Ages and ages ago, Rebecca reviewed a funny romance novel called Love for the Cold-Blooded, which peeked behind the scenes of life as a super-villain’s sidekick. That story felt so fresh because it subverted the ubiquitous hero/villain tension by making the heroes seem kind of dumb and the villains seem reasonable, if perhaps a little dramatic. It also featured a surprisingly sweet romance. If you’re interested in a book that flips the traditional script on superheroes but with a very different feeling, Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots avoids all the sweet predictability of a romance.
In Hench, Anna Tromedlov (even she knows this name is a little silly) is a data analyst scraping by doing temp jobs for small-time villains. She’s not overly ambitious or too concerned with the morality of her work, until she becomes collateral damage when a hero sweeps in to save the day. As she recovers from a serious injury that no one will admit was caused by a “good guy,” she becomes obsessed with the damage that heroes can do. She starts applying her intellect and skills to the problem, and she gets drawn right into the heart of the hero/villain conflict. What seemed like just an ethically-dubious desk job is suddenly a much more dangerous proposition.
I appreciated that Anna was never overly concerned with whether she was fighting on the right side or not–her alliances are clear from the beginning. Rather, she has to figure out just how much she’s willing to put into her job, what allegiance we owe to the people we follow and what we expect from them in exchange, and how all her villain-izing will impact the rest of her life.
There is a lot of overlap between this story and The Boys on Amazon, which is a good, interesting show addressing some of these same issues. I do like The Boys, but I also find it grosser than I can handle at times, and awfully overloaded with a bunch of loud white guys. I think the fact that Hench is a book (so I can skim over some of the grosser stuff) and is the internal story of a smart, take-no-shit woman (who also has no patience for overbearing dudes), made it more compelling and enjoyable for me.
Kinsey’s Three-ish Word Review: Darkly-funny villain adventure
You might also like: This is a tough one, because Hench has such a specific voice. But a few other books that put a twist on some traditional situations/tropes include Sign Here by Claudia Lux, Vampire Weekend by Mike Chen, and Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson.