The Scar Crow Men by Mark Chadbourn
Please note this review contains minor spoilers if you haven’t read book one in the trilogy, The Sword of Albion. Also you are missing a real treat.
Alone and on the run, Elizabethan England’s greatest spy must defeat a dark and bloody plot. Or die…
The Scar Crow Men by Mark Chadbourn is the second novel in the Swords of Albion series. It sees the return of Will Swyfte, gentleman spy, and his ongoing battle with the dark forces that threaten Great Britain during the reign of Elizabeth the First.
Two years have passed since the events in the first novel and Swyfte is facing troubles both at home and abroad. Different factions vie for Elizabeth’s favour and in the midst of all this political maneuvering one of Will closest friends is killed. While members of the royal household continue to plot and scheme the Unseelie Court, the Fay, have begun to tear down the magical defenses that protect all humans from their evil. They have unleashed the Scar Crow Men to help bring about a shift in power that will allow them control everything.
There are a couple of things that I think elevates Mark Chadbourn’s writing beyond the norm.
He really knows how to set a scene, his descriptions of Elizabethan London are rich and vibrant. I was truly engrossed by the level of detail and found it all marvelously evocative. Nothing is sanitised in this version of the capital city, the streets are dirty and the houses are disease ridden hovels. There is a chapter involving an escape from a plague pit that is memorable for being particularly gross. That imagery is certainly going to stay with me for a while
Chadbourn also peppers his vivid landscape with many fantastic characters. Will Swyfte is a charismatic charmer and has the air of a real hero about him. Though only human, he will stop at nothing to rid the country of the threat of the Fay. They are more powerful than him but he is willing to give everything in order to stop them. Swyfte’s associates John Carpenter and Robert, Earl of Launceston are an enigmatic duo. John Carpenter is an ugly, scarred man who is keen to put all the horrors he has witnessed behind him. He is torn between duty and love. Robert, meanwhile, is even more of a puzzle. He reads as an almost Dexter Morgan like character, a genuine sociopath. He is driven by his colleagues to constantly do the right thing for Queen and Country but is utterly devoid of conscience. His reactions to the situations he finds himself in are unpredictable and compelling to read.
As well as the return of existing favourites there is also the introduction of a new female character known as Red Meg. She comes across as a female equivalent of Will and I enjoyed the dynamic that they shared. It was great to see a strong female presence that gave everyone she meets a run for their money. I hope to see her return in the next book in the trilogy.
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.
I’ve been a huge fan of Mark Chadbourn since I first stumbled across The Age of Misrule omnibus in my local branch of Waterstones back in 2006. Since then I’ve read just about everything he has written and I have found his work to be exciting and insightful. Like its predecessor, this novel is another seamless blend of high adventure with historical fantasy.
The Scar Crow Men is available now.