Review | Hench – Natalie Zina Walschots

About the Book

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. 

416 pages (kindle)
Published on September 22, 2020
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I am not a big superhero person. I don’t actively go out and look for superhero books or watch superhero movies. They can be entertaining, but they aren’t really my bag of oats. However, when I saw Hench, I was exactly in the sort of mood to read something that isn’t my typical. I also kind of really like stories about antiheroes or “the bad guy” and this seemed to slot right into both of those categories quite nicely.

More, I love moral ambiguity, and you really get a lot of that in Hench.

Anna works as a hench, or think of her as technical support/office grunt for supervillains (you also learn about “meat”. Think: hired muscle.). Anna’s sort of a data genius, which ends up being the core of the book later on. Anyway, Anna works as a hench for a supervillain. Things go awry and she ends up getting seriously injured. In her recuperation process, she starts studying these streams of data, which is the pin around which the whole book turns.

I hesitate to say more. Discovery is half the fun. 

Anna, however, works for the bad guy, which means some of the things she does are questionable and may or may not make you a bit squeamish. That being said, while you go into this book knowing from page one that Anna works for the “bad guy”, the so called “good guys” don’t look that good for long. In fact, the way the author created this equal playing field across the spectrum for all of her characters was nothing short of spectacular. 

While Anna has this dark, sarcastic sense of humor that really jived with me on a personal level (I instantly clicked with her), I spent as much time reading this book laughing at her sarcasm as I did thinking deeper thoughts about good and evil, and the so-called cost of both. I was quite amazed by how Walschots managed to provoke so many deeper thoughts and analysis from me, while making me laugh at the same time.

When they start getting attached, it’s time to move on. Next thing you know they’re developing a savior complex and turning you in “for your own good.” I was already grocery shopping in the middle of the night after the same cashier saw me buying a single bag of Doritos one time too many and started giving me life advice. I’d been emotionally preparing myself to give up my favorite pizza joint if the delivery guy kept being friendly.

I mean, I’ve never read a more “me” bit of a book in my entire life. I just connected with Anna. She was part of my soul.

Anna, as I mentioned, is a character I loved, and while this is a book about superheroes and supervillains, this is ultimately the story of a woman who is stuck between the two and becomes a power in her own right. As a hench, she is behind the scenes, one of the people who are basically hired to make a supervillain look important. However, as the book advances, she turns out to be more than what she seems, and her personal evolution truly is something to behold.

Hench is a book that works on several levels. First, it’s a fun superhero vs. supervillain romp, and if you want to read it for that, then I advise you to go for it, because it really is good. However, I really enjoyed the deeper themes here. What is a superhero, and what is a supervillain, and who determines who fits where, and why?

… superheroes, for all their good PR, were terrible for the world. They were islands of plastic choking the oceans, a global disaster in slow motion. They weren’t worth the cost of their capes; whatever good they did was wiped out many times over by the harm.

Walschots is a fantastic author, who has a knack for really nailing a character’s voice. There is absolutely no one else but Anna who can speak, act, and think like Anna, and I loved how unique that made her. She made the entire book shine, whether she was laying on the couch recovering from surgery, or working in an office setting, or making really tough decisions and backing up her supervillain. She’s just who she is, and I love books who have characters unique enough to own the story they are set in. 

What I loved about this book was how the author managed to humanize all these characters who are, by definition, somewhat beyond humanity. Suddenly, under Walschots deft hand, they are just people doing what people do. The office workers required to back these supers up, the muscle that fights for them, the people who fill these jobs are just humans. They worry about rent, they worry about bills, they go to temp agencies to try to find jobs so they can make ends meet. The superheroes/supervillains do not look so glamorous after reading Hench. They seem, if anything, like CEOs of companies more than anything else.

The ending of the book was fantastic, as was everything else. Unexpected and a (sort of) win for the people I was hoping would come out ahead. However, my one disappointment was that the book ended. I was having so much fun with Anna and her crew, I didn’t want to leave them.

Hench was an unexpected delight. It was funny and thought provoking, and sort of flipped the script on supers in a way I truly enjoyed. More, I loved Anna. I mean, I truly loved this character. She just made the entire book, which was already good, positively glow. 

Hench was a book I did not expect to like, but it ended up being one of the highlights of my reading year so far. I cannot recommend this one highly enough. 

This was one holy hell of a debut.

5/5 stars