Saturday, January 12, 2008

Herbie Brennan

Faerie Wars
by Herbie Brennan
Recommended Age: 14+

Henry Atherton lives in present-day England and he has very present-day problems. He does odd jobs for a crazy old man who believes in fairies and UFOs, in order to save money for an MP3 player. His sister is horse-crazy. His parents are splitting up. Henry hardly knows how to help himself, or his family. So he certainly isn’t prepared to find out that old Mr. Fogarty is right about fairies and alien abductions.

It begins when Henry rescues a butterfly from Mr. Fogarty’s cat. Only it isn’t a butterfly. It’s a tiny, red-headed boy with wings. Who is actually the Crown Prince of the Faerie Realm, Pyrgus Malvae. Ordinarily Pyrgus isn’t a titch with butterfly wings, but something went wrong when he “translated” into our world, which is like an alternate universe to the Faerie Realm.

Pyrgus is on the run from some nasties called Faeries of the Night, who are in league with demons who, apart from the fire and brimstone stuff, also drive flying saucers and do medical experiments on people. And Pyrgus is also the victim of a shadowy conspiracy to assassinate the Purple Emperor (Pyrgus’s father) and the heir (Pyrgus himself), invade the Realm with hordes of demons, and “conquer, loot, and pillage” the Realm of Faerie. After which the Prince of Demons, Beleth, as the new Emperor, will turn his forces toward the Analogue Realm...that is, our world.

Beleth has some really colorful nasties on his side, from the flamboyant Jasper Chalkhill to the over-the-top-wicked summoner of demons, Silas Brimstone. And who can possibly fight against him? What chances have old Mr. Fogarty with his interesting past, Prince Pyrgus with his soft spot for kittens, Henry who hardly believes in anything and has enough problems of his own? What chances do they have, even with the aid of Pyrgus’ beautiful and formidable sister Blue and an orange dwarf with poisoned teeth? And when Pyrgus’ attempt to go back to the Faerie Realm puts him in the clutches of Beleth himself...and when Mr. Fogarty gets implicated in the sinister plot to assassinate the Emperor...and when Henry passes through the portal between the worlds and the first thing he sees is Princess Blue naked...will there be a tomorrow for the Faerie Realm?

Well, there had better be. The book ends with the words “To be continued,” and I’ll hold the author to it. Combining elements of science fiction, fantasy, fairy-tale, modern-day action-adventure, and family drama, this highly entertaining book looks like the beginning of a magnificent series.

Occult content advisory: in this book, a very nasty man named Brimstone summons a demon with the aid of a grimoire, pentacles, sacrifices, etc. Those who strongly object to occult practices should be advised.

Parental guidance advisory: If this book was a movie (hey, that’s a good idea), it would be rated PG-13 for violence, language, adult situations, and brief nudity.

The Purple Emperor
by Herbie Brennan
Recommended Age: 14+

This second installment of The Faerie Wars Chronicles picks up only weeks after the story told in Faerie Wars. Pyrgus Malvae, young heir to the throne of the Faerie Realm, is preparing for his coronation...but he doesn’t feel ready to be Purple Emperor. He’s not the only one who objects. Lord Hairstreak, leader of the Faeries of the Night, has his own plans. And poor Henry Atherton of the Analogue Realm (that’s our world) arrives too late to be of much help, but right on time to get into some trouble of his own.

The often charming, occasionally nasty characters from Faerie Wars have returned for another adventure full of plots and counterplots, woven together in patterns that may leave your head spinning. Plus there are some new players, including the elusive and freakishly powerful Forest Faeries (a.k.a. Feral Fairies), a race of wormlike symbiotes called Wangaramas, a mad queen, and a friendly endolg (what I like to think of as a walking, talking area rug).

Pyrgus doesn’t care for the throne, but he’s willing to fight to keep Lord Hairstreak and his puppets off it. Facing desperate dangers with him are his sister Holly Blue, his Analog-Realm-born counselor Mr. Fogarty, and a really attractive Forest Fairy who has an embarrassing tendency to save his life. While they try to save the late Emperor (Pyrgus’ father) from a fate worse than death, and while Henry tries to escape from the palace dungeons, Lord Hairstreak is letting evil Fairies of the Night run rampant through the capital city. Meanwhile, his fellow villains Silas Brimstone and Jasper Chalkhill are each doing dastardly deeds of their own – including murder, summoning demons, and plotting assassinations and revolutions. But it will finally be Pyrgus himself who proves to be his worst enemy, leading to a final surprise.

I enjoyed this book, but not quite as much as the original Faerie Wars. Maybe this is what comes of not using valuable space reminding readers of what happened in the previous book (which I had mostly forgotten by the time I read this one). Or maybe it should be a caution against trying to juggle too many plot threads at the same time. I missed the sense of any one thread, or character or relationship, getting the development it deserved. As I said, I thought Faerie Wars was better – and I hope to enjoy the third book in the series, Ruler of the Realm, even more.

Ruler of the Realm
by Herbie Brennan
Recommended Age: Age: 14+

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.

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