Bothari’s #CBR4 Review #43: Heroing by Dafydd ab Hugh
I had such high hopes for this book. A female mercenary! Trying to get signed on to a quest and prove all the menfolk wrong! Contemplating the nature of heroes! Unfortunately, she’s kinda dumb, and kinda mean. And then the book veers off into strange philosophical territory, and then wraps up with a lesson about mental illness. I’m going to go ahead and spoil this in the plot summary, partly because I don’t know how else to explain how weird this book was, and a lot because I don’t think anybody else should read it.
Jiana is a hero for hire, looking for work and wanting to make a name for herself. She tries to join a prince’s quest, but he scoffs and dismisses her, telling her that it’s no job for a woman, then takes away her sword. I imagine his next step would have been to hand her a dishtowel and a bucket of soapy water, but Jiana immediately kicks the asses of all his guards, gets