Review: Orconomics by J. Zachary Pike

Orconomics is the first book I have read by J. Zachary Pike, and it has been highly anticipated since I got a copy in August.  Then, once it was elevated to a finalist in this year’s SPFBO (Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off) contest, I decided it was time to read it.  Other than comments from other readers about how good this book is (only the second perfect 10 in the four years of the SPFBO contest), I knew it was a fantasy satire.  Some of my more enjoyable reads of this year have been in the broader category of humor fantasy (Here Be Dragons/Macpherson, Sir Thomas the Hesitant/Perrin, Reaper Man/Pratchett, and Klondaeg the Monster Hunter/Thomas), and I had a hunch that this would be right up my alley.  I was not disappointed.

This book is pitched as: “Brimming with swords, sorcery, and wit, Orconomics: A Satire introduces Arth, a world much like our own but with more magic and fewer vowels. For the licensed wizards and warriors of Arth, slaying and looting the forces of evil is just a job. The Heroes’ Guild has turned adventuring into a career, selling the rights to monsters’ hoards of treasure as investment opportunities. Corporations spend immense sums sponsoring heroes to undertake quests, betting they’ll reap the profits in plunder funds when the loot is divvied up.

Questing was all business for famous Dwarven berserker Gorm Ingerson, until a botched expedition wiped out his party, disgraced his name, and reduced him to a thieving vagabond. Twenty years later, a chance encounter sees Gorm forcibly recruited by a priest of a mad goddess to undertake a quest that has a reputation for getting heroes killed. But there’s more to Gorm’s new job than an insane prophecy; powerful corporations and governments have shown an unusual interest in the job. Gorm might be able to turn a bad deal into a golden opportunity and win back the fame and fortune he lost so long ago.

Promising fun, fantasy, and financial calamity, Orconomics: A Satire is the first book in The Dark Profit Saga, an economically epic trilogy.”

It is very clear that the book is meant as a satire, and it has all the trappings that are common in that style.  There are places where jokes seem a little forced, or there is too much explanation (often to prove how ridiculous something is), but these are easily forgiven since they are handled so well, often causing me to stop and consider the deeper implications.  The over-the-top aspects of the satire are permissible because it isn’t ALL that the book has going for it.

As I quickly discovered, this book also hits one of my other favorite tropes: unlikely heroes/misfits.  I love stories of the little guy being the hero (Frodo), the down-and-out pulling their life back together (Inigo Montoya), and stories that display redemption where someone is restored to their former state.  This book is chock-full of misfits and outcasts, each likeable in their own way.  Each of the characters grows and matures as the book progresses (another thing I love to see in books).

As someone who values quality character development, this book shines.  Each member of their company is distinct and has their own voice.  They display strengths and weaknesses, and have much to overcome.  There is connection between each of them, and between them and the reader.  There is genuine grief over the more tragic bits, and a sense of pride when they are successful.  Above all that, I love how they all look to Gorm as the leader, not just because he has the most experience, but because he is the one who most consistently walks the moral high ground.  He nearly single-handedly puts an end to a years-long conflict between the upper and lower classes because of his fair treatment of all.  And then, with a major reveal near the end, there is a sense that it doesn’t just occur in a vacuum, but it has a major impact on everyone.

As the first book of a series, I am very eager to continue on and see where it goes from here.  I highly recommend this book, especially for those who like “smart” fantasy, especially satire.  But don’t be fooled, this book has heart and will be impossible to forget.  4.55 / 5 stars. Well done Zack, and thanks for sending a copy to me.

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