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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read
There are times when you read a book that's so amazing to you that you feel the author had you personally in mind when they wrote it, that's exactly how I feel about Mark Chadbourn's The Silver Skull.

The Silver Skull is set in an alternate version of the Elizabethan England period. The story follows Will Swyfte -- the greatest spy England has ever known. He's...
Published on January 22, 2010 by Justin Blazier

versus
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Will Lacks Grace
The back cover copy of The Silver Skull made it sound like a book I would really like, and in fact I think the book that copy made me imagine could be written, but this wasn't it.

The basic premise for the book (which is the first in a planned series, "Swords of Albion") is that while history remembers Elizabethan England's struggle against the might of Spain,...
Published on June 6, 2011 by E. Nolan


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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read, January 22, 2010
This review is from: The Silver Skull (Swords of Albion Book 1) (Paperback)
There are times when you read a book that's so amazing to you that you feel the author had you personally in mind when they wrote it, that's exactly how I feel about Mark Chadbourn's The Silver Skull.

The Silver Skull is set in an alternate version of the Elizabethan England period. The story follows Will Swyfte -- the greatest spy England has ever known. He's handsome, daring, smart, and dangerous. He's everything a great spy should be. With Spain on the brink of war with England and the Unseelie court pulling strings behind the curtains, Will has been tasked with saving the whole of England from certain doom. Sounds kind of silly, does it not? The core of the story is indeed a spy/adventure story. On the surface the plot feels a little like an Elizabethan James Bond novel, but in reality The Silver Skull is so much more than that.

First of all The Silver Skull is actually quite scary. There is a scene where Will must infiltrate an enemy stronghold located in an abandoned house; you can feel the tension building the deeper he gets. The pursuit that happens after he tries to escape had my hair standing on end. The story is very dark, foreboding, and surprisingly violent. I've never had fairies scare the living crap out of me before. Nasty, brutal, super intelligent -- the fairies Mark Chadbourn creates are the ultimate super-villain. James Bond never had to deal with these guys! I love how Chadbourn has taken so many staples of epic fantasy (Olde England, fairies, dashing heroes) and has twisted them into something brilliant.

The depth of characters and the plot leave room for a sequel without leaving you hanging at the end. Chadbourn has recently signed a six-book deal with Pyr. I can only hope a few of those are sequels to The Silver Skull. I admit I was caught by surprise at how much I liked this book. I knew by page 100 that I had something really special in my hands. I recommend Mark Chadbourn's The Silver Skull to anyone who has a head. This is a must-read, and is my favorite book so far this year

-Justin Blazier of [...]
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exciting alternative Historical fantasy., February 28, 2010
This review is from: The Silver Skull (Swords of Albion Book 1) (Paperback)
Mark Chadbourn first wrote about Will Swyfte in the short story "Who Slays the Gyant, Wounds the Beast" in the Solaris Book of New Fantasy. The short story and setting was much appreciated and therfore in this novel Mark Chadbourn gives us a fuller story in this setting. The story is set in Elizabethean England and in this world the real enemies are the Fae who have preyed upon humanity for eons. England also faces its human foes in the form of the Spanish who have reason to be discontent due to religious & conquestorial differences.

Will Swfte and his band of allies do their utmost to obstruct and obfuscate both their enemies. However they have a race against time to recover something which was stolen from the most secure location in London. This object being the titlular piece of this story, is a magical object which if reunited with certain other objects can spell doom for England. The story then takes place all over England , Scotland & even Continental Europe. The author has done a very fascinating job of tying in historical record with his imaginative story and many readers might enjoy the fusion. The tale not only focusses on Swyfte but also gives the readers many glimpses into the remaining character cast & it will be cool to see more of them in the sequel books particularly Nathaniel & R. Launceston.

I loved this book as while it has a stand-alone plot, there is also a greater story about which we learn in parts here and there & which hopefully bodes well for the future books as more history of this world is revealed. Mark Chadbourn has written a fascinating book & I'm definitely looking forward to "The Scar-Crow Men"(the 2nd book in the Swords of Albion series).
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fantasy spy reality, March 6, 2010
A fine novel where the unrealities of the spy trade, if you like, are not overshadowed by the fantasy.

The spies that work for Walsingham, with Swyfte as point man have it about as easy as they do on Spooks. That is, they are likely to die or fall apart a lot, and descend into vice. Here the spies have the added pressure of the Call of Cthulhu style investigator - there are actual horrors in the night that can drive you mad.

A secret war with the Unseelie is kept from the public eye, and even those involved do not know the whole story about what is going on, except right at the top - that is, Queen Elizabeth and her direct coterie.

A detente has been struck as Dr John Dee managed to erect a defense that lessened the depradations of the monsters upon English humanity, but those in other countries still suffer, particularly in Scotland. The inhumans are not happy about this, and are looking to gain back the advantage.

