Adventures in Bookland: The Realt by James Brogden
What’s real? At the end of The Realt, when all expectations (at least mine) have been confounded, that I suppose is the question that remains. What is real? I suspect we all dream of other worlds, although where we place them may differ: among the stars above, in the hope of heaven and the fear of hell, in realms of faerie within hollow hills or beyond the turn of tide. Even when our own world was still without known limits, we dreamed of other worlds; how much more, now, when the bounds have been sent the earth bent back upon itself: travel far enough now and all we shall accomplish is to return to where we started from.
In The Realt, there is another world, a world to which we all have access, although some of us see more of it than others: the dreamworld. This is a real, physical world, split from our own in ages past, and much like ours, although rather picturesquely caught in a quasi-Victorian era. It is not, itself, a world of dreams, but dreams, and dreamers, from our world may enter it, and, bringing their dreams, wreak havoc there – CS Lewis was all too right in making the Island Where Dreams Come True the most fearfull of all the isles the Dawn Treader encountered on its long voyage into the uttermost east.
Keeping the worlds apart is a shadowy but ultimately powerful organisation called the Hegemony, which wields exactly what it says on the security pass. But between the worlds, monsters lurk, Lovecraftian (without all the turgid prose) gods of horror and despite, waiting to be woken from their millennial sleep so that they might rise, and feed.
Brogden’s writing ripples with imaginative energy and taut prose, the horrors leavened with staring-into-the-face-of-hell wit, as he propels his cast of characters towards the, for me, completely unexpected denouement of this second volume of the Tourmaline trilogy. I know, I know the middle instalment is supposed to darken and deepen things – I remember my story making lessons from Joseph Campbell via a deep-frozen Han Solo – but I can safely say I didn’t expect it to get that dark and that deep! Now that James Brogden has thrown every expectation I had as a reader up against a brick wall, leaving them broken and shattered, I can only wait with a mixture of excitement and some little trepidation what he has in store for the final volume of the Tourmaline trilogy.
For readers of dark fantasy with a gritty urban feel – you can’t get much grittier than Birmingham after all – this is quite exceptional work. For myself, I’m only glad that I get to read Brogden’s work rather than live in his world. It’s a tough question: I too dream after other worlds but, if I could, would I want his world to be real? It is a world of wonders, after all, much like, say, the Warhammer 40k universe is, but also a world I’d much rather visit in the imagination than reality. But if the choice was a flat, so-this-is-all-there-is universe and Tourmaline, I’d probably plump for Tourmaline (at least at the beginning of the book: having read the sneak preview of volume three that comes at the end of the book, I’ll have to read it first to see whether I’d still want to visit!). But, leaving that aside, if you enjoy books such as Stephen King’s Dark Tower sequence or Neil Gaiman’s urban fantasies, the Tourmaline trilogy should go straight to the top of your reading list. Just remember to thank me when you dream!
(And a final point: this is the second great cover design from Snowbooks – let’s see if they can make it three on the trot with The Amity, the last volume in the trilogy.)