Book Review: No Hero

No Hero by Jonathan Wood, Arthur Wallace #1

"What would Kurt Russell do?"

Oxford police detective Arthur Wallace asks himself that question a lot. Because Arthur is no hero. He's a good cop, but prefers that action and heroics remain on the screen, safely performed by professionals.

But then, secretive government agency MI37 comes calling, hoping to recruit Arthur in their struggle against the tentacled horrors from another dimension known as the Progeny.

But Arthur is NO HERO! Can an everyman stand against sanity-ripping cosmic horrors?

No Hero actually escaped my attention when it was first released by Titan Books, it is that I saw the release of the sequel, Yesterday's Hero, which is out later this year that I found out that it was the second book in the Arthur Wallace series. Reading the synopsis of No Hero promised a lot of fun, last year I had the pleasure to read Guy Adams' The Clown Service which also goes about a secret service agency set in England, but this book didn't have that much supernatural going on compared to No Hero. No Hero closely reminds me to something of an The X-Files mashup, it dark and gritty but with a healthy dose of humor in the mix. 

The story of No Hero picks up in a gentle sort of calm, focusing directly on the protagonist Arthur Wallace who is just your average police detective. All of a sudden strange murders are being committed across the Oxford area and Arthur is assigned to track down this serial killer, being the detective he is, he tries to find links and connections with the different victims using their backgrounds. All his effort are in vain as he and his partner cannot seem to find the right things to connect, until they encounter the deadly assassin, a sword wielding women at one of the crime scenes. Here Arthur becomes a victim of himself, he get beat up pretty badly and looses consciousness. Only to wake up and find himself at MI37 and learns that this assassin, the sword wielding women, Kayla is part of one of Britians most secret service. Being confronted with the facts that a more secret service than MI6 exists is something that Arthur finds hard to believe, until he is confronted by some horrific facts, ones that he also witnessed at one of the crime scenes. Arthur gets the full explanation that other dimensions DO exist and that these bring forth otherworldly and supernatural creatures known as the Progeny. The Progeny are alien tentacled creatures set on demise and destruction. And this all is just the start of one big non-stop adventure as Arthur now finds himself trading in his normal homicide detective job to join in up the ranks of MI37 and hunt the Progeny. Because they plan to take over planet Earth by bringing more of their kind into our world, well the Prgeny aren't yet on Earth but their agents are. Even though Arthur is a veteran police detective he is new in the other dimensional hauntings and fighting the Progeny and this does become apparent soon. He has his hands full, but luckily for Arthur he is backed up by an amazing team. 

The title of the book, No Hero, refers to the main protagonist Arthur. He is definitely not a hero and constantly talks to himself with the single question "What would Kurt Russell do?" He isn't one that would jump to the occassion and charge in head first, his personality more like one that likes to hold back and watch how other people go about the task. I most Urban Fantasy setting that I have read I have encountered those proactive protagonist so I found the change to a more passive attitude quite fun to read, especially given with the humorous undertone that Jonathan Wood introduces. Also for me it would be quite logical to first have a look around when being confronted by creatures from a different dimension, my only small remark about Arthurs character is that at one point I would have had liked to see a switch towards being more proactive in his actions, since he had seen a lot already, it's non-stop action. I hope that in the sequel, Yesterday's Hero, a more active Arthur will be show, this will only bring out an even more faster paced book. On the whole I found that Arthur was a great protagonist to read about and since it's told from his perspective makes all the personal elements come out that much stronger.

I already mentioned that Arthur is backed up by an amazing team, this is a slight understatement. Jonathan Wood created a unique set of characters in this team, very creative and utterly cool! A magician called Clyde who doesn't get his arcane gifts from being born with them but with implants, surgically implanted wire patterns in run through his whole body and batteries, yes batteries! Type AA, the kind that you put in a flashlight, CLyde puts them in his mouth and is then able to cast some highly destructive spells. Next to Clyde you have Tabitha a computer genius, but fully tattooed, gothic kind of type and Kayla whom I already mentioned, the deadly Scottish sword-wielding women who rather talks by swinging her sword that actually saying words. This whole merry bunch is being led by the no-nonsense rule of Shaw, she has to make the best possible with a lot of cuts in the budget, and that isn't easy. Next to these character, MI37 does have some additional helpers like the twins, think here of sort of oracle (minority report style) that have clairvoyant moments about when and where and what the Progeny plan, they are there to give Arthur and his new team that edge. All in all some great and original characters, that will be directly to your liking. 

Jonathan Wood introduces a breakneck pacing from when the Progeny make a first appearance and nicely keeps to this pacing. Even though the pacing is very fast, Jonathan Wood doesn't omit any details in building his world instead he cleverly uses Arthur breaking into his role as MI37 operative by feeding you information in bits and pieces as the story progresses, instead of giving an information dump sort of scene. A writing skill of Jonathan Wood is when the action takes place it is all over the floor and can be quite chaotic but as a reader you never loose sight of where what is taking place, keeping you that much more glued to the pages. Added to this is that the action scenes are just the length that you want to see, no unnecessary dragging of fighting scenes but direct and clear to the point with some electrifying bits!  

The setting of No Hero reminded me closest to the The X-Files but with a lot more humor in there. The threat that is introduced by the existance of The Progeny feels dark and nefarous and inspires an impending doom feeling. Though the book does produce enough laughs, the Progeny still come over in their dark way and not an idle threat that you discard easily, it is serious (I hope you get where I am aiming at). Writing on one hand the serious threat that the Progeny are and on the otherhand introducing humorous scenes by all that Arthur goes through took some skill, I think, to make it come out the way it did. For me this was just spot on. 

There are many Urban Fantasy - Paranormal books out there and writing an entry that places you in the top is hard but with No Hero Jonathan Wood managed this. No Hero has some great and bold ideas that are worked out in the big picture but also with a close focus on the minor details. Jonathan Wood introduces some very creative characters like Arthur Wallace who goes from an ordinary detective to fighting the extraordinary and lets not forget his team of "misfits" that accompany him in his newly assigned task, a great bunch and very interesting to say the least. The whole setting of the book is one that also isn't often found in Urban Fantasy it's not a simple case study. Jonathan Wood has kicked of his series with a great first book, the sequel: Yesterday's Hero, is out the 9th of September by Titan and it has the mentioning of a Zombie T-Rex! I am sure it's gonna be another wild adventure for Arthur!


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