Desert Isle Keeper
Hench is an unstinting delight from start to finish. Focusing on the life of a temp worker living in a world filled with supervillains and superheroes who becomes an impassioned villainess of her own making, the story reminded me of the recently-cancelled and greatly lamented Venture Brothers, in which doing evil deeds is nothing more than a nine-to-five job – and you can be outsourced in the blink of an eye.
Anna Tromedlov – aka The Palindrome, an alias she still regrets putting down on her Hench profile two years before – is a temporary worker who scuttles from one supervillain assistant job to another without any sort of job security or sense of permanence.
Society in Anna’s world is tiered in the following way – superheroes and villains – with their strength, speed or abilities – rule the world. Beneath them are the Meat (minions of the villains) who serve as expendable muscle in fights but lack the superpowers needed to be a villain or hero. Henches lack even physical strength – they do everything from number crunching (Anna’s specialty) to acting as background support for the villains and are as disposable as the job description hints. Opting into the constant battle between the two factions is optional if you have Hench-level abilities, and vanilla jobs exist, but why not try to snag a lucrative piece of the action?
Anna doesn’t question too much about her life at first. Most of her job involves shuffling data, calculating the amount of Meat a villain needs, and readjusting figures. Finally, her luck seems to change – she gets the chance to hench for The Electric Eel at Electrophorous, a large, Intergang-style corporate villainy organization. Her attempt at helping when a kidnapping attempt goes awry results in Anna being injured on the job when Supercollider, a highly respected superhero, pitches Anna across the room, which results in a broken and mangled leg, surgery, a permanent injury and Anna being fired. Supercollider’s patronizing behavior – he appears in a lousy disguise in her hospital room to sign her cast – does not help. This ignites a passion in Anna – both for the destruction of Supercollider, and for humanity to wake up to the toll and waste that superheroes are wrecking upon the planet.
Broke and laid up, she researches the financial and the human cost that superheroes have wrecked across the globe and across centuries during their attempts at saving humanity. The collateral damage of death and injury caused to bystanders and the massive amounts of property damage that occur seem to outweigh the good they do. Compiling and then releasing her results under a new identity – The Auditor – the Injury Report rocks the foundation of the world. Anna’s ensuing obsession begins to drive her friends away, but it wins her attention in the supervillian world.
Anna is soon contracted by the fearsome Leviathan, who offers her a place to heal up in peace. Rising from the ashes, she is given her own team, and works her way up from background assistant to sidekick territory and begins to look for a way to tear down the supes brick by brick. Soon, the lines between hero and villain begin to blur, as Supercollider’s sexism on the hero side keeps female heroes from advancing up the social ladder, making him enemies within the ranks, and the grey-hatted world Anna lives in makes life as a villain more complex than anticipated. Will she get to destroy the man who ruined her life, or will Anna’s newfound partnership with Quantum – Supercollider’s sidekick – change everything?
Hench is a glorious meal of a book, filled with perfect world building, and characters that are both likable and horrifying by turn.
Anna is not an easy woman to like. Understandably absorbed in her heartbreak and anger, she becomes so consumed with trying to fix the world that she doesn’t realize the havoc she’s wreaking on it herself. It allows her to navigate the world as a disabled woman, which affects and changes her character but also opens her eyes to how the world treats those who aren’t capes or villains. She sometimes becomes caught between wanting to impress Leviathan and her burgeoning partnership with Quantum, which is already interesting in this volume but will likely become even more so if we get more books set in this universe.
That fascinating character work – on Leviathan, on Quantum, on Supercollider, on the various folks Anna becomes closer with as she builds her superteam – helps make this book memorable, but the tech and the worldbuilding – the society that Walschots creates – is what buoys Hench to greater heights. Readers may detect a whiff of The Boys here, or a hint of Watchman there, but there’s really nothing like the world Hench sets up for its characters.
There’s just one minor flaw that keep this book from being an A+, which is its open-endedness. There is clear possibility for a sequel, but one has not so far been announced. .
But despite that, Hench is good for so many reasons. It’s engrossing, smart and well-written, and that makes it worth its cover price and a trip to its world of superpowered – and super complex – characters.
NOTE: Contains explicit and bloody violence, gore, body horror, torture and sexual harassment.
Buy it at: Amazon, Audible, or your local independent bookstore
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