World’s End is the first book in British fantasy author’s Mark Chadbourn AGE OF MISRULE trilogy. The novel was originally released in the UK in 1999, and has been re-released in the US by Pyr in 2009.
World’s End can probably best be categorized as dark contemporary fantasy. The setting is England, in more or less the present day. Jack Churchill (“Church”) lives in London and is trying to cope with the apparent suicide of his girlfriend Marianne. Returning home one night, he has a terrifying encounter under a bridge with a giant whose face seems to melt and change before his eyes. Ruth Gallagher, a lawyer, is also a witness. Both of them pass out, unable to deal with this terrifying vision, but in the next few days, they are drawn together to find out more about what happened.
Soon it becomes clear that life as we know it is changing: technology is starting to fail, creatures of myth and legend are returning to the world, and all the rules we rely on are changing. Church and Ruth embark on a journey to retrieve four magical items that may represent humanity’s last hope at the end of the Age of Reason and the start of the Age of Misrule.
What I enjoyed most about World’s End is its effective way of mixing regular life in the UK with the encroaching mythological elements. The protagonists travel across the country, staying in hotels, bed and breakfasts, or even their van, giving realistic descriptions of New Age tourism destinations like Stonehenge or Tintagel — while at the same time the country is falling apart because a dragon firebombs a highway or the Wild Hunt tears across the sky. Someone could probably retrace the characters’ steps as a travel guide to major Celtic monuments and relics (though hopefully encountering less interference from various mythological monsters).
Another positive for me were the interactions between the main characters, who spend a lot of time bickering realistically and learning from each other. It’s nothing new, but still refreshing to read a story in which a few of the main characters just simply don’t like each other, while others slowly find common bonds. Some of the characters start out a bit flat, but they experience real growth throughout the novel and best of all, by the end of the novel I felt like I knew most of them.
It’s also interesting that World’s End can be appreciated on several levels. On the one hand, the novel can simply be read as an entertaining, action-packed contemporary fantasy, but at the same time Mark Chadbourn displays an obviously deep knowledge of mythology, tying together myths on a more fundamental level and, especially in the later stages, giving this novel an additional layer of depth and a broader scope than you’d initially expect.
Maybe a minor point, but one I really appreciated: from the very beginning, the more-or-less normal people who become the heroes of this story find it hard to deal with the surreal and terrifying creatures they encounter. Even in the first scene, both Church and Ruth faint when confronted with the terrifying giant, and later on, spells are used to inoculate them and others against the terrifying visions. It’s refreshing to read a novel in which the heroes don’t emit a Keanu Reeves-like “whoa” when seeing something impossible, and then just move on.
Some negative points: I found some of the plot twists obvious to the point of transparency, while others were simply too predictable, especially towards the end of the novel. The story occasionally speeds up to the point where it reads like the script for an action movie, but on the plus side, at least it’s a movie I’d want to see — especially if the special effects look anything like the gorgeous and somewhat terrifying cover illustration by John Picacio, which has the distinction of being the first cover to actually show up in one of my nightmares.
All in all, I felt that the positives outweighed the novel’s few problems, because World’s End served up enough excitement, mythological depth, and interesting characters to keep me reading to the end. I’m usually not a big reader of contemporary fantasy or dark fantasy, but I definitely look forward to reading the next book in the series, Darkest Hour.
Imagine yourself walking home late one evening after a couple hours relaxing at the pub. You hear an argument close by and you make in its direction to investigate. What you end up seeing is a man being murdered by a creature so hideous it makes you vomit then completely lose consciousness. That’s exactly what happened to Jack “Church” Churchill and Ruth Gallagher in Mark Chadbourn’s World’s End. The horrific experience has been permanently etched into their subconscious and it has changed their lives forever. Together they embark on a journey to find items that could save mankind from complete destruction by sinister forces.
World’s End is quintessential contemporary dark fantasy. The story setting is a mix of modern day society and various elements from mythology. It’s quite obvious Chadbourn has done his homework, given how well he links all these mythological pieces in with modern theological and philosophical concepts. Chadbourn creates a unique, believable, and complex tapestry of myth and folklore for this world. He pulls this off extremely well and authors-to-be should take note, because it’s this kind of detail in world building that writers often miss in their stories.
The characters in World’s End are many. There are at least six main characters that all get equal time. I’m usually wary when books have too many central characters; someone usually gets left undeveloped. That is not the case in this book. Each character is given the right amount of attention to make you feel for each of them and their unique situations. They have all come from different backgrounds and have very different personalities, but they are forced to rely on each other in deep and personal ways. I grew to love and respect each character as the story progressed. I even grew to like Laura, who at the beginning of the story made me cringe each time she spoke. The character development in World’s End is some of the best I’ve read.
The plotting of the story is where World’s End falters a bit, and was the only thing that kept it from getting 5 stars. The characters find themselves in predictable situations and are often saved in predictable ways. As Stefan said in his review (above), many of the plot twists are transparent. So much time and effort was put into building an amazing world filled with strong characters, that some of the actual plot devices were left wanting.
Don’t let my quibbles about plotting stop you from reading the book, though. Complaining about predictable plotting in fantasy is like whining about there being dragons on the front cover. World’s End is brilliant in almost every other aspect of its storytelling, and I’m amazed that Mr. Chadbourn’s books don’t get as much attention as they should. I see vampire/zombie trash all the time cluttering up shelves. The Age of Misrule series blows away a large portion of bestselling fantasy available today. I look forward to reading the next installment, and only regret I didn’t read it sooner.