Friday, November 23, 2012

Book Review - The Silver Skull (aka The sword of Albion)

The Sword of Albion by Mark Chadbourn

The Silver Skull

With this book, I did my classic habit of like the look of the cover, blurb sounds interesting, and on special offer!

Did not know the author at all, but it is a period of history that I like with the added bonus of fantasy thrown in, so how could I resist.

This is the description:
1588: as the Spanish Armada prepares to sail, rumours abound of a doomsday device that, were it to fall into enemy hands, could destroy England and her bastard queen once and for all. Enter Will Swyfte. He is one of Walsingham's new breed of spy and his swashbuckling exploits have made him famous. However Swyfte's public image is a fa├žade, created to give the people of England a hero in their hour of need - and to deflect attention from his real role: fighting a secret war against a foe infinitely more devilish than Spain...For millennia this unseen enemy has preyed upon humankind, treating honest folk as playthings to be hunted, taken and tormented. But now England is fighting back. Armed with little more than courage, their wits and an array of cunning gadgets created by sorcerer Dr Dee, Will and his colleagues must secure this mysterious device before it is too late. Theirs is a shadowy world of plot and counterplot, deception and betrayal, where no one - and nothing - is quite what they seem. At stake is the very survival of queen and country...

As the description says, the story is set in Elizabethan England with the threat of invasion by Spain hanging over the country and starts with an attack on the Tower of London. Lights are seen under the Thames, the gates unfasten, and guards are transformed and killed.

A prisoner who has been held in the Tower for years is released and disappears into the streets of London.

Elizabeth’s spymaster Walsingham then calls in his small team of spies, chief amongst them Will Swyfte to recapture the prisoner who wears a mask of silver which is vital in the defence of England.

Will is described in pamphlets and by word of mouth as the hero of England someone that the people can rely on, a public face for the defence of the realm

Though he is a hero, Will is involved with the others in his team in a very different fight than the people suspect. They not only seek to defeat the Spanish but also the Unseelie or Unholy Court that look to destroy all of England and who look down on humans as less than animals.

Will is a great character, and very human, he drinks and knows many of the prostitutes of London, where he goes to relax. He has great banter with his servant- Nat, but he has dark side as he never forgets his lost love Jenny, who vanished due to the Unseelie Court who are behind many peoples disappearances.

The writing is fast paced especially towards the last third of the book and very enjoyable, and as the chapters are quite short, you tell yourself, you will only read one and end up reading more. There is plenty of action, with a touch of horror, a description of a straw man burning, makes you go a trifle cold.

There are many good side characters, though I did find Grace- Jenny’s younger sister annoying. As the story develops, you get an insight into many of their back-stories, which help the reader understand many of the characters actions, which is good especially in the case of Mayhew one of Wills band of spies. 

The detail of the period is very good and adds to the story appeal. I also liked the Unseelie court themselves, the descriptions of the grey shadows and the images that they can show is very good, I would have liked maybe a bit more of them

This is the first in a series, and you can see the strands of the story that will continue on, but there is a definite conclusion to this one so the reader is not left on a cliff-hanger. Would recommend this as a story with many different elements so there is very much something for everyone, and I will definitely be reading book number two.

8 out of 10