So, in the quest for looking for new stuff to read, I wound up starting Mark Chadbourn's follow up series to Age of Misrule. (Well technically, one of them. There's another series that follows around one of the protagonists from the original series as well).
So, The Devil in Green, book one of The Dark Age, picks up about a year following the events of Always Forever. We start with Mallory and Miller, two gents making their way to Salisbury, home of a Cathedral on one of the major ley lines. (Ok technically, Mallory and Miller start off traveling separately, facing down one of the beasts on the Salisbury plain being their actual meeting, but..) Salisbury is trying to become the Jerusalem of the West, with the remnants of Christian England trying to revive the faith in they new age following The Fall. As such, a call has gone out to create a new Knights Templar, to again protect travelers in this new time. Mallory is terribly cynical, whereas Miller is very faithful to his beliefs.
The Cathedral is overseen by Julian, who's doing a passable job in his old age keeping the various factions within from outright conflict. As Mallory and Miller get settled in to training, they form a bond with Gardener and Daniels, the latter of which we met in Bath during the last trilogy. Daniels is gay, his partner died during the last series. We also have Hipgrave in the mix, which becomes more important when the knights get sent on their first mission.
Outside the cathedral, in their own Celtic pagan protection, are the Travelers, one of whom, Sophie, Mallory begins to fall in love with during an illicit visit beyond the wall by Mallory and Miller. Sophie, of course, is a witch of Ruth's line from the last series.
Anyway, two major events happen fairly early on that begin to shape the course of the narrative. The first involves the Elite Blues bringing back a Holy Relic (the bones of St. Cuthbert), and a second involves our team of 5 heading out to the plains to find a missing cleric. What they meet in the field is much more harrowing than a missing cleric, more some kind of monster along the lines of the Formori in the first series. Mallory, who's got a bad reputation, winds up being the one sent into danger on the plain ahead of the platoon. After getting his butt kicked, he winds up in the Far Lands, and eventually in Rhiannon's court. However, this Rhiannon doesn't sleep with the other singer and the drummer and spend much of her time twirling and doing cocaine. She does, instead, heal Mallory and pass on a sword with a bunch of consonants in its name and the information that he's one of the 5 Brothers of Dragons that existence has chosen since the last 5 have moved on to new roles. (She does cryptically mention Church, or so we assume.)
He returns from the Far Lands and saves Miller on the plain, reminding us once again that time passes differently in fairieland. Upon returning to the cathedral, to which they along with the other 3 are the only ones returning, they find that the cathedral has new buildings and fortifications that seemingly appeared over night. The ghosts of the previous friars also seemingly have come to join the new areas.
Not long after their return, Julian is murdered, causing some behind the scenes warfare as to whom will now lead the church. Given the long term siege by monsters at the gate, the scarcity of food as winter starts coming in, and the general nature of humans in large numbers, the leadership passes to the Zealot Stefan. Who tends to take a rather medieval view on the tenants of the church, restarting the Inquisition, outlawing sodomy, closing the library, and declaring the dragon is actually the Devil. Speaking of the dragon, it gets slain after the Elite Blues oven the relic box.
We'll skip over much of the more intricate plotting here, and discuss instead appearances by the Green Man (whom in this setting is analogous top the Greek Pan) and The Caretaker, a giant who's home is somehow adjacent to the Cathedral.
The Caretaker is the one who more or less spells out some of what's going on here, mainly the idea that the monster on the pain and now inside the cathedral (kind of like The Thing) is something from outside of existence that hates existence. And that there exist things out that way that are more powerful and starting to notice the world again.
The Green Man (as mentioned above), in this setting is analogous to the Greek Pan, and seems to echo the Hindu/Wiccan idea that there is one great God, and all the other gods are merely facets of it.
I'd also like to mention this book is filled with ugly. The direction the church ends up taking after the death of Julian is painful to read, along the lines of Orwell's Animal Farm. We never do exactly find out what happens to those who early on get declared heretics, but given what happens later, one can only assume the worst. Also, the betrayals hearken back to World War II, in which friends rat out friends to protect themselves. There's a scene where Daniels denies his love for his new partner in the Knights in order to save his own skin that had me quite upset at work when I read it.
It's very dark reading at points, for all that it ends with a much more optimistic tone than anything that's come before. And ultimately, I think that's the point. Hope is a fragile thing that empowers humankind to greater triumphs. Eventually.