The Devil’s Looking Glass by Mark Chadbourn

June 3, 2012

Please note The Devil’s Looking Glass is the third novel in the Swords of Albion series. This review may contain some minor spoilers for those who have not read books one and two. Don’t say I didn’t give you an opportunity to turn away now before it is too late….. Still here? Good show.

1593: The dreaded alchemist, black magician and spy Dr John Dee is missing…

Terror sweeps through the court of Queen Elizabeth, for in Dee’s possession is an obsidian mirror, a mysterious object of great power which legend says could set the world afire.

The call goes out to celebrated swordsman, adventurer and rake Will Swyfte: find Dee and his feared looking-glass and return them to London before disaster strikes. But when Will discovers the mirror may help him solve the mystery that has haunted him for years – the fate of his lost love, Jenny – the stakes are intensely personal.

With a frozen London under siege by supernatural powers, the sands of time are running out. Will is left with no choice but to pursue the alchemist to the devil-haunted lands of the New World – in the very shadow of the terrifying fortress home of England’s hidden enemy, the Unseelie Court.

Facing an army of these unearthly fiends, with only his sword and a few brave friends at his back, England’s greatest spy must be prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice – or see all he loves destroyed…

Will Swyfte continues to be an audacious a character as ever. Fearless to the point of recklessness, he will stop at nothing to achieve his goals. Still haunted by events in his past, Swyfte is willing to follow Dr Dee to the very ends of the Earth if it means he will get some answers. So driven by his inner demons there are times when Swyfte almost comes across as arrogant or unfeeling. It’s nice to find a main protagonist who is not 100% perfect. He has flaws and his battle to overcome the Fay of the Unseelie Court is, at least in some part, a battle to overcome his own failings.

As the plot unfolds Swyfte’s brothers in arms get some exciting plot developments of their own. The dynamic between John Carpenter and Robert, the Earl of Launceston, that has been one of my favourite elements of the trilogy, takes an unexpected turn and their relationship is forever changed. In the previous novels, there has always been very defined roles for both of these two men.  If you have read books one and two, you will appreciate why, but desperate circumstances lead to desperate measures and in turn something entirely new. I always enjoy when a writer throws me a curveball and does something that defies my expectations. As an aside The Earl of Launceston remains my favourite character from the entire series. He works perfectly within the confines of the story and has some of the most memorable moments.

Irish spy Red Meg O’Shee also reappears in this novel and it is still a pleasure to find she is more than capable of holding her own against Swyfte, their ongoing battle of wits is a constant delight. O’Shee and Swyfte may work for different governments but there is a begrudging respect for one another as well as a never-ending game on one upmanship.

My only minor criticism relates to a new character called Bloody Jack Courtney, a ship’s captain, who helps Swyfte in his journey to the New World. Unfortunately, he only appears in a handful of scenes but I loved his manic attitude, it was infectious. I have to be honest and admit that once he appeared I found myself hoping for more. Perhaps I can convince Mr Chadbourn to write a novel based around Red Meg and Bloody Jack’s exploits, I’d have difficulty putting into words how much I’d love to read that.

I wouldn’t dream of posting anything too spoilery but I think it is fair to say that this novel’s ending will most likely leave fans wanting more. Those that have read Mark Chadbourn’s previous work, specifically The Age of Misrule, will appreciate that the Swords of Albion is already part of something much larger and I hope that there is more left still to explore. I got to the final page of the book and was hoping to see, like the end of a James Bond movie, that Swyfte will return.

When I reviewed book two in the series, The Scar Crow Men, I confidently made the following statement –

If you are looking for a novel that contains just the right amount of swash with an added dash of buckle then look no further. There are swords fights and chases aplenty and the action is perfectly balanced with the intrigue and conspiracies of Elizabeth’s court.

Now that I have read book three I’d liked to amend that slightly. Never mind a book, if you are looking for a trilogy that will more than adequately swash your buckle look no further. Betrayal, treason and trickery with just the right amount of unworldly magic all come together to create a fast paced, character driven action fantasy.

The Devil’s Looking Glass is published by Bantam Press and is available now.

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