Wednesday, May 4, 2011

"The Scar-Crow Men: Swords of Albion Book 2" by Mark Chadbourn (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

Read FBC's Review of "The Silver Skull" Here

OVERVIEW: The whole city of London is living in the fear of the Black Death. People are dying left and right from the plague which has brought a black shadow over the whole city. People who normally go out are forced to stay indoors and the smell of death lingers in the air.

While the plague sweeps the city and kills thousands, another force is working to systematically kill off England’s greatest spies. This force is killing off the spies in a ritualistic fashion that almost seems as if it is planned and has a purpose. The problem is, after the death of Sir Francis Walsingham, England is more concerned with politics and self-advancement than the looming threat of a dark force that could be working for the Unseelie Court.

However, England cannot ignore the threat any longer when the devil is channeled in the middle of Christopher Marlowe’s play and Marlowe ends up dead in a remote inn room. It is up to England’s greatest spy, Will Swyfte to uncover the Unseelie Court’s plot, find the killer, and see that justice is done to Marlowe’s killer. He must do this all while being shadowed by a realistic image of Jenny his long lost love.

FORMAT: The Scar-Crow Men is the second book in The Swords of Albion series. It is a mixture of historical fiction, fantasy and mystery. While it could be read without reading the first, it is recommended to read The Silver Skull due to the many references to events and people that could be confusing if the first book was not read. The Scar-Crow Men also ends on a cliffhanger feeling. It was published on February 8, 2011 by Pyr.

ANALYSIS: After reading Mark Chadbourn’s first book The Silver Skull I was in love with this series. I recommended it to everyone I knew and could not wait for the next book in the series. So when The Scar-Crow Men showed up on my doorstep I was overjoyed and couldn’t wait to see what happened. Unfortunately, my experience with this second book is a bit of a mixed bag of disappointment and excitement.

Sure, The Scar-Crow Men is still filled with all the historical elements that I enjoyed and Mark Chadbourn does not spare the readers the details of the sights, sounds and smells of London during the plague, but there were parts of the book that left me longing for something else and feeling as if I missed out on something.

The Scar-Crow Men is more about the mystery and helping to unravel the problems that England is facing. Maybe if I had gone in with the expecatation that this was a mystery and not an advanture, I would have had a better experience but after loving the first book so much, it was hard not to go in with pre-set expectations.

The lack of adventure wasn’t the only problem I encountered during the book. Another problem I had was there seemed to be a lot of elements that either were not fully developed or could have been and had a feeling of fizzling out. The biggest example that comes to mind is the whole secret weapon that is supposed to destroy The Scar-Crow Men. I felt it wasn’t developed and just sorta thrown out there and the readers were denied any explanation on how it worked, what needed to be done or really what it was.

All of this leads me to the major problem that I had after finishing this book and sense of forward plot movement. When I completed the book I felt as if the plot or story didn’t move forward any further than when I finished the first book. Granted, we aren’t at the same spot as the first book but readers were moved maybe a centimeter which was disappointing. This could be because unlike the first book this book ended with a cliffhanger, there was no sense of closure and now I must read the third book to see what happens.

Despite all the problems I encountered I don’t plan on giving up on this series. While I loved The Silver Skull, I just thought this book was “okay”. I believe a large portion of my issues could have been expectations that I had mentally formed for this book, that it obviously didn’t live up to. That being said, I view The Scar-Crow Men as a huge setup for the third book in which I plan on reading eagerly and hopefully it’ll live up to my expectations.
One of the biggest things that I enjoyed about The Silver Skull was the adventure scenes that left you sitting at the edge of your seat. The problem is The Scar-Crow Men doesn’t have these scenes. There is very little action and because that was a huge part of what I felt made this series so special I was extremely disappointed in what this book gave me. Granted it wasn't a disappointment caused by the author but more because I went in with a set expectation and it didn't meet that. ,

Two Short Reviews: Bakker, Kristian (by Liviu Suciu)

Since I am trying to showcase as many 2011 interesting books of various kinds as I can, but the number of full reviews I can do is limited and is becoming even smaller due to various reasons, it is inevitable that some books won't receive as complete coverage as I wish. I keep the continually updated post with 2011 books read HERE. Here I will talk about two books I would have usually reviewed in full, but since I cannot do it, I will just summarize my thoughts.

First, one the highly awaited novels of the year: The White Luck Warrior by Scott Bakker. I greatly enjoyed the original Prince of Nothing trilogy though I was less enthusiastic about The Judging Eye (FBC Rv) which at the time I thought it was too prologue-like. Now after reading The White Luck Warrior, I realize that my discontent had to do with where the author took the series more than anything else.

The White Luck Warrior (D, series drop) was the first truly disappointing major expected release of 2011 for me. Most of it I would say it's probably me moving on beyond the kind of book this represents but I found it dull, boring and pretentiously empty. All the talk about kings, faith, all the philosophizing for which Scott Bakker is renowned just made me yawn and I couldn't give a fig for any of the characters of the book, except for Kelhus of course. If the No God would come and sweep them into history more the better.

A series drop and I kind of regret it given how much I enjoyed the first trilogy at least at the time, but overall books about ancient evil awakened and the mobilizing of huge armies to combat it, all done in an earnest, "oh, I am taking this really seriously" manner seems to have become another sub-genre I will give a pass from now o
n. I'd rather have some subtlety, some irony, some understanding of the human nature, than what the author offered here and the only thread that was palatable for me in The Judging Eye - with Mimara and Achamanian - became here another "fight and philosophize fest" that I could not wait to be over even at my fast reading rate.

The only redeeming moments were the ones with Kelhus who as usual was pure awesomeness since he is the only "alive" character of the new series, but few pages here and there cannot compensate for the drudgery of the rest.

Odin's Wolves (A/A+) by Giles Kristian is the third and temporarily last - hopefully since I want more for sure - tale of the Viking adventurers under Jarl Sigurd and Raven his protegee seemingly marked by Odin.

The promise of Raven: Blood Eye and Raven: Sons of Thunder is fully realized here with a rip-roaring tale of adventure, intrigue and even occasional heartbreak, that starts on the coasts of France, passes through Moorish Spain, the Mediterranean and ends as expected in Constantinople where the throne is fiercely contested by ambitious nobles and generals, while Sigurd and his fellowship may just be the ones to decide who wears the purple...

Since Odin's Wolves picks up where Sons of Thunder ends, the increasingly diverse band of Sigurd and Raven having just lost their treasure to save their lives, needs another goal and the Jarl sure provides it. On the way they have the usual adventures, great duels, cunning tricks, great banter and blood curling happenings, while the book keeps the "no putting down" breakneck pace of the first two volumes. The ending has a special quality to it because it provides enough closure to be satisfied with the trilogy as a whole, but leaves open the future of our heroes for more adventures to come. Bring them on!