Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Review: "Orconomics" by J. Zachary Pike

As you may have noticed if you visit this site occasionally, my reading has been pretty slow this year. I’m only averaging about one book per month, and May was the first month in my memory that I didn’t finish one at all. There are a few DNFs in the mix, but despite there being new books by some authors I really like that I haven’t gotten to yet, I’ve been in a bit of a slump.

Then I stumbled across J. Zachary Pike’s “Orconomics” ($13.99, Gnomish Press). After getting a few chuckles out of the sample, I still wasn’t sure about it, but the book turned out to be just what I needed.

Gorm Ingerson is a disgraced professional hero. Once known as the Pyrebeard, he was one of the most feared berserkers in the game. Then, a raid on a necromancer’s stronghold went south. He was stripped of his rank, and now wakes up drunk in a ditch most every day. That is until, quite accidentally, he befriends a goblin. He sets out to get the goblin his NPC papers (making him off limits for heroes to claim a bounty). That move sets Gorm on a world-changing path.

First, the dwarf is strong-armed into joining the party of a young priest named Niln who has declared himself the Seventh Hero of prophecy. Ragtag is probably far too cohesive a word to describe the members of this party, though we've met versions of most of them before – two mages from different disciplines who hate each other, a scoundrel of a thief-turned-bard, a drunken and disgraced elven ranger, a scarred warrior who has taken a vow of silence and seeks his own death, the sheltered would-be hero priest and, of course, Gorm and his goblin squire.

They’re tasked by the king of Andurun himself with returning some stolen figurines known as the “elven marbles,” feared to be headed to the hands of dark magicians. Both the orcs and elves have claims to them, and it’s up to the party to decide who gets them. If they succeed, they’ll all be heroes again. It seems easy, almost too easy.

Pike presents a world where the economy is based on heroes killing monsters and stealing their treasure and what happens to that world when the monsters get tired of fighting and try to become productive members of society. It’s a deft skewering of Wall Street and corporate America with some fun jabs at gaming culture and the conventions of the fantasy genre in general.

There’s more than a bit of genius in the way that Pike unfolds his tale that’s hard to explain without letting you in on some secrets that you’re better finding out on your own. It will uplift you often. One scene, which I’ll call aggressive sales, is one of the funniest things I’ve read in a long time. Then, there’s a gut-punch that will drain you. Those I’ll leave you to discover on your own. Suffice it to say that you will cry tears of laughter and sadness at points in this book. It’s that rare tale that manages to keep the reader laughing almost constantly, but remains emotionally charged and engaging.

Pike’s references here are great fun. They come fast and furious, some obvious to fans of the genre and some a bit more sly, and I’m sure there are plenty that I missed. One of my favorites – and one of the funniest for me on a personal level – is a nod to a certain cat figurine.

In the early going, “Orconomics” will seem like a pretty simple piece of humorous fantasy, poking fun at archetypes with a broad swipe at business. You’ll chuckle and enjoy it in a fun way. Don’t let that fool you. By the end of the book, you’ll have a moment to care for even the most seemingly throw-away comedic member of the party, and you will be emotionally invested.

I signed up for a quick read with a few laughs to try to break a slump. Like Gorm and his companions, I got way more than I bargained for. By the end of “Orconomics,” I was somewhat drained, but also reinvigorated. It’s a satire as sharp as a Vorpal blade (made with the blood of a Flame Drake and the teeth of a Diamondfang Skarg), but with an undeniable human (or goblin, elf, orc, dwarf, etc.) element that makes it truly shine.


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