Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots

“To seek vengeance and power instead of cowering when the world punishes you. That’s what they think evil is, do they not?”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 416 pages.
Read from March 2, 2021 to March 4, 2021

My final read of the five Canada Reads 2021 selections. I managed to read all the books in time but I’ve been very behind on my reviews of late, apologies. In the CBC Canada Reads Facebook group, a lot of people didn’t jive with this book but it managed to make it to day three in the debates which, I thought was a good run for this book.

The title of this book is quite literal in that it’s about the henchmen and women that help out supervillains. While the plot sounds like a cheesy comic book this story was anything but. If you have watched The Boys on Amazon Prime, this book is placed in a very similar world with similar dark tones and humour, especially as both plots both look at how the heroes are not always the good guys.

Anna works as a Hench and at first, it isn’t because she wants to but because she has to. She is barely scraping by and paying her bills, living in a ramshackle apartment. Often scrambling and fighting for temp work through agencies, Anna’s skill set is on data and organization. It’s often tedious and underpaid work but she’s pretty damn good at it. She is meant to work behind the scenes but one of her temp jobs accidentally puts her in front line danger she is nearly killed by a superhero, becoming just another piece of collateral damage in the fight between superheroes and villains. After the incident, Anna has months of recovery to get through and a permanent limp, and what does she get for it all? She gets laid off. With no money and no home, a friend takes her in. She spends her immobile recovery time looking into the data about how many others have been injured or have died as a result of a superhero, after all, data is what she is good at. What she finds is staggering and she plans to use this new data she has found. Her research eventually gets her hired by one of the most notorious supervillains in the world. Driven by anger, she becomes the absolutely best in using this data to manipulate heroes and the media, earning her top-ranking respect from her employer. She also starts to incur her own fame within the villain circle. She may be working for a supervillain but her work may also be able to finally right some wrongs.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It’s smart, witty, dark, and full of sarcasm. It’s an anti-hero story done right and is a refreshing take on the old superhero tropes. All the characters are immensely relatable and the writing is well organized and a pleasure to read. I suppose if you’re not into anything comic or superhero-related this book may not have spoken to you but I think that the character work made this story highly accessible to most readers. I’m not overly into superheroes but I enjoy a good fantasy novel so this story ticked quite a few boxes for me. SPOILER WARNING: I think one of the best-executed parts of this story was the unsaid romance Anna had with her supervillain employer. As a reader, you spend more than half the novel wondering if she has feelings for him as it’s not explicitly brought up for a long time and nothing physical ever happens between them. Anna’s boss is one of the most elusive characters in the book and this strategy really helped build up the tension of their relationship and was a pleasure to read: END OF SPOILER.

In terms of the theme for Canada Reads 2021, “One Book to Transport You”, I definitely felt transported. While it may not have been a world I wanted to live in, per se, I sure loved Anna and her crew and was very much invested in her story. I feel that in comparison to the other books in the debates that it was voted off appropriately on the third day as it was about where I ranked it as well.

Overall, a well organized story that was a lot of fun to read. Highly recommend this read for superhero, comic, and fantasy-lovers.

Canada Reads 2021 Predictions

One book to transport us… which one will it be?

I’ve finished reading all the Canada Reads 2021 contenders and just in time as the debates kick off today. While I haven’t finished writing up reviews for them all, I’ve got a break down of my favourites of the five as well as what I think will win the debates this year. Let’s start with my favourites.

Favourites:

1. Butter Honey Pig Bread – Francesca Ekquyasi

A possible contender for one of the best books I’ll read this year. Outstanding story and writing that made for a book I couldn’t put down and that I thought about for days after. I highly recommend it.

2. Hench – Natalie Zina Walschots

Know the TV show “The Boys“? This plot has a similar setup in that it shows that sometimes the superheroes aren’t always the good guys. Really captivating read with interesting characters.

3. Midnight Bargain – C.L. Polk

I was expecting to hate this novel and I didn’t. It was an engaging and fun story that brings up relevant feminist issues. Think of a Jane Austen story but with a magical twist and you’ve got Midnight Bargain. It was an enjoyable read and while there isn’t anything overly literary about it definitely transported me.

4. Jonny Appleseed – Joshua Whitehead

It pains me to rank this book here as I loved it, just not as much as the others. It’s an interesting story that discusses difficult topics while also highlighting beautiful aspects of humanity.

5. Two Trees Make A Forest – Jessica J. Lee

I thought I’d love this novel and I really wanted to like but there were just a few too many missing aspects. Memoirs are a tough genre and this one read more like a journal making it difficult to connect with.

Predicted Ranking:

So this year’s theme is One Book to Transport You and based on that this is how I think the books will stack up in meeting that theme:

  1. Midnight Bargain
  2. Butter Honey Pig Bread
  3. Two Trees Make A Forest
  4. Jonny Appleseed
  5. Hench

How would you rank this year’s reads? Who do you think will win? Looking forward to the debates!

The debates will take place March 8-11, 2021.

They will be hosted by Ali Hassan and will be broadcast on CBC Radio OneCBC TVCBC Gem and on CBC Books

Canada Reads 2021 Contenders

The debates will take place March 8-11, 2021. I will attempt to read and review each book prior to the debates.

The Canada Reads 2021 shortlist has arrived! While none of the books from the longlist that I wanted to read made the cut I am excited about this year’s theme: One book to transport us. With this pandemic, it’s the perfect theme and I’m hoping for some great selections of writing and escapism from the following selected books:

The debates will take place March 8-11, 2021. I will attempt to read and review each book prior to the debates.

They will be hosted by Ali Hassan and will be broadcast on CBC Radio OneCBC TVCBC Gem and on CBC Books