Darkest Hour is the second book in Mark Chadbourn‘s AGE OF MISRULE trilogy. As often is the case, the middle book in the trilogy is the darkest one, and if the title didn’t give it away, Darkest Hour is no exception. Thankfully, the novel contains enough excitement to make it a thrilling read that should please fans of the first book.
At the conclusion of World’s End, the return of the Tuatha dé Danann turns out to be a bittersweet victory. Even though they have been typically been cast as the “forces of good” in the legends, they turn out to be so powerful and alien that they treat normal humans as pets at best and have no problem using and manipulating them. It quickly becomes clear that Church, Ruth, Laura, Shavi and Veith — the five Brothers and Sisters of Dragons — cannot count on their help in ridding England of the Fomorii, the hellish monsters that are wreaking havoc across the land. The Fomorii are trying to revive Balor, the Heart of Shadows, who is the ultimate evil god and will bring the End of Everything. The five heroes are forced into a guerrilla war against the overwhelming forces opposing them, while all around them life as they know it is falling apart…
Darkest Hour is a fine continuation of the AGE OF MISRULE trilogy. The five main characters continue to grow throughout the novel, slowly taking on more individual roles as they become familiar with their own specific abilities. Mark Chadbourn does a great job portraying these everyday people who are thrust into very un-everyday situations. While World’s End was an exciting read because it showed the heroes gradually discovering the nature of the new age, Darkest Hour is different: it’s less of “what the hell is happening?” and more of “how can we do something about it?”
My favorite part of Darkest Hour was the portrayal of the Tuatha Dé Danann. While the Fomorii are portrayed as a more stereotypical and mostly homogeneous force of evil, the Golden Ones are much more nuanced and varied. While some of them seem almost human-like, others are closer to gods or forces of nature, and Mark Chadbourn makes the reader appreciate how truly unknowable these beings are. The basic disdain they feel for us “Fragile Creatures” is one of the most chilling aspects of this novel.
Darkest Hour works on many levels, ranging from pure action to mysticism to horror to romance. Once again, the route of the five protagonists is described in detail, including which highways they take, and some of these more mundane travelogue details really highlight the surreal nature of the challenges they face. This contrast is again beautifully interpreted in a gorgeous cover by John Picacio, showing the tiny heroes dwarfed by a huge, terrifying nightmare creature.
Some parts of Darkest Hour are so action-packed that they read like an Indiana Jones movie on acid, with surreal and hallucinatory battles and journeys, both in this realm and the Other Lands, alternating with utter and unbridled mayhem as the normal world is torn apart by legendary creatures. This leads to some stunning and spectacular descriptions of the clash of the supernatural with the mundane, but on the flip side, the novel contains so much action that it becomes a bit tedious towards the end, alternating battles with moments of quiet in a steady pattern.
Aside from that minor complaint, Darkest Hour is another solid contemporary fantasy novel with realistic characters facing some very surreal challenges. The novel is often dark, at times genuinely scary, and almost always entertaining. The end effectively sets up what should be a spectacular finish of the AGE OF MISRULE trilogy in Always Forever.