Wednesday, 30 November 2011

'No Hero' - Jonathan Wood

No Hero is the debut novel by Jonathan Wood. I first saw it while browsing Night Shade's website and the catch phrase caught my eye. "What would Kurt Russel do?". As a kid I watched a lot of Kurt Russel movies, so it brought back a flood of childhood memories. I want to know what Kurt Russel would do! Night Shade Books were kind enough to provide me with a review copy of No Hero.

No Hero is off to a promising start, with a cop who witnesses something really odd, Men in Black odd. Arthur Wallace is the cop who is unfortunate enough to see the brutal murder of a suspect. After a chasing the man he ends up on a roof top, but before he can apprehend him the suspect has a fatal encounter with a sword. The really odd bit is what happens afterwards...

White beads burst from the wound, like translucent pearls, like giant fish eggs, each one half an inch across or more. They shimmer and shine, lit by some inner luminescence. They spray out like the seeds blown from a dandelion. And in the center, trashing in what is left of the man's head...

Let's just say Arthur Wallace is also unfortunate enough to come up close and personal to the same sword and he ends up in hospital. While recovering in the hospital he is approached by a serious, but still attractive, looking woman. This is agent Shaw of MI37, an agency protecting us all from the threat of super powerful godlike aliens existing in a alternative reality. They also deal with other minor magical incidents and occult riff raff, but their primary purpose is to be the last line of defence, like the Men in Black or The Laundry Service in Charles Stross excellent series about Bob Howard.

So far so good, No Hero reminds me of only good things. Let's just ignore the fact of a government agent stabbing a cop and we are good to go. Arthur Wallace is now recruited into MI37 to bring the leadership the group needs. He dropped straight into a field operation without really knowing what his teammates brings to the table. Hell, he barely knows what he brings to the table. Turns out a student has got his hands on a powerful grimoire, and is causing problems. MI37 suspects the involvement of the evil alien gods and their minions. They must be stopped.

Arthur Wallace is a strange one. We get a lot of insight into his mind as the book is told from first person. On one hand it looks like he suffers from a really bad case of lack of self confidence, but often his actions contradicts this. He starts of with having a little whine about how dangerous something is, and how it is not for him. Where is an action hero when you need one. Then he actually does something really rash and daring. Unfortunately, it never ends well for Arthur Wallace. To me, Arthur Wallace is the weakest part of the book. I am not sure if he is supposed to be a reluctant anti-hero, or the right guy at the wrong place. He seems more like the wrong guy at the wrong place, and a little too whiny.

It's a shame about Arthur really as the other characters are quite interesting. They all seem to bring some unique talents to the team. Clyde the nerdy and shy battery devouring magician is the most fun member of the group. The sword wielding, superhuman Kayla is the most dangerous one. She is also quite mad. Not a terrific combination for those around her, as Arthur Wallace can testify to. I quite liked her melee scenes. Jonathan Wood does a good job describing her sword fights. I could clearly see it in front of me, almost animesque. Everything is slowed down, except her, body parts flying in all directions.

The world building is interesting as well. Got a little bit of everything, multiple realities, magic and alien gods accompanied by mind controlling slugs. The magic is all electricity driven, which is why Clyde is always sucking on a battery. Quite comic really. We end up with something interesting enough to keep me reading.

Jonathan Wood struggles to move the plot forward at times, and it does not always agree with me. It's a tricky balance when you are dealing with super human abilities and gods, sometimes he needs to 'disable' things, be it an ability or an individual, to make it more challenging, and it does not always feel realistic. Jonathan Wood deserves credits for taking the kid gloves off, things really do take a turn for the worse before they can improve. The turn was so sharp I thought for a while they would never get back on the road again. I was not even sure there was a road anymore.

I wish I could like every book I read, but No Hero does not do enough to stand out. I quite happily finished the book, and it was never tempting to stop reading it. It just does not leave much of an impression, and it would be better to start reading Charles Stross', The Laundry. If you have read it and liked it, maybe No Hero works better for you.

No Hero weighs in at 318 pages and is published by Night Shade Books.

Recommendation: don't read

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