Swyfte and his Bond style exploits are used as PR and propaganda. There is also the very real conflict with Spain going on - so the secret agents have multiple enemies to deal with, and in fact, this novel is set during the time of the invasion of King Philip's Spanish Armada. In fact, Swyfte's Spanish counterpart plays a significant role.

Several items are key - the titular object and its very disturbing past, a Shield, and a Key. With these weapons, some rather more modern-style weapons of war are available to those controlling them.

More of Swyfte's adventures, along with his sardonic assistant Nathaniel can be found in the Solaris Book of Fantasy, the long story therein shedding further light on what is going on in the background to this Elizabethan milieu. Also a highly recommended piece.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Elizabethan spies vs Faerie, November 3, 2009
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This review is from: The Silver Skull (Swords of Albion Book 1) (Paperback)
Thoroughly enjoyable swashbuckling thriller set against the backdrop of the Spanish Armada attempting to invade England. Will Swyfte has to try and recapture a dangerous weapon from the Otherworld that has fallen into the hands of the Spanish. The book has all the ingredients of a top spy thriller but with a slightly different slant. The Otherworld element really adds to the tension and scare factor, nothing can be relied upon to be just what it seems.

It has very good pace especially the latter third. Enough scene setting to paint the picture but not so much as to dull the story.

I really liked the attention to detail on the historical and nautical facts, plus I liked the language. It's not posh english (not all "what ho my good man") but they all speak correctly, no slang. They speak like gentlemen which aided the feel of the book for me. Chadbourn has put his own spin on history to great effect, involving the stuff of nightmares and making you wonder about what does go bump in the night.

Will Swyfte appears in another unrelated Chadbourn book, Jack of Ravens, and it is great to see him have his own tales to tell. This is his story and I hope the first of many adventures of a very likeable if troubled character.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Alternative History, September 3, 2011
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Arador (New York State) - See all my reviews
This book is the first in a new "Sword of Albion" alternative history series set in Elizabethan England. Walsingham's spy network are actually a secret service designed to discover and thwart the plans of the Unseelie Court. They are a group of Faeries with unique powers set on destroying England. They enlist humans to do their bidding and in this book they decieve the Spanish into sending the Armada against England. The central character Will Smythe, England's most famous spy, must travel to Spain in an attempt to recapture a weapon which the Enemy stole from the Tower of London. He also travels to Scotland to try and understand the Unseelie Court's plan before it's too late to stop them. He and his companions suffer pain, disappointment, and betrayal during the quest. Christopher Marlow, Sir Walter Raleigh, and other famous folk make appearances throughout the book.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Swashbuckling Supernatural Spy Adventure in the Elizabethan Age, December 29, 2009
By 
April (L.A., CA USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Silver Skull (Swords of Albion Book 1) (Paperback)
England's enemies are on the move and the court of Elizabeth I is threatened--not only by Spain and their agents and their armada, but darker forces all but unknown to the populace, since knowing will cause madness and panic. The Tower of London is breached and a powerful artifact, the Silver Skull, is stolen. It is up to one of the Queen's spymaster, Walsingham's, greatest agents and heroes to fight back. Will Swifte is dedicated to protect Queen and Country and nothing will stop him. He is fearless in the face of the secret enemy, the forces of Faerie who consort with Spain, because he was touched in youth by Faerie when they stole away his one and only love, something which he will never forgive or forget. Racing with other agents through the dangerous slums of London, to Spain itself and the Armada threatening England, there is non-stop action and adventure, danger and death, as Swifte seeks to stop the enemy from gathering artifacts and using their power to overcome the one monarch and country that stands against the forces of Faerie that have sworn to overcome all humans.

The characters were all interesting and the plot involved. My one quibble is that while I found all the characters fairly well-drawn and sympathetic, they did not quite come alive enough to me so that I truly felt for them and became totally involved in the story. On the other hand, considering the pain and violence against them, this might be for the best. Swifte was larger than life and seemingly indestructible, which was both reassuring and somewhat unbelievable. Dr. John Dee as creator of James Bondian-type spy gadgets was also a bit much, but added a lighter touch in a fairly dark fantasy.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Will Lacks Grace, June 6, 2011
The back cover copy of The Silver Skull made it sound like a book I would really like, and in fact I think the book that copy made me imagine could be written, but this wasn't it.

The basic premise for the book (which is the first in a planned series, "Swords of Albion") is that while history remembers Elizabethan England's struggle against the might of Spain, the *real* battle behind the scenes was against the forces of Fairie, ruled by the Unseelie Court.

Will Swyfte is Englands greatest spy, a kind of 16th century James Bond in the service of the Queen's spymaster Walsingham. He's the subject of many a patriotic pamphlet and the tales of his exploits help keep England's spirits up as all Europe aligns against them. Or at least that is Swyfte's public face. In reality he is a man with a broken heart who tries to drown his sorrows with ale and doxies. Years ago his one true love was snatched away from him by the capricious whims of the Unseelie Court, whose manipulations have deviled the world of men since time immemorial. Now however England has gained some defenses against the realm of Fairie and is starting to fight back, and the Unseelie Court has responded by manipulating the might of Spain against the upstart kingdom..

