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Friday, February 12, 2010

"The Silver Skull: Swords of Albion" by Mark Chadbourn (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

Introduction: Mark Chadbourn is the critically acclaimed author of over 16 novels and a non fiction book. He is best known for his series The Age of Misrule, The Dark Age, and Kingdom of the Serpent. He is also known for his stand alone novel, Lord of Silence. Mark Chadbourn is a two time winner of the British Fantasy Award.

Overview: Will Swyfte is a man known for many talents, amongst these talents are sword fighting, adventure seeking, and one of England's greatest spies. His tales against the forces that protect Spain and the king, have made him a national hero to the citizens of England and one of the most recognizable people in all the world.

So why have a spy that everyone knows who he is? England has crafted this image in an effort to put at ease the people of England. The citizens don't realize what is really going on. Will Swyfte is really fighting not against the Spanish but against another menacing force.

In the darks of night, Swyfte and his friends are fighting a dark war against the forces of the Faerie. These Faerie folk have preyed on the likes of mankind for many years. They have spread all throughout England and the world. England has decided that it is time to fight back against such evils and try and rid themselves of the devastating effects that having these evil forces living within the country has on many people.

What may look to many people as a simple fight against two countries: England and Spain. Is really a fight against good and evil. The Faerie folk align themselves with the people of Spain in order to indirectly make moves against England, whom they feel have wronged them many years ago.

Silver Skull starts with England holding a mysterious prisoner hostage. One evening some unknown group breaks into the Tower and releases this secret man from his cell. Unbeknownst to the people who are guarding this prisoner, he is the most dangerous weapon that anyone can have in their procession. He is wearing the Silver Skull, a gadget that when aligned with the proper elements can spread devastating diseases and plague throughout the whole country. It appears as though the enemy may have gained possession of the prisoner, so England calls in Will Swyfte.

Swyfte and his close friends go on an adventurous quest to not only retrieve the Silver Skull but to also sift to the bottom of why the Faeries have chosen this point in time to step up their attacks on England.

Swyfte plays a dangerous game of deceit and illusions that is filled with many lies, adventurous, secrets and murder. The main thing to remember is that not everything and everyone is what they appear to be!

Format: Silver Skull is a historical/adventure fantasy novel. It stands at 425 pages, and is the first in a series of books. It was released November 24, 2009 by Pyr.

Analysis: The Silver Skull is a perfect combination of great material and characters, a realistic portrayal of Elizabethian England, and of course the mysterious Faerie Folk that make up the myths that are so popular today. With all these elements wrapped up in one novel I had very high expectations for the Silver Skull, and those expectations were certainly met.

The first element that stuck out in the Silver Skull was the amount of research that Mark Chadbourn has put into this novel. It's very easy when writing a historical novel to glance over little facts when researching and just get the broad picture of what happened in that specific time frame. Chadbourn not only researched and used the broad history but also included many little details, right down to the proper color of the Mary Queen of Scots undergarments when she was facing her trial and beheading. It really makes the reader appriciate the amount of time and effort put into the novel, and is one of the key factors that made this book so enjoyable.

Along with the research is the realistic portrayal of Elizabethian England. Chadbourn has the imagery down to an art. The descriptions of the lifestyle of those that aren't lucky enough to be royalty, and the conditions that they are living in are very realistic and not glossed over. In a time when from dusk to dawn people stayed out of the streets and away from the shadows for fear of what is hiding there, Chadbourn really made each description of the areas come to life right in front of the reader and made that reader understand the atmosphere of that time period.

Another factor that was most enjoyable were the moments of adventure that popped up throughout the story. There is a lot of world building, and background presented, but its the moments of fighting and running from the enemy that'll bring the reader to the edge of their seats. At one point within the novel there is a chase scene involving horse and carriages, between Will Swyfte and the Enemy. Chadbourn brought out the gravity of the situation presented in the chase, but also put the reader right there in that carriage.

The fighting between the English ships and the Spanish armada is another real gem of the book. The ship battles were so realistic that I feel very unfortunate to not have seen those mighty Spanish ships in action.

Silver Skull is not without it's faults and quirky problems.

When first picking up the novel, it took a while to get into it. Not because the characters, or theme weren't interesting. Instead there seemed a sense of not having read a previous novel. The main character, Will Swyfte often refers to past events that I was unsure would be explained later in the reading or if it was just a reference to the past. The presentation of the character is also rather quick to the reader, there didn't feel like there was much of an introduction and instead it took a bit of time to really grow attached to Will Swyfte. Again this could have been because to get a full appreciation for Will, the reader has to understand the events and what Will is really up to and that part of the novel is developed midway through.

Another slight area of confusion in the first part of the book was the referral to the enemey, and The Enemy. Although these two fighting forces have the same name, they are completely different areas. The Enemy is the Faerie folk that most of England knows about but doesn't talk about, and the enemy is Spain. This at first might be a bit confusing to readers as the Faeries as an Enemy really don't happen until later in the novel and it can be quite easy to get lost if the right amount of attention isn't paid to the context the word is used in.

In the end, I was wow'd by how much I enjoyed Silver Skull. After the slight stumble with the first 50-80 pages, it was a book that was almost impossible to put down and kept my attention the whole way through. The second book in this series is an absolute must read and I really wish it were available right now. It'll be interesting to see where the Faerie folk end up and what's happening in that world. Mark Chadbourn is such a descriptive, well thought out writer that it'll be intriguing to see where he takes readers and Will Swyfte with his next novel.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review Cindy, I have been waiting to read this book for a long time now. MC is an old hat from across the pond and its good to see MC getting recognized for the talented guy that he is!

Dan L.

Cindy said...

You're Welcome! Mark Chadbourn is indeed a very talented writer. I'm very excited that so many of the authors that aren't US central are finding their way across the pond and vice versa!

Edith said...

Excellent review which makes me want to read the book, BUT!'s part of a series, sigh. Does it come to a satisfying conclusion or is one left hanging? Should I wait till book 7 in the series is out?

Cindy said...

Thanks Edith!

I would say it came to a satisfying conclusion. Enough of the threads were wrapped up that you aren't left hanging. There is one continuing thread that isn't wrapped up, dealing with Will Swyfte and his long lost love, that thread does continue into the second book.

I think Pyr is thinking of publishing it Fall/Winter so the second book isn't TOO far away :)

Lou Anders said...

Stand-alone battles in an ongoing war. One of the reasons we didn't put "book one" after the series title is we wanted to suggest that each book could stand on it's own.

ediFanoB said...

I read The Silver Skull last year and liked it as much as you did.

Your great review hits the bull's eye!

I hope a lot of people will read The Silver Skull.

I look forward to the next Will Swyfte adventure.

Cindy said...

Lou worded it better then me.

I want to read more because it was that good, not because MC left a guy hanging off the side of a cliff facing life or death and I need to know if he lives or not ;)

Thank you Michael! I loved the book! I've recommended it several times :)

Cosplay Swords said...

Yeah Thanks for the review Cindy. such a very fine. thanks for sharing with us...

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