Hench: A hilarious debut

Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsHench by Natalie Zina Walschots science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsHench by Natalie Zina Walschots

Anna Tromedlov (try reading that backwards) works at a temp agency that supplies minions to evil villains. Her expertise is in data analysis so, typically, her jobs involve spreadsheets and reports and she gets to work from home. This fits her personality nicely, plus it’s the safest way to work for an evil villain.

When her best friend June encourages her to take an on-site job, Anna agrees that it might be good for her. She is just beginning to add new skills to her resume when there’s a conflict between her boss and a superhero and she gets badly injured by the hero. Irate, she begins calculating the actual cost of superhero encounters. This is a life-changing event that sparks a whole new career for Anna.

I loved Hench (2020), the Locus-nominated debut novel of Natalie Zina Walschots, from the first paragraph. This fast-moving story is amusing, witty, and hilariously deadpan. It’s funny to visit the corporate offices of evil villains where they have to deal with everyday office issues like needing Human Resources and IT support. I laughed out loud many times such as when a supervillain gently asks Anna to attend conflict resolution training. These office scenes were the best part of Hench.

Natalie Zina Walschots

Natalie Zina Walschots

Though morally challenged, Anna is my kind of hero — I can relate to someone who loves data and weaponizes spreadsheets instead of swords. I liked her ideas for enhancing her supervillain’s brand and I thought her utilitarian justifications for her activity, though wrong, actually made sense (sort of).

Walschots’ prose is perfect – economical, vivid, and smooth. Particularly impressive, or maybe just funny, is Anna’s character development. At the end, she’s a completely different person in how she looks, thinks, and acts. I foresaw some of these changes and wondered how Walschots was planning to get us there. She does so with plausibility while also poking fun at supervillain tropes.

The audiobook edition of Hench is published by HarperAudio. Alex McKenna, the narrator, is well cast. She gets Anna’s sarcasm and snark just right, and I loved how she portrayed the villains, though I didn’t like the voices she chose to use for a couple of the side characters (such as Greg, the IT support minion).

Published in 2020. The Boys meets My Year of Rest and Relaxation in this smart, imaginative, and evocative novel of love, betrayal, revenge, and redemption, told with razor-sharp wit and affection, in which a young woman discovers the greatest superpower—for good or ill—is a properly executed spreadsheet. Anna does boring things for terrible people because even criminals need office help and she needs a job. Working for a monster lurking beneath the surface of the world isn’t glamorous. But is it really worse than working for an oil conglomerate or an insurance company? In this economy? As a temp, she’s just a cog in the machine. But when she finally gets a promising assignment, everything goes very wrong, and an encounter with the so-called “hero” leaves her badly injured. And, to her horror, compared to the other bodies strewn about, she’s the lucky one. So, of course, then she gets laid off. With no money and no mobility, with only her anger and internet research acumen, she discovers her suffering at the hands of a hero is far from unique. When people start listening to the story that her data tells, she realizes she might not be as powerless as she thinks. Because the key to everything is data: knowing how to collate it, how to manipulate it, and how to weaponize it. By tallying up the human cost these caped forces of nature wreak upon the world, she discovers that the line between good and evil is mostly marketing.  And with social media and viral videos, she can control that appearance. It’s not too long before she’s employed once more, this time by one of the worst villains on earth. As she becomes an increasingly valuable lieutenant, she might just save the world. A sharp, witty, modern debut, Hench explores the individual cost of justice through a fascinating mix of Millennial office politics, heroism measured through data science, body horror, and a profound misunderstanding of quantum mechanics.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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