Book review: “Ruler of the Realm” by Herbie Brennan

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Ruler of the Realm
by Herbie Brennan

The third book in the Faerie Wars Chronicles finds Henry Atherton of the “analogue world” (that’s our world) beginning to doubt the reality of the faerie Realm in which he has had so many adventures. As his father starts seeing a much younger woman, and as his mother’s lesbian lover moves in with the family, Henry decides that all his experiences in the Realm were a hallucination, a kind of coping mechanism. After all, his friend Pyrgus Malvae, crown prince of Faerie, is named after a butterfly. And as for the Faerie Queen Blue – to him, the most beautiful of all teens – she is only the crowning proof of his delusion. After all, what kind of world is run by people his age?

So Henry is already seriously afraid for his sanity…when a flying saucer swoops down and abducts him. Little bug-eyed aliens do all kinds of weird things to him – basically everything that is supposed to happen to an alien abductee – but since the aliens are really demons from the hellish dimension of, er, Hell (also spelled Hael), that’s only part of their truly fiendish plan.

It’s all right, though. Henry remembers none of this when he comes to, miles from home, miles from where he last remembers walking when he stepped out of the street to avoid an oncoming car. But Henry finds he has another problem when he gets home and learns that he has been missing for five days.

But that turns out not to be a big deal either. Because just as the Other Woman is laying this astounding news on him, Henry dissolves into thin air…transported by Mr. Fogarty’s latest invention to the Faerie Realm, where he is needed once again. And of course, it turns out to be real after all. So that’s all right!

But then (oh, heavens, not another but…!) things turn out not to be so all right after all. Queen Holly Blue wants to start a war against the Faeries of Night before the latter make the first move. The leading Nighter, her own Uncle Hairstreak, has his own fiendish plan to prepare his side for an unstoppable invasion of Lighter territory. And the demons – who until now have always played on the Nighters’ side – suddenly seem to have plans for their own, plans against which the Faerie Realm has no hope as long as it is divided into opposing camps.

Bringing the two sides together won’t be easy, though, since there always seem to be tricks within tricks, feints and illusions everywhere. Both sides have spying eyes working for them…some of the spying eyes have been detected, and misdirected…vampires and worse things than vampires are abroad…and thanks to the modern technology of demon possession, the really bad guys have a traitor planted where one is least expected. As usual. And this time, if His Unholiness Beleth gets his way – and he almost certainly will – the Faerie Realm will be white unto harvest for his invading hordes.

Like the previous books in this series, Ruler of the Realm is a fast and compelling read – though part of what moves it along is the reader’s impatience with the almost ridiculously short chapters that shuffle between several different points of view. There always seems to be one or more unresolved moments of tension dangling uncomfortably, like a hangnail. It’s an unusual approach to storytelling, like a succession of filmed scenes chopped up and edited together so as to disclose each new piece of information when it is least expected. It can’t be all bad, since it so effectively keeps one “hooked.” But sometimes you find yourself grinding your teeth when you realize that you have to wait three chapters to find out how so-and-so survives such-and-such. You might get the impression that you are entertaining Herbie Brennan nearly as much as Herbie Brennan is entertaining you.

By the story’s end, however, significant things will be revealed. The love between Henry and Holly Blue will be out in the open (at last!). Big changes are taking place, whose full meaning have yet to be discovered. And the final book of the quartet,Faerie Lord, seems destined to tie up a vanload of loose ends…or to untie as many that aren’t loose yet.