Book Review: The Scar-Crow Men
by Mark Chadbourn
When we last left Mark Chadbourn’s 16th century super-spy Will Swyfte (in 2009’s The Silver Skull) he was tirelessly engaged in protecting his country and the aging Queen Elizabeth I from the unsleeping, otherworldly menace of the Unseelie Court – and only just managing to succeed, despite being the coolest hand, the toughest fighter, the best swordsman, and the sexiest bravo in the whole of the land.
All of those things are still true in Swyfte’s new adventure, The Scar-Crow Men – Chadbourn is still utterly deadpan in giving his main character all the matter-of-fact superiority of an old-time pulp hero – but if anything the stakes are higher and the outlook bleaker. It’s 1593, and as Swyfte himself points out, “Our defenses are crumbling. The ones Doctor Dee put in place all those years ago. The ones that have kept our queen and country safe from the supernatural foe that has preyed on us since the Flood.”
The Scar-Crow Men doubles the pace of its preceding volume and kicks things off with the death of Will Swyfte’s friend and fellow-spy Christopher Marlowe. Those of you expecting a simple stabbing in Deptford haven’t been reading enough Chadbourn lately: no, the questions plaguing Swyfte throughout the rest of the book, as he juggles supernatural incursions, very human political threats, and leaping, biting spiders, involve something that was previously unthinkable: Englishmen working in league with the Unseelie Court. What did Marlowe know, and why did it get him killed?
The enemy has grown bolder in this new volume. “Where was the Unseelie Court?” Swyfte could once ask. “Like ghosts, the Enemy were defined by the subtle patterns of terror they drew in the world, the trail of blood and ruined lives, but those otherworldly predators remained unsettlingly elusive.” But England’s supernatural defenses have grown so weak – or been so traitorously compromised – that ‘elusive’ hardly describes the pale-skinned monstrosities that begin menacing Swyfte and his friends in broad daylight.
Fans of meat-and-potatoes adventure fantasy will be even more pleased by this volume than the previous one. If you’re taking a well-earned break from Schopenhauer, you couldn’t do much better than this series.