Sunday, 23 February 2014

The Silver Skull by Mark Chadbourn

This is not the fault of the author, but my enjoyment of this book was marred by one thing - I kept wondering what it would have been like if written by another author.

This book is a fantasy set in Elizabethan England. It is about the Fae and their interactions with humans. Kit Marlowe is a minor character.

Elizabeth Bear, who I love, has written a book I have not yet read (although I've read another in the series) set in Elizabethan England. It is about the Fae and their interactions with humans. Kit Marlowe is the main character.

And so, although The Silver Skull isn't bad, I kept wondering what Elizabeth Bear's take on these common elements would be, fairly confident that it would be better. Because this is okay, but not great.

Will Swyfte, England's famed greatest spy ever, works for Walsingham, and he, and the others in Walsingham's employ, know the secret - the greatest foe facing Elizabethan England is not the Spanish, but the horrific ravages of the Unseelie Court, who have been preying on humans for millennia. Except that John Dee was able to recently erect some defenses in England that stopped them from...wait, what did it stop them from?

No, seriously. Dee theoretically erected defenses against the Fae that they are mightily pissed off about, but we don't actually see their activities hampered. They still wreak horrible magical trickery on people. They kidnap someone out of a royal residence.

So what was that defense anyway? How does it work? I hadn't realized it until I was writing right now, but that's kind of a major plot hole.

At any rate. England is now "defended" and the Unseelie want to crush it under their heel, so they're manipulating Philip of Spain to attack with a mighty weapon they liberate from the Tower of London.

The Fae are so devastatingly evil that the awareness of their existence and few words in the ear of anyone who didn't know about them are enough to drive humans to suicide. This is interesting, that humans are shown as so frail, but I didn't entirely buy it. At very least, we need to hear what evil things they say once, so that I'm convinced it was enough for a single sentence to cause utter despair. 'Cause, you know, we're kind of hardy stock when we need to be. You have to convince me that finding out there's a powerful malevolent force out there would be enough to kill people. I wasn't.

So, Swyfte goes to Spain, tries to free the sister of the woman he loved, tries to keep people from finding out about the fae.

And it just doesn't add up to as much as I would like. The plotting isn't that tight, I was never heavily invested in the characters, it didn't go into the depths I hoped it might. It was a fine fun read, but nothing to write home about. It wasn't the book I hoped it might be.

Which reminds me, I really should read that Elizabeth Bear book.

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