It’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to be the henchman. My new favorite book, Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots, begins with a call from Anna Tromedlov’s temp agency. Villains (super and otherwise) are hiring getaway drivers, data analysts, Meat (muscular people who like to hit and shoot things), and other positions that keep evil enterprises running. Hench is a fantastic book about the people in the background, when they finally get tired of being cannon fodder.
The call from Anna’s temp agency turns into a job for the Electric Eel, an emotion-obsessed villain looking to make a name for himself. But it all goes to hell on their first big scheme. The unstoppable, invincible Supercollider and his sidekicks arrive to save the day. Anna ends up with a horrifically broken leg and a lot of questions about how much damage those so-called heroes do when they swoop in and start cracking skulls. Anna’s next (unpaid) job is a blog called the Injury Report, which puts real numbers to loss of life, healthcare, and property damage. The blog catches the eye of a real supervillain, the very mysterious Leviathan.
Hench really starts to take off once Anna starts working for Leviathan. She is given free rein to use her knack for data mining and her creative spite to start making life hard for the heroes. One of the blurbs on the hardcover version of Hench says that this book will have you rooting for the bad guys, and that is definitely true. More than once Anna and her friends and fellow henches remark that they are working for the bad guy, but that they don’t feel particularly evil. Besides, Anna has PowerPoints full of numbers showing that the good guys might actually be causing more damage than the bad guys are, in the long run. Those numbers, Anna’s leg, the actions of the increasingly violent heroes will have readers wondering what it really means to be a good or bad guy.
All of this sounds rather serious—and Hench does have serious moments—which doesn’t do credit to how funny this book is. Anna’s dialogue is hilarious. This book had me laughing out loud every few pages as Anna and her friends pointed out the absurdity of their situations, cooked up another hideously funny plot against the superheroes, and banter with each other.
Perhaps the best thing about this already outstanding novel is its ending. I don’t think I can recall another book that got me so invested in the characters that, once we get to the big showdown, my heart was actually pounding for the last fifty-odd pages. When I finished the book, I had to take a couple of moments to unclench my emotions. I really can’t remember the last time a book gripped me so hard. Truth to tell, I really wanted to immediately go back to page one and start over. I can’t gush enough about this book.