"They are lean and athirst! All the evil in the universe was concentrated in their lean, hungry bodies."
Honestly, Frank. We're just misunderstood.
Anyway, No Hero tells the story of Oxford police officer Arthur Wallace who stumbles into the underground realm of MI-37, and their quest to prevent Evil Horrors From Beyond Space And Time from Destroying All Reality As We Know It. He meets a colorful collection of eccentric coworkers, a love interest (two, I suppose), some double crosses, some Chessmaster Gambits and various and sundry things that you'd expect in this kind of book. It all wraps up with a Big Damn Climax, and a happily ever after that leads to the sequel hook for the next book (because all books must now be trilogies, if not longer).
It's pretty middle of the road, really. The odd thing is, it doesn't feel like it's actually in England. There's the occasional spelling or idiom (such as "electric torch"), but it feels like an American writing a novel set in England with English characters, if that makes sense. There's just a weird disconnect. It's not that I expect every character to have bad teeth, say "wot", and have crumpets every five seconds, but it's still off. The phrasing doesn't feel right. The author's bio says he was born in England but moved to New York at some point, and has stayed there. That's probably the cause of the disconnect. Or at least a contributing factor.
Regardless, that weird in between feeling wouldn't be an issue if the book was stronger. It's a first outing, and it feels like it. There's quite a bit of cliches and tropes being used throughout. Furthermore, Arthur is just plain unlikable. He has no spine (several characters, at several points tell him to nut up), he's rather inept, and he's full of Informed Attributes. We're told he's a great cop, but we never really see it. Supposedly, he cracks the case that leads to his involvement, but all that police work is glossed over for a Dr. House ah-ha moment. Everyone tells us that he's the perfect choice to lead this team, but we never really see it. Two women seem to flirt with him constantly, but he comes across as kind of a simp. Furthermore, he's constantly asking himself, "What would Kurt Russel do?" Well, that's a cute character quirk, but it's not really integrated here; it feels bolted on to give this guy some personality or something "clever". Sadly, it's more just an excuse for a couple pop culture (circa 1985) references. For an example of this sort of thing done properly, just watch Hot Fuzz. Nick Frost's media-obsessed character is how you do it.
The problem with this is that the book is first person. Having someone in way over their head is fine; as the character learns, so does the reader, but familiarity can easily breed contempt. And if your eyes to the world are in the skull of a whiny git who seems to fail at everything, it grows very, very tiresome. I had this same problem with the Temeraire series, where the central characters grew more and more insufferable as time went on, until you just wanted to smack them around and tell them to stop being moping idiots. And then they went to Australia and the wheels fell off. Er, sorry. Back to No Hero.
The world building, such as it is, isn't too bad. It's an interesting take on magic: magic is simply pulling things from alternate realities, using electricity, which is the "universal lubricant". This leads to interesting things such as metallic ink in tattoos to channel electricity more effectively, and people popping batteries in their mouths. The cynic in me thinks he liked the idea of wizards sucking on batteries and went about finding a way to make it work. Still, I kind of like the magic system, it's different, if nothing else.
But, still, all in all, I'm pretty lukewarm on this book. I don't regret reading it, but I'm kind of glad it was a loan. If I'm killing time in a book store, I might pick up the second one to read while I'm there, but I wouldn't buy it. As a weekend book or an airplane book, you could do worse, but you could also do so much better.
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