This month, El Segundo Public Library Assistant Roz Templin reviews Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots.
By Roz Templin
It’s not often that I sprint through nearly 400 pages, but in Hench I found myself craving more and more.
Hench focuses on antiheroine Anna Tromedlov. The reader meets her as she is working at The Temp Agency, in a world that is divided into villains and heroes. Some workers, for instance, have skill sets in the “dastardly end of freelance.”
Anna prefers office work to being in the field: She feels safe behind a monitor and with a keyboard, and she can rationalize that she is doing her work in “any” office. Anna has a best friend, June, who has an advanced sense of smell and taste. (June’s past jobs have included helping villains design packaging that can’t be identified by scent, and sniffing drinks to make sure nothing has been “added.”) Their friend Greg is in tech support for super-villains, who call him 24 hours a day with stupid computer and internet questions. The Scarlet Hood, for example, called him because he forgot how to eject a CD from a drive. The classic “Have you tried turning it off and turning it back on again?” joke becomes fresh again as Greg takes a call on a night out with his pals.
Finding themselves unemployed, Anna and June turn up at The Temp Agency. Anna scores some remote data-entry work for Electrophorous Industries, headed by Electric Eel. (Call him “E.”) When E proposes some fieldwork for Anna, she surprises herself by accepting the invitation: her descent into becoming an evil hench begins!
Turns out Anna is really not much more than a bystander in E’s thwarted attempted kidnapping of the mayor’s son. Much-adored hero Super Collider saves the day, and Anna becomes collateral damage—her leg is shattered, which results in blood transfusions, surgery, and a projected six-month recovery, during which time her hatred for the superhero festers, and revenge fantasies start. She begins her project while recuperating at June’s place by following the data. Through research and building spreadsheets, she comes to a conclusion that superheroes cause much more destruction to property and to people’s lives than what the media reports, particularly by the super-charged hands of Super Collider. Her Injury Report is an obsession and drives a wedge between herself and June. Anna realizes the need to re-enter life and painfully maneuvers herself into an interview outfit for a “run of the mill” villain shadow company that turns out to be a position in supervillain Leviathan’s organization.
Influenced by the many Marvel- (and DC- ) associated projects these last few years, the author turns the war between villains and heroes upside-down: Soon the reader is cheering for more mayhem to be perpetrated on the side of “good.” The author has dreamed up witty dialogue for her characters that goes beyond the conventional superhero stories: Note the out-of-control scene of a much-anticipated date gone awry, subplots involving “meat” (violent enforcers for villains with their own temp agency: the “Meat Market,” a martial-arts-academy front), and the addition of little texting balloons inserted for conversations between Anna and June.
Walschots makes the book un-put-downable with its humor, action, suspense and yes—some romance. Anna’s relationship to Leviathan is enjoyably “complicated,” and her rise in his company seems believable and exciting. I was truly sorry when the story ended, but I was delighted to learn that the author is indeed working on a sequel!
There’s a great interview with Natalie Zina Walschots on the Los Angeles Public Library blog here.
The El Segundo Public Library offers “Library to Go” curbside service. Visit the library’s website and its Facebook and Instagram pages. You may send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call the reference desk at 310-524-2728 for more information.
Roz Templin is a library assistant at El Segundo Public Library.