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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Review: Exile by Martin Owton

Exile is a self-published fantasy, the debut novel by Martin Owton.  I received this book through TBRindr in exchange for my honest and fair review.  Admittedly I was unfamiliar with this author or his novel, and I was able to read this book with no biases.

The brief synopsis tells us: “Aron of Darien, raised in exile after his homeland is conquered by a treacherous warlord, makes his way in the world on the strength of his wits and skill with a sword. Both are sorely tested when he is impressed into the service of the Earl of Nandor to rescue his heir from captivity in the fortress of Sarazan. The rescue goes awry. Aron and his companions are betrayed and must flee for their lives. Pursued by steel and magic, they find new friends and old enemies on the road that leads, after many turns, to the city of the High King. There Aron must face his father’s murderer before risking everything in a fight to the death with the deadliest swordsman in the kingdom.”

Before I share any other thoughts, I want to help de-bunk a common assumption of self-published or independent fiction, the one that believes they will all be of poor quality.  I offer Exile as an example of an exception. The story is filled with likeable characters, the primary one who consistently displays noble qualities and good judgment.  The prose is arguably the strength of this book, flowing well throughout, fast-paced when necessary, and elegant in others.  The plot, while not the most unique, does offer some satisfying twists and reveals that carry the reader effectively toward the big finish.

I tend to be an “emotional reader” rather than a “critical reader” (my terms).  I tend to simply get swept up by a good book (or carried away by a great book) instead of deliberately dwelling on the reasons “why” a book is having this effect on me.  As a result, I am not a natural book reviewer.  It is sometimes hard to articulate what made the book move me in a positive or negative direction.  With that said, I genuinely liked the book in a general sense.

In reflecting on the book, I think it would make a great book for someone who wants to try out a sword and sorcery fantasy.  It is relatively short (especially compared to some of the bricks that are out there).  It’s an easy read without being simplistic or juvenile.  It includes some romance, some magic and some well-done fight scenes.  Who knows, this might just be type of book that will hook someone to read more and more fantasy.

This is a likeable book that is easy to read, and easy to recommend.  4.25 / 5 stars. Well done Martin, and thanks for sending a copy to me.

Review: Never Die by Rob J. Hayes

For me, this has been a year of trying new authors.  Since January I have read books by 38 authors that I had never previously read, and the latest is Rob J. Hayes.  For those unfamiliar with this author, his Where Loyalties Lie was the winner of last year’s SPFBO, an annual contest for self-published fantasy books.  I was given a chance to read the ARC for his latest book, Never Die, which releases in January 2019, and I jumped at the chance.  This book did not disappoint.

 

This story follows a mysterious and creepy eight-year-old boy named Ein who is on a mission to kill the Emperor and needs help.  The problem is, those who join him (willingly or otherwise) have a vital prerequisite: they have to die first and then he brings them back to life in a state of being “mostly alive”.  (Side note: every time this phrase was used in the book it pleasantly reminded me of The Princess Bride – possibly the best movie ever – where Wesley was described as “mostly dead” after being tortured on The Machine.)  As a condition of Ein’s “magic” that re-animates them, they must always remain in close proximity to him.

 

Those who Ein recruits all have their own special talents and their names reflect their skills and abilities.  For example, Whispering Blade has an enchanted sword and Emerald Wind can instantly disappear and then reappear nearby.  These recruits are each formidable and superior fighting specimens, but they also do not play well together.

 

On the path that Ein takes as he seeks out more members for his squad they encounter several creatures that must be defeated.  They often barely succeed and require increasing levels of teamwork.  The fighting is certainly featured throughout the book and it is done brilliantly.

 

If this book ONLY featured great fight scenes, it would never stand out for me, but the real treat in this book is the cast.  The characters are extremely diverse in their temperament (ranging from carefree and irreverent to honorable and focused), motivation (from glory to a reward to doing what is right) and much more.  Some characters are joking with nearly every comment while others say very little at all.  It is the clever ways that these characters are revealed and interact with each other that makes this book so much fun to read.

 

As a final comment, the final reveal in the book was not what I was expecting.  There were some hints dropped along the way, and they gave a portion of the ending, but the full scope of what was going on came out of nowhere and was completely satisfying.

 

A beautiful and diverse cast of wonderful characters.  Intense fighting with expert warriors and awesome monsters.  Beautifully captured in an Asian world.  The whole gamut from humor to deep emotions.  This has something for everyone.  Well done Rob.  I will definitely read more of your books and think others should too! 4.4 / 5 stars.

 

(I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  This is my unbiased opinion.)