The Realt is James Brogden's follow-up to his superb urban fantasy novel Tourmaline, which sees war break out across the fantasy world established in his first book. Brogden follows the bulletproof sequel formula: bigger, ballsier and with much higher stakes. In other words: this shizzle just got Realt.
Readers will eagerly return to the twin locations of present day Birmingham in our world (known as the titular Realt) and the surreal but familiar world of the Tourmaline Archipelago. As with the first novel, action flits back and forth between the two, which makes for a fast-paced and varied read.
As you would hope from a sequel, there is more of what we liked the first time round: returning heroes (Runce!) and villains, a dark sense of humour, fantastical and terrifying urban creatures, and lots of Birmingham references.
However, everything is ramped up to eleven. Instead of just one tentacled araka, we are subjected to an entire army of araka-human hybrids. Rather than merely glimpsing the Tourmaline Archipelago, we are shown much larger expanses of Brogden's fantasy world, including the steampunk capital Carden and mental asylum Beldam. The detail of these settings is rich and full of invention.
The mythology is also expanding. We learn more about the history of the two worlds and the sleeping gods, Aions, that reside in the space between. It is these Aions who will take centre stage in the final novel, of which we are given a sneak peak following the epilogue.
There are plenty of highlights in The Realt. Monstrous henchman Lloyd, a mass of tendrils hiding behind a full-faced hoody, is a brilliant addition. Pop culture references abound, including two characters nicknamed Chandler and Joey because they are a "fan of the classics". And the Fishketeers return in a more significant role after appearing briefly at the end of Tourmaline.
Fans of Brogden's previous work will not be disappointed with his first sequel. He is fast becoming Birmingham's answer to Stephen King: horror, humour and heart are all found within his pages. There is also the inclusion of Birmingham landmarks - another Brogden trademark - such as the Mailbox and Brindley Place.
The Realt is very much the middle part of a trilogy and is best read after Tourmaline because some prior knowledge is required. It also ends with a very unexpected game-changer that will leave you counting down the days until The Aions is released. But that is no bad thing.
For now, The Realt will keep horror, fantasy and Brogden fans very happy.