Thursdays Reviews at Inklings

“Hench” by Natalie Zina Walschots

If you and I have talked about books in the past 3 months, you’ve heard me mention Hench.  I’ve hand-sold it to countless friends, reviewed it on Libro.fm, and even wrote a short blurb about it for last week’s Scene.  What’s so great about this book (I hear you asking)?  Hench is one of the most exciting, fun, and thought-provoking books that I’ve read so far this year, and it provides a wonderful escape from the doldrums of daily life.

Hench follows the trials and tribulations of Anna, a millennial woman trying to make ends meet in a gig economy by taking temp jobs. It’s a familiar situation, but Anna’s industry is special: she’s a hench-for-hire, providing her talent for data analysis to villains, as needed.  When Anna gets a permanent position working for mid-level villain the Electric Eel, it seems like things are looking up (even though she hates her coworkers and office, and isn’t too sure about Electric Eel, who asks people how they feel a little too often and ends every interaction with “namaste”).  All of her hard-won progress falls apart, however, when Electric Eel brings her along to a press conference where things go terribly, terribly wrong.  Anna is caught in the crossfire and suffers a gruesome injury at the hands of hero Supercollider.

And so, laid off from her job with a “thank you for your service” letter, and facing a long and painful recovery, Anna struggles to find meaning in her life.  She discovers it in an unexpected place: in spreadsheets and algorithms, mapping out the true costs, in money and lives, of Supercollider’s “heroics”.  As she digs deeper into Supercollider’s past, uncovering the myriad innocent lives he’s ended or ruined, she attracts the notice of the notorious supervillain Leviathan.  A former ally of Supercollider, he understands, better than anyone, what an unchecked superhero is capable of.  In Leviathan’s employ, Anna finds the things that her life has been missing: purpose, camaraderie, stability, and more.  And together, Anna and Leviathan will change the way the world sees superheroes, forever.

Now, if you haven’t spent the past year living under a rock (and if you HAVE, may I join you there?), you’ll probably notice some similarities between the comic book series/show The Boys, another franchise that focuses on the dark side of heroism.  And while the similarities are certainly there, Hench is a wholly original and enjoyable novel, and stands up well against comparison.  Anna is an achingly relatable character, and you’ll cheer for her as she emerges from her shroud of self-doubt and unresolved trauma and becomes the anti-hero she was meant to be.  Tackling issues like feminism, moral-ambiguity and office politics in the most exciting way possible, Hench is a thoroughly enjoyable piece of escapist literature.  And right now, who doesn’t want to escape from the world, one chapter at a time?

Reviewed by Emily Ring