twists in the climactic ending was definitely telegraphed too strongly, the final 100 pages or so are an action-packed thrill ride that combines the strongest elements of the trilogy and lead to a worthy finale that places the entire story in a new perspective. Fans of these books will be excited to know that the AGE OF MISRULE story continues in a second trilogy, THE DARK AGE, with book one, The Devil in Green, due to be re-released in the US in April 2010.