I guess first and foremost, I should say that as a rule I like "alternate histories" and don't like "secret histories". A secret history is one which purports to tell the true facts behind the history we learned in school and has the to me fatal flaw that nothing can turn out differently. Thus in an alternate history like Harry Turtledove's _Ruled Britannia_, the Spanish Armada can succeed, but in a secret history, it must fail. I was hoping _The Silver Skull_ was an alternate history, but in the event it turned out to be a secret history, which affects my enjoyment of it.

Aside from that general problem, I had a number of specific problems with this book.

First, the book is almost entirely focused on Will Swyfte, but there are a number of odd viewpoint shifts where the narrative moves to other characters. This could work if done consistently, but the book is so much Swyfte's, that the infrequent shifts are rather jarring.

Second, the closest we get to a female lead, Grace, is very underwritten. When she is introduced, we are led to believe that she is a "spunky lass" type of character who will grow and perhaps eventually become one of Walsingham's cohort, if not Will's new love interest. In the event what actually happens is that she becomes a standard "hostage" character existing pretty much only to be rescued and "protected".

Third, the villains are also underwritten. I get the sense that Chadbourn couldn't really get into making the Spanish real villians, perhaps because so many modern English go on holiday in their fellow EU state and have good feelings toward Spain. Lacking a really heartfelt threat there, amping up the descriptions of the Unseelie Court pulling King Philip's strings might have worked, but Chadbourns conception of them is as almost Lovecraftian beings who drive men mad just by their existence and thus they are always seen by the sane as shadowy and indistinct.

Fourth, the book is oddly paced. There is a lot of to-ing and fro-ing but there are also long dead spots where nothing seems to happen (after Will boards the armada, for instance).

Fifth, we are lied to near the beginning of the book. I don't like that.

Finally, a number of random observations: If you are going to have the hero of your Elizabethan story be an ex poet named "Will" and hang out with Christopher Marlowe, the reader is always going to have some suspicion that he's Shakespeare. Either follow through, or don't do it. Likewise, for an American audience, naming key characters "Will & Grace" is probably not a good idea.
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3.0 out of 5 stars See my comments on 'The Devil's Looking Glass', June 13, 2013
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Film no 1 of the trilogy would be better. Sadly, again it was because I bought book 2 at a sale.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fun swashbuckling thriller, November 9, 2009
This review is from: The Silver Skull (Swords of Albion Book 1) (Paperback)
Will Swyfte may be Elizabethan England's greatest spy, but he is used to thwarting no one as his image is just that, a façade to give the beleaguered people a hero. However, this time his superior Walsingham assigns Swyfte to a real project. He must prevent the Faerie and their Spanish minion from acquiring the Skull, the Key and the Shield; if the enemy obtains the three magical artifacts Britain as we know it will be no more.

The Cold War between England and Spain appears ready to turn hot as Spain and its ally Faerie are posed to invade. However, the Queen's sorcerer Dr John Dee has brought back some balance between the adversaries. It is now up to the swashbuckling showman to prove he is the real deal with Dee providing him the latest in magical and mundane technology.

The first Swords of Albion Elizabethan historical fantasy is a fun swashbuckling thriller with a James Bond in a late sixteenth century paranormal England and somewhat Spain set up. The story line is fast-paced and filled with action while also somewhat reminding readers of Elizabeth Bear's Prometheus Age series. From Drake with love to the Armada, to a deep connection to modern issues of national security vs. personal freedoms including the torture debate, THE SILVER SKULL is a fabulous Swyfte thriller.

Harriet Klausner
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars In answer to review re: not a nation, July 9, 2012
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This review is from: The Silver Skull (Swords of Albion Book 1) (Paperback)
First of all let me say, this is a fantasy novel and quite a bit tongue in cheek.
Cleverly using the historical period as a cover to a secret war, against the fay folk.
But I couldn't not correct the comments from one reviewer about nationalism.
England was a nation even prior and Elizabeth I is famous for her speech to rally the hearts of English men to defend the nation against invasion.
On spying - Sir Francis Wallsingham had a superb network of spies, that did travel throughout Europe and his was not the first, just the most well organized.
Infact Dr John Dee also travelled widely in Europe gathering "intel" and a little known fact is that he ended his messages to Elizabeth as 007 - a nugget of history that Ian Fleming found very useful in his Bond novels.
I am British and do know a bit about our early history. The Royal Navy is proudly referred to as the "Senior Service" as it was born during the reign of Alfred The Great(king 871-899)- to defend the flegling English Nation.
The United Kingdom of Great Britain did not come into being until the next reign, that of James the 1st of England and 6th of Scotland, after Elizabeths death.
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The Silver Skull (Swords of Albion Book 1)
The Silver Skull (Swords of Albion Book 1) by Mark Chadbourn (Paperback - November 24, 2009)
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