The Devil's Looking Glass
Author: Mark Chadbourn
Series: Swords of Albion 3
Publisher: Pyr, February 5, 2013
Format: Trade Paperback and eBook, 440 pages
Price: $17.95 (print)
ISBN: 978-1-61614-700-6 (print)
Review copy: Provided by the Publisher
James Bond adventure in the court of Queen Elizabeth!
1593: The dreaded alchemist, 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, an object of great power which, legend says, could set the world afire. And so the call goes out to celebrated swordsman, adventurer and rake Will Swyfte—find Dee and his looking glass and return them to London before disaster strikes. But when Will discovers the mirror might solve the mystery that has haunted him for years—the fate of his lost love, Jenny—the stakes become acutely personal.
With London under siege by supernatural powers, time is 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 the Unseelie Court. Surrounded by an army of unearthly fiends, with only his sword and a few brave friends at his back, the realm's greatest spy must be prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice—or see all he loves destroyed.
The Devil's Looking Glass is set in the late 1500's with Queen Elizabeth I on the throne. The court is in an uproar as Dr. John Dee, the country's magician and protector, has been captured by the Irish and spirited away to the New World. This has left England vulnerable as Dee built the wards that protect the country from the Unseelie Court. The dark Fae had been kept at bay for decades after they had blighted the country stealing babies and luring people to their deaths. Fear is high that they will break through Dee's barriers to seek revenge after the English had captured their Queen years before. The Fae Queen has been locked in the Tower of London for decades and as the barriers between the worlds weaken the Fae will do anything to get her back.
Sent to find Dee and save the day is Will Swyfte, a master spy in the Queen's court. Swyfte ends up in the possession of a Fae mirror while trying to rescue Dee from the Irish. Through the mirror he discovers the fate of the love of his life, Jenny. Will is convinced that the Unseelie Court were to blame for Jenny's disappearance and that the mirror will prove it. Bent on revenge Swyfte is on a mission to not just to find Dee and save England but more importantly learn the truth about Jenny's disappearance.
I started this book and then left it for several weeks while I read other things. I think this says 2 things about the story 1) it wasn't engaging enough that I couldn't stop reading it and 2) that it is so well written that I could easy pick it back up and quickly get back into it. I quite like historical fantasy and while it isn't my favorite genre I enjoy seeing how an author can take real historical figures or events and add a fantasy layer on top. Chadbourn excelled at this as the Unseelie Court made a great alternative to the French or Spanish who were England's biggest enemies during this period. I was however, not immediately engaged and felt that the story was lacking. The book's summary describes Swytfte as being a bit of a rogue, but in the story he seems to spend most of his time mooning over his young love Jenny. Member's of Elizabeth's court often refer to Swyfte as being a rake but nothing in the book actually backs this up. It is in fact rather incongruous with his actions and how he interacts with other main characters such as Grace, Jenny's younger sister. Swyfte is much more of a do-gooder and loyal subject than you would expect from someone who was a rake.
Chadbourn had a unique style of describing the landscape and environment as much of this was done through dialogue between the characters. Usually an author will describe the environment through the eyes of the main character(s). I have read other historical fiction where the environment was described so well that you could almost see what the characters were seeing and smell what they were smelling (usually something gross like horse manure or days old sweat!). This was not the case, however, with The Devil's Looking Glass. While I like the writing style I was not drawn into the environment in which Swyfte lived. Therefore, I couldn't really immerse myself in Swyfte's life and the plot. This was a sumptuous and tumultuous period of English history and I believe that Chadbourn could have played on that a bit more.
Overall, The Devil's Looking Glass is solid historical fantasy although I wasn't completely sold on the protagonist, Swyfte. For fans of this genre I urge you to give it a go as there are lots of historical figures and some fiendishly, evil fantasy antagonists.