Jonathan Wood: No Hero

It’s clear from the first page the identity of the audience No Hero is intended for. The setup is familiar: a British secret agency comprised entirely of misfits, holding back an existential threat to the entire world while being kneecapped at the budget. Fans of Torchwood, Primeval and Charles Stross’ Laundry series are squarely in author Jonathan Wood’s sights as he lays out the story of Kurt Russell-obsessed cop Arthur Wallace.

Wallace, it seems, has been tracking down a serial killer with a most peculiar modus uperandi – slicing the heads of their victims wide open – but when he gets close to the killer, he instead finds out that there’s a lot worse going on than a few imitation Highlander sequences. Earth’s dimension, it seems, is being infiltrated by transdimensional creatures called The Progeny, who like to infest humans’ brain stems and plot ways to bring their ravenous Cthulhoid masters into the world. (What exactly they’ll get out of this deal is just sort of left out there) The only thing standing in their way is MI37, a top-secret British intelligence agency charged with the magical defense of the world, staffed by a bunch of misfits, and rapidly running out of operational funds. To this mix gets added one Arthur Wallace, who, if a bit weak on the magical side of things, can at least offer some common sense, experience, and the willingness to take his lumps for the team. Of course, these rag-tag lunatics do manage to pull together in time to save the day, though the road there is more than a little bumpy, and a few favorite characters pay heavy prices along the way.

To his credit, Wood fleshes out an interesting and consistent world, and the electrically powered magic system he proposes has all sorts of fascinating angles to it. While the characters of his main team feel a little forced in their “uniqueness”, the secondary characters add some real spark and flair. Best among them is an actual bookman who haunts library stacks, keeping an eye out for grimoires and munching on cheap takeout. The fight scenes are unfortunately weak – far too many of the good guys get hurled long distances with bone-crushing force and disturbing regularity, but nary a rib gets broken – and the Kurt Russell shtick wears thin after a while, but all in all, No Hero is an engaging read and a promising beginning for a new series.

(Night Shade Books, 2011)

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