Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Bookwyrm's Review of Orconomics: A Satire by J. Zachary Pike

Author: J. Zachary Pike

Length: 389 Pages/ 11 hrs, 46 mins (Audio)

Release Date: September 30, 2014/ December 21, 2016 (Audio)

Publisher: Gnomish Press LLC

Narrator: Doug Tisdale, Jr.

I happened to notice this title looking through Audible one day. The title intrigued me, as did the cover, so I said what the hell. Best credit ever spent! While the title has satire written into it, and it does have many humorous elements, it also has a serious fantasy soul mixed in to it, taking the typical fantasy tropes and turning them on their head, all while adding what must be the most hilarious explanation of economics ever.

Across the various kingdoms of Arth, the Heroes Guild is responsible for keeping monsters in check, putting down dangerous monsters and collecting the loot from their hordes. The volume of loot hauls over the years have been a huge boon to the economy, and now make up the majority of the economy. To take advantage of this windfall, investment groups formed to back parties of adventurers in exchange for a cut of the loot. After years of profitable ventures, however, the loot stream seems to be drying up, causing worry in financial sectors. 

This is where the story starts, as we first meet Gorm Ingerson, disgraced dwarf hero, who did the one thing you don't do on a quest. He ran away. For that, he was stripped of his ranks and has been on the run ever since. He has now fallen so low as to become a homeless vagabond, robbing low ranking heroes of their spoils. After one such encounter with one, where he unintentionally save the life of a goblin the hero was out to kill, the goblin, Gleebek, joins Gorm in his wanderings. Since he doesn't speak any lightling (human/elf/dwarf) languages, Gleebek speaks the shadowkin language, and its a hilarious version of I Am Groot, since Gorm has no idea what Gleebek is really saying. After being captured by the guild trying to get Gleebek his NPC (Noncombatant Paper Carrier) papers, Gorm is given 2 choices: Face guild justice, likely to involve a rope and a short fall, or join the prophesied quest of the seventh Al'Matran hero, what usually turns into a suicide run. Usually. Which is still better odds than the other option.

Bowing to the inevitable, Gorm goes and meets his new companions: a drunken elven ranger, a snooty dark mage, a reckless fire mage, a thief turned bard, a silent weapons master from Gorm's past and the High Scribe of the mad Goddess Al'Matra's temple, who is the ostensive leader. They are set the task to find a group of marble masks known as the Elven Marbles, and returning them to the elves. This is the start of a quest that goes in directions you just don't see coming. As the company travels around trying to find the marbles, they run across various dangers, shaking the rust off their skills and cohering as a unit. They even pick up a hidden member, who is much more formidable than you'd believe. 

While on their travels, they meet the most dangerous creatures imaginable; Orcs! How are orcs all that dangerous, you ask? These orcs of the Gazvarda tribe, follow the Path of the Aggressive Seller, that's how! They will make you part with your money with their value added proposition! While in the orc village, they discover a lead that the marbles may be in the fortress of Detarr Urmiyan, the evil necromancer killed years earlier by the paladin Johan the Mighty. Discovering it's empty, they investigate it and find the Marbles. They also discover that while he may be dead, Detarr is still kicking around, now its only as a powerful Liche! Managing to escape, they have to determine who gets the marbles: The elves, or the orcs who they were stolen from years ago. This decision leads to the crux of the story, as the decision of who gets the marbles leads to tragic unexpected consequences, when a huge betrayal takes place. The party then has to decide where to go after the fallout settles, and its in a direction you might not expect.

While this book is a satire, poking holes in traditional fantasy tropes, it is also a serious look at societal issues such as racism, class status, economics and the true nature of heroics. I mean, really, just because goblins are ugly by human/elf standards and live in a dungeons/tunnel systems, if they haven't harmed anyone, how is it heroic to just show up, but in and slaughter them all and steal all their stuff? Who's the real monster? There is a character in the book that is of a species so dangerous the Guild guide says that if you run across one, run away! The problem is, he may be a monster, but he's a true hero, protecting people and just trying to find a true home. How is he a monster? The whole issue with NPCs and their second class citizenship is also discussed, and really plays against the tropes. As far as the economics is concerned, you will have a solid grasp of how an actual market economy works after reading this, and it never feels boring, it's so well interwoven in the story. 

The characters are some of the best written I have ever run across. That's not just in fantasy, that's in all of literature. Whether it be Gorm's or Kaitha's rather tragic story, Heraldin and Jynn's desperate attempts to escape their pasts and even Niln's attempts to find meaning in the prophecies he's been given, you can't help but to like and sympathize with them. They are not just cardboard cutouts playing generic tropes, they are fully fleshed out characters, dealing with the hand dealt them as best they can. As humorously as possible in a lot of cases. The world building is top notch. Arth is a fully fleshed out world, and you really get a sense of the setting as you read through, and can visualize it easily in your minds eye. I consider this to be a setting equally on par with Ankh-Morpork or Lankhmar in terms of depth, darkness and potential for humor.

The narration was handled by Doug Tisdale, Jr. after listening to this, he has cemented a spot in my top five favorite narrators. He did a fantastic job with the various voices, of which there are quite a few, giving live and individuality to each. his portrayal of Gorm Ingerson is literally my favorite voice portrayal in any of the thousands of audiobooks I have listened to. Its that good. His narrative pacing is excellent, and you will find yourself hoping the story continues just to keep listening. Easily one of my top five listens of the last two years.

All in all, I can't recommend this book highly enough. The sequel, Son of a Liche, should be highly anticipated by anyone reading or listening to Orconomics. Anyone who like fantasy books should find something to enjoy in Orconomics. Get your copy today.

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