I feel like I keep inventing microgenres and subgenres within fantasy, because of the way my own books don’t sort neatly into the existing ones. What I write is not, for the most part, “epic fantasy”, in that I don’t always deal in multi-kingdom political struggles or stories that span months, but I still write fairy-tales. So I decided to take a cue from the mystery world and call them “cozy fantasy.” Well, if I’m cozy fantasy, The Rules of Ever After is “fantasy humor.”
This already is a genre, populated by Terry Pratchett and the Shrek movies, so if you like either of those, I think you’ll be thrilled with this one. It has their lighthearted tone and hilarious anachronistic details (sketcharazzi? They’re exactly what they sound like, armed with charcoal and pads of paper) but also their complex nail-biting epic plots and their layer of sincerity in its approach to character relationships. There were also elements that reminded me of Mercedes Lackey’s 500 Kingdoms, in that many of the characters felt trapped by their role in the fairy-tale universe, and part of their character growth involved learning to expand that role to fit their own personal unique desired happiness.
Okay, enough AP English blather. What’s this book about? At the heart, it’s about two gay princes, who have chemistry from their first scene together (that’s important, with a fictional romance! The key to writing good romance is to make the reader want something before you give it to them. That first bit is not as easy as that second bit.) But it’s also about friendship, adventure, fighting against usurping throne-stealers all over the place, and an ensemble cast that includes more than one woman! (Hear that? There are multiple female leads on the good-guy side.) Plus, the plot took a lot of twists and turns that I didn’t expect, and sometimes the author psyched me out by leading me down a path of a fantasy trope and then saying “nope! I’m cooler than that.”
I also have to give Brewer props for one of the most awesome uses of Checkov’s Gun I’ve ever seen. I’m a HUGE sucker for Checkov’s Gun. I don’t know why; I’ve always been that way. I’ve been known to slap my space bar to pause a movie just so I can squee around the room for a few seconds when I realize a TV episode has done that. So when it happened in this book I literally put the book down and squee’d to the cat.
Brewer, in the voice of one of his princes, shows what it’s honestly like to be queer in today’s changing social climate:
Daniel wasn’t sure what his future would bring. Life as the whispered-about secret lover of the king. Life as the uneasily accepted consort of the king. Life ruling upon the throne beside the king and beloved by the citizens. Daniel didn’t care, as long as his life included Philip.
Some other little notes I enjoyed for personal reasons: when one prince’s friend rushes up to both princes and says “Your Highness!” and then has to explain which one he meant, it reminded me of my mom saying “Honey” and both me and my stepdad saying “Which one?” (Welcome to the South. The writer is Southern, too, so it’s possible he got the idea from that.) I also loved the way the birthday fairies, each responsible for royal children born on their assigned day of the week, have somewhat Germanic names. (Mitta is the Wednesday fairy from Mittwoch, for example.) My origins are half from Germany so it’s nice to see that stuff in English-language fantasy, which is often very “fake Welsh” or at least somewhat UK-ish in general. (I mean, they come by it honestly. They’ve given us JKR and JRRT. And Lewis.)
This book is flippant, but expertly crafted and full of truths. As one of the princes tells the other in the middle of a scene straight out of Roald Dahl: “Come on, Daniel, surrender to the ridiculous!”