“Lord of Order” by Brett Riley—a review

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I’m now also writing reviews on NetGalley under the name of Dieter M. As some of the reviewed books are not related to LGBTQ+ themes and may therefore not be published on Rainbow Book Reviews, I take the liberty of posting them here on my author site.

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Author: Brett Riley
Title: Lord Of Order
Published by: Imbrifex Books
Publication Date: March 2, 2021
Genre(s): Religious dystopian novel
Page count: 439

The Purge is here. New Orleans must die.

Long after the destruction of all electronic technology, the Bright Crusade rules the world as a fundamentalist Christian theocracy. Gabriel Troy is Lord of Order for the New Orleans Principality. For years, he and his deputies have fought to keep their city safe from the attacks of the Crusade’s relentless enemies, the Troublers—heretical guerillas who reject the Crusade’s rule and the church’s strict doctrines. As their crowning achievement, Troy’s forces capture the Troublers’ local leader. The city has never been more secure.

Alarming intelligence leaks from Washington: Supreme Crusader Matthew Rook plans to enact a Purge—the mass annihilation of everyone deemed a threat to the Crusade. Rook orders his forces to round up all but the blindly loyal and march them to New Orleans. Once the prisoners have been chained inside, the Crusaders will wall off the city and destroy the levees. The resulting deluge, reenacting the Biblical deluge of Noah’s time and the city’s devastation during Hurricane Katrina, will kill everyone inside.

Forced to choose between the Crusade and the city he has sworn to protect, Troy and five other conflicted conspirators gird for battle, fully aware that the looming apocalypse will demand horrific choices, test their faith, and require them to join forces with their sworn enemies.


This is a chilling dystopian novel the setting of which bears certain similarities to Margaret Atwood’s comparably chilling Gilead-universe in The Handmaid’s Tale and its sequel The Testaments. Somewhere in the past a powerful, self-proclaimed prophet, the ultra-Protestant Jonas Strickland, has succeeded in haranguing the masses in the USA to elect him president of the nation. As soon as he has accessed power, he launches the so-called Purge, which consists in worldwide bioweapon strikes that wipe out most of the population. Only his loyalest followers, the Bright Crusaders, are allowed to survive in secretly built shelters. At the undefined time of the novel (one guesses several generations later), they have rebuilt certain cities and transformed them into semi-autonomous Principalities, where they dwell now without electricity, their rustic living conditions reminding of the eighteenth century. Each Principality is ruled by a Lord of Order and a group of designated deputies (designation by one’s predecessor having become the only means of accession to any significant post by then).

The plot is set in New Orleans and evolves around the city’s Lord, Gabriel Troy. At the beginning he and his posse round up a bunch of heretical resistance fighters called Troublers—apparently, the Purge hasn’t been that efficient. They kill most of them and drag their leader Stransky to the town prison. During her first interrogation, she informs them of the cruel plans the Washington-based current Supreme Crusader Matthew Rook has in mind. He aims to launch a second Purge supposed to eradicate Troublers and lukewarm followers alike, using the few remaining bioweapons on certain sites. But New Orleans is meant to become first a vast open-air prison for the heretics, then a huge graveyard because once everyone is imprisoned within quickly erected new walls, the city’s dams will be destroyed, drowning everybody in the process. Doubtful at first, Troy has to accept Stransky has told him the truth when the Supreme Crusader’s emissaries arrive in town in order to implement those orders. He needs to decide whether he will follow his upbringing and hitherto firm beliefs or try to save the people living in his city, and he needs to decide quickly…

A dystopian novel is all about believable and gripping world-building, and I’ve always felt a plot gets more compelling if it’s based upon certain elements of which we can already find traces and hints in the world that surrounds us. Orwell’s 1984, for instance, will never get old because of that reason—the temptation of many political elites to control the populations they govern will never cease to exist, and where there is power, you will always find lies and alternative truths sold as reality (maybe Orwell’s Newspeak has even never been as topical as today). If the often authoritarian, tyrannical world the author invents is thus established as a likely place with likely conditions, if the characters fit in seamlessly, and if the action simply derives from implied circumstances, there is almost no need to add much in terms of plot in order to ensure a narrative that will draw in the reader. That’s what Atwood has achieved with her almost prototypical novels mentioned above; that’s what Brett Riley has achieved in this novel as well. Apart from a nigh pathological blindness to social questions, a poor education system, and the visceral suspicion of anything even remotely “leftist”, religion is probably one of the deepest-rooted and most important problems of US-American society. Rare are the countries where God appears on the money and where in every other public speech God is mentioned at least once. For most Americans this is their unquestioned normality, that strikes most foreigners as rather extreme. If you take this situation as your starting point and only exacerbate it a little, you’ll be sure to have the perfect setting for a perfect dystopian book.

So, the plausible basis for Riley’s Principalities is there (as it was for Atwood’s Gilead). The author introduces a cast of likeable characters even agnostics such as I can relate to because, beyond the blind belief they show in the beginning, they are three-dimensional and human. They all evolve throughout the book; they have feelings, they doubt their faith, their religion, even their decisions and actions; they are in turns brave and determined and then unsure and weak. They all finally decide to think and decide for themselves what’s best for their community, shaking off the blind obedience of their self-proclaimed cult-leader without losing their religion. The author seems to be quite religious himself if I interpret the acknowledgements correctly (albeit not in a bigoted, intolerant way, otherwise he wouldn’t have written such a novel in the first place). This shows in the book because even the so-called heretics I thought might be agnostics or atheists believed in God, and despite the severe trials and tribulations several characters were exposed to, they never ever lost faith in God or would even consider the possibility of such an entity not existing.

And yet, although such an all-encompassing religious subtext would normally have cooled any enthusiasm I could have had for a read, I wasn’t put off in this case. I guess that’s because the writing, very to-the-point, without frills or unnecessary ornaments, is really good—tight, straight, charismatic, atmospheric, drawing me in and dragging me along in a relentless pace through the whole book. I guess I glimpsed the possibility of a sequel in the last chapter; if yes, I’m sincerely looking forward to it; if the author has not planned to write one, I hope my review might be an incentive for him to reconsider.

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