A Bad Place to Be a Hero by Jerry F. Westinger is one of the funniest and unconventionally-entertaining fantasy novels we've read in a while. There's just something about the way that this author is able to craft sentences in such a clever, tongue-in-cheek manner. Just when you get a bit bored and want to put the book down, the author throws you a zig-zagging, crisscrossing, curve-balling one-liner that will have you rolling on the floor laughing your nerdy behind off.
There's a level of self-awareness and sass in Westinger's writing that's tough to replicate. It seems like the author is aware that these werewolf shape-shifter fantasy stories have been done to death and that there needs to be a fresh twist to it. This is, indeed, a book like many others in which a mythical or legendary creature, in this case a werewolf, stands in for a minority group in the real-world. This is also, indeed, a book like many others in which a forbidden practice, in this case necromancy, is cracked down on and discriminated against.
This book really shines in several ways. As mentioned, it's incredibly self-aware and funny. It also has some of the best world-building of any book this season. You really come to understand the sociopolitical makeup of the world. You come to understand that there's a lot going on in the background (politically) that's influencing the way that werewolves and necromancers are being treated. Firstly, the senate has basically staged a soft coupe on the emperor, quietly replacing him and removing the authority of his office after his death. The military answers to the senate, but the military is full of people who have their own ideas on how things should be run. There are old-school officers like the General, who advocates for following the rules and law without any flexibility whatsoever. Then, there's the Major in the story, who acts as a voice of reason, often acting as an intercessor between the accused and the General who is trying enforce the law, however unjust. Neither is “bad” or even “evil,” it just seems like they're doing their jobs and acting like normal people who follow their personal convictions. We later learn that the General had served under the last emperor, which helps to explain why he is the way that he is. We also gather that there is a separation between the traditional police force, like the one that the silly Officer Nella Dormanni serves in, and the paladins who serve a similar function almost like sheriffs or MPs.
We also later learn that many of the strange creatures that exist in the world are actually the result of necromancy used in the past. Yes, a lot happened in the history of this world, and that goes a long way in making the world feel lived in. There are also phrases like “Manaehi eleu” or “enough for everyone” used by Midoreans before means.
The main characters aren't bad either. They're not obnoxious and they often show some of the things we like to see in heroes: they're dynamic (one is a werewolf), they're clever (they often achieve things through trickery and by being ninja), and they're not saints. At the same time, we don't have many reasons to hate or dislike them. Corlis, Lokenn, and Tessa are solid, well-rounded, likeable characters.
So with all that out of the way, let's highlight some of our best, most hilarious parts of this book. One running joke is that Officer Nella is constantly ten steps behind the action. She is in her own little world daydreaming most of the time while necromancy is happening and dead bodies are floating past her. Ok, one dead body, but you get the point.
For example, we get the following cut-away:
“Meanwhile, at the other end of town, absolutely nothing interesting happened to Officer Nella Dormanni.”
It's almost Monte Python-like humor.
There are also humorous lines like, “Estrum leapt to his feet amidst a tidal wave of curses, at once fulfilling his promise to teach Thessa many new words” or “Good thing Mother was around to see it, as she had forgotten to tell him that pinedew berries were poisonous before they're properly dried out. That was the night Lokenn had to drink soap water until he threw up the last drop in his stomach. On the upside, it did awaken his interest in the workings of the human body.”
There's so much ham and goofiness in this that it's impossible not to crack a laugh.
Check it out on Amazon!