Monday, 6 August 2012

Review: No Hero

No Hero
No Hero by Jonathan Wood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Now this is a good one.
The premise reminds me very much of Charles Stross's Laundry novels: underfunded British secret department using magic to protect our world from Lovecraftian horrors. Stross's is nerdier, because the main character/narrator is a programmer, whereas here the main character/narrator is a police detective who watches too many action movies and is drawn into the secret department when he's too good at his job. Stross's is also more of a satire on British bureaucracy, whereas this is more of a straight urban fantasy thriller, a bit like the more action-packed parts of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files.
Not that it isn't funny. Arthur Wallace, the narrator, has a keen self-deprecating British sense of humour even in the middle of battling magic-distorted creatures under the control of other-dimensional mindworms out to destroy our entire reality. His habit of asking himself "What would Kurt Russell do?" is referenced perhaps two or three times too often, but despite his self-doubt, his mistakes and his belief that he's "no hero", he manages to provide the leadership that the reduced and neglected team at MI37 need.
If you're actually British or know the difference between British and American language, you'll notice that the book has been translated into American (presumably a market thing). At first I was wondering whether the author was an American doing a good, but far from great impression of being English, but he actually is an Englishman living in America, and the references to "bangs", "fries" and "Mom" are therefore intentional. I found it slightly distracting but not too much so, and now that I know the reason it probably won't bother me in the second book.
The book is well-edited (I only spotted one or two typos, and if you follow my reviews you'll know that I'd see more if they were there). The action keeps flowing while still allowing time for character development and a little bit of reflection on what's important. Each character is distinct and clearly characterized, though Shaw, the boss, remained a little vague to me, partly because she's back at the office through most of the action and doesn't say a great deal when she is on screen. The dialogue is witty (and part of the characterization), and the author strikes a good balance between helping us to identify with the narrator's "what the hell is going on?" feeling and not giving enough background to be understandable.
I'm looking forward to reading the second book soon.

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