Review: Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots

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No one wants to be a real hero; it’s too hard. My husband didn’t give a damn whether the work I was doing was noble as long as it appeared to be. When I killed someone then—something I did a lot more than I do now—it was for the greater good. It was such bullshit.

I’ve never much liked or cared about superheroes – what’s some asshole in a cape? Despite my friends’ gushing, I didn’t put Hench on my radar until there was a sale, and….wait. Mundane job? Spreadsheets? Fuck me, I’m in. I’ve always had enough of a hard-on for bureaucracy and other usually boring shit in books to override subgenre preferences and sure enough, it was exactly my thing. The characters’ low opinion of superheroes was the final cherry on top.

Anna is a hench, working temp jobs as a data analyst and spreadsheet master for various supervillains. Then an assignment goes wrong, she runs into a superhero, landing in hospital with a shattered leg and losing her job to boot. Of course, she swears revenge, intent on using her skill with data to expose how bad for humanity superheroes are. And then she gets an offer for a much better job…

I loved pretty much everything about this book. The colourful cast of characters, the fast pacing that was compelling without being too intense for me, being on the side of the villains, and, naturally, the spreadsheets. Anna can’t fly or jump over the buildings and she hates action – she’s just a normal person good at handling large amounts of data and weaponising it to ruin superheroes’ lives from afar. Which is, honestly, completely terrifying and at the same time very entertaining to watch.

The worldbuilding was not especially deep. Superheroes, supervillains, heroes are objectively worse for the world, that’s more or less it. But it was enough to get the point across and that’s good enough for me. I also liked that it’s queernorm and not ableist – there’s a number of casually queer characters (including Anna herself, who is bi) and being neuroatypical or disabled didn’t seem to be especially noteworthy either.

I was also surprised to find I genuinely enjoyed the humour!

I guess the guest pass isn’t the easiest thing

It’s a fucking suppository

We have ones you can swallow now

Oh yeah?

I’ll make sure they get you the older model

Asshole

Exactly

This is why you have no other friends

We desperately, desperately need a sequel and not just because of the hinted at but tragically unexplored potential for a monsterfucking romance subplot.

Enjoyment: 5/5
Execution: 4/5

Recommended to: spreadsheet fetishists, supervillain enthusiasts, those looking for a fast and entertaining read set in an inclusive world, disability rep, or a variety of LGBTQ+ rep
Not recommended to: anyone sensitive to body horror, those who like detailed worldbuilding

Content warnings: explicit body horror

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