I finally finished this behemoth of a novel. 607 pages of rip-roaring adventure, magic, dragons, knights and accountants.
What was that? Accountants?
Yes. Turns out accountants can be some of the most dastardly villains in the known and unknown Universe. Some of you may already know that. We're soon to celebrate that most evil of accountant holidays, April 15. But, that has nothing to do with this book. Perhaps it will show up in the next.
Hero, Second Class follows the journey of Cyrus Solberg of Starspeak, which is one of the Citrus Isles off the coast of the Phoenix Isles off the coast of Centra Mundi. It's a bit out of the way, but apparently produces Heroes on a regular basis. Cyrus' father was a Hero, and Cyrus wants to be one, too. He passes his Hero test, his paperwork is approved, and he is apprenticed to Sir Reginald Oglesby. Reginald, aka the Crimson Slash, is a perfect representation of everything Heroic, including the ability to self-narrate during battle. Reginald takes Cyrus under his shield and teaches the boy everything he needs to know to become a true Hero, everything except distrust of magic.
You see, Reginald doesn't hold with magic use, even though it isn't forbidden for Heroes to use magic. He doesn't trust magicians or magical items of any kind (other than weapons). Unfortunately for Reg, Cyrus seems to have an aptitude for magic, an aptitude that grows more powerful and more destructive as the story progresses.
Although Cyrus is the Protagonist, we meet many colorful characters as he battles and studies and rescues his way from Apprentice to Hero, Second Class. Kris and Katana are the sister/brother pair of Katheni (cat-like humanoids) who join the company because they happen to be going the same direction for a while. Keeth the Dragon (yes, it's Keeth, like teeth) fights Reg to a standstill, so dragon and knight call it a draw and pledge friendship instead. We even meet a zombie who, I have no doubt, will make an appearance in a later book.
We mustn't forget the Villains: Anthony the Mace, Voshtyr Demonkin, and Roger Farella, the fish-like accountant. That's only a sampling, really. The whole book is full of Villains and Heroes, and apprentice Villains and apprentice Heroes. We even have a Hero turning Villain and possibly a Villain turning Hero. It's a whole Villain/Hero kind of thing.
If you want more about the story, you can read the blurbs or some inside pages or whatnot through the link. This is a review, after all, not a marketing sheet.
Mitchell Bonds had me in the first two sentences of the prologue. I knew this was going to be a twisted version of Greek mythology and video-gamer philosophy in one tongue-in-cheek, role-play worthy romp of a story. He did not disappoint.
The prologue was the only consistently laugh-out-loud section of the book for me, but I read the rest with a goofy grin and occasional snort-laugh as the author went from serious to silly within a single sentence. Cyrus lives in a world not unlike Cartoonland from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? The kind of place where Heroes can survive a fall from a sheer rock face or being peppered with 100 arrows but cannot avoid the fall or the arrows because to do so would break the first rule of being a Hero: Taking Unnecessary Risks. However, Heroes and Villians are also bound by rules defined by their various Guilds and enforced with monotonous regularity (that's where the accountants come in).
My favorite section was the explanation of magic, which sadly came almost at the end of the book. I enjoyed learning about The Elements, The Capital Letters, and The Arbitrary Numbers more than Cyrus did. I was also laughing harder than he was. His life was on the line.
I must warn you, though, that one thing happens consistently throughout Hero, Second Class.
Mitchell Bonds cheats.
Oh, he does it on purpose, and right in front of your face. He points it out at the beginning of every chapter, and continues pointing throughout the chapter. An example? A few pages into Chapter 2, "Cyrus clambered up the rope and sat on a wider ledge, preparing himself for blatant exposition."
"Blatant exposition" is "telling." The one thing we're not allowed to do as writers, Mitchell Bonds does. Bold as brass, that one, he breaks every rule of writing with a wink, wink, nudge, nudge, and I love him for it. The overall effect is absolutely hilarious. If this were a movie, I would expect an "accidental" shot of the narrator sipping coffee waiting for his turn to speak and looking up in surprise at the audience. As it is, the narrator breaks in regularly to explain to the reader how things work in this world. In a lot of ways, they work exactly like they do here. They just seem funnier there.
I have a few gripes. I always do.
Even with 607 pages, I felt like I was skimming the story instead of trudging through it with the characters. This may be just because things moved very quickly from problem to problem, without a lot of down-time for processing. Most people might not consider that a gripe.
At times, it was hard to take the serious seriously in all the silly. I did feel sorry for a few of the good guys who got smashed. One captain whose soul was turned into a gem, especially. Poor reward for doing your job well, but, as my brothers would say, no good deed goes unpunished. I was touched by the side-story of the griffin Slashback and her rider.
The end came a bit fast, and, even though I know there's going to be another book - God willing - I felt a little abandoned, like at the end of Fellowship of the Ring. There is no good way to end that movie, and I don't know that there was a good way to end this book. The author sure gave it a try, though, and I give him points for it.
Mostly, it felt like I was reading a log of my brothers' role playing games, with less blood and more God. Probably why I enjoyed it.
Hmm. If I'm going to do this a lot, I should create a rating system. I'll say four buttercups out of five for style, plot, humor and consistency. I'm keeping one back because of the cheating.