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Hench
by Natalie Zina Walschots
Wm. Morrow, $27.99, 399pp
Published: September 2020

I adore superhero stories, always have.  When I picked this one up at the local bookstore, it was irresistible.  And this one had an awesome premise.

In this world, superheroes and supervillains frequently duke it out and the problem has always been the collateral damage.  How often have you wondered how Gotham City pays for all the damage?  In this world, supervillains have large corporations and they go about their business amassing power and wealth in a lot of the ordinary ways but they’re usually looking for the next cool weapon or an edge that can bring down a hero.  And they employ a lot of people.  The heavies are generally termed Meat (cannon fodder comes to my mind).  But all the other little people who do menial jobs like tech support are Henches.  I adore that term. 

Anna is a hench.  She starts the story employed by a mid-level villain and is perfectly happy to stay in front of her computer and away from any and all action.  That all ends the day her employer decided he wanted a grand display of power at a televised event and ordered all his henches to be in attendance.  He had a nifty new weapon and used it on the mayor’s son in a blackmail attempt.  Unfortunately, the superheroes were on the mark and crashed the event to rescue the boy.  Anna was as shocked as anyone when the villain revealed his nefarious plot and she just wanted a way out the nearest door.  She just got in the way when the most powerful hero on the planet, Super Collider, came through the door.  It wasn’t even a serious push but being pushed out of the way by the strongest man on the planet tends to have a deleterious effect on bones and soft tissue.  And she got lucky, many of the other Henches and Meat were killed out of hand.  While in the hospital recovering from surgery and looking forward to an extended period of physical therapy just to be able to walk again, she got a pink slip from her employer.  With no money and no insurance, she ends up on her best friend’s couch.  And with nothing but time on her hands, she starts adding up the cost of her injury.  And since spreadsheets have always been her friend it isn’t long before she starts adding up other costs like the dead Henches and Meat, and the property damage.  The total cost of that single event which rescued a boy who was only going to lose a finger was mind-blowing.  It was a short step for Anna to continue collecting data on all the Super Collider events.  The balance between the costs of a superhero involved and the value gained wasn’t even close.  And there were many heroes and many events.  Still with too much time on her hands and a perilously unstable mind, she created a website to publish her findings.  It blew up.  And she ended up with a job offer from the most powerful supervillain on the planet, Leviathan.  He was very interested in what she could do with the data she’d collected.  And, as it turns out, she could do quite a bit.  Some of it was petty like messing with dinner reservations or emptying bank accounts.  But when she conceived of a plan to totally destroy a hero’s reputation, she cemented her value to Leviathan.  But these were all foreplay; practice for the main event.  Both Anna and Leviathan had personal reasons to bring down Super Collider…hard.

This story was just priceless.  It builds and builds with Anna learning more about her own capabilities, her evolving relationship with Leviathan, and the public’s growing awareness of the cost of superheroes.  Her plan to take down Super Collider starts with small things and builds on them until events take on a life of their own and it’s only a matter of time.  But in the end Anna and her collaborators have to get personally involved with the final push to take down the most dangerous man on the planet.  And there’s a very good chance they won’t all survive.

A wonderfully unique perspective and one that has been long overdue.  I hope to see more work of the same quality from this new author.  She definitely has the chops for it as an uber-serious nerd and gamer.  ~~  Catherine Book

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