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The Burning Man by Mark Chadbourn

01/03/2011. Contributed by Phil Jones

Buy The Burning Man in the USA - or Buy The Burning Man in the UK

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The Burning Man (Kingdom Of The Serpent book 2) by Mark Chadbourn. pub: Gollancz. 339 page enlarged paperback. Price: GBP 12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-575-07949-6.

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‘The Burning Man’ is the second book in the series of ‘Kingdom Of The Serpent’ but we’ve followed these characters and stories from the previous two trilogies of ‘Age Of Misrule’ and ‘The Dark Age’. This now, the penultimate book in a series of nine, we are starting to come to the end of the tunnel.

The modern world has been enchanted by a mundane spell cast by the void. It enslaves people with a desperate need for wealth, weighty religious doctrine and an endless toil in the need to serve the system. This is a very clever mechanism introduced by Mark Chadbourn as it’s holy believable and fits in nicely into the current world we live in. Into this comes Jack Churchill, we’ve followed his journey through time and different realms, and again his love, Ruth. Both are now in the modern world and need to break the mundane spell which is holding back both individuals and the race as a whole from ever reaching their true potential and Nirvana. To do this the Brothers and Sisters of Dragons, Churchill and Ruth need to find two keys - one can create and one can destroy. These just happen to be people who are hidden deep in population. In their quest, they inadvertently awaken various ancient deities and gods along with the spiders by the void to thwart the brothers and sisters of the dragon all make their journey more treacherous.

The series so far has had its ups and downs. The series has the weaving of folklore and myth into its somewhat complex storyline. References come thick and plenty and come from a whole host of sources from the modern to the ancient day. Ironically, this book feels very visual, fast-paced and very dynamic, mixing time-lines, stories and history easily. This does have a downside in that there is little respite from the frenetic pace and there seems little space for characters to take a breath or reflect on their state or predicament. Predominately, there is a focus on Celtic Mythology, but we venture into Chinese, Norse and modern day culture with regularity, everything from the modern to references of Timothy Leary and Tír na nog, bringing a freshness, new viewpoint and an eclectic mix of old and new to the world of fantasy. If you’re a fan of urban fantasy then this will appeal.

I think if you read this in isolation you may struggle a bit with the story threads and getting a grasp of what’s going on. A lot has happened over the last seven books and that background knowledge is essential for getting the most from this book. There are echoes of previous ideas introduced throughout the series, especially the simple balance of good and evil, black, and white but inevitably it’s never quite as simple as that. It discusses the struggle for humanity to go above mundane and at the end we are left with a cliff-hanger ready for the next volume. The reader is given the opportunity to mull over the ideas throughout the book and there is a lot to digest here. The last train is a clever idea as are a few of the reveals that this book presents, though maybe the Libertarian is a tad underdeveloped as the main opposition. It will be interesting where this story finally ends up.

Chadbourn brings imagination to a rich tapestry he has already woven in the previous books. This feels more together and whole than previous books and has a bit more focus. It is still a very dynamic and visceral read with elements of non linearity and bendy timeline. Very enjoyable though. I think one of the best books in the series yet.

Phil Jones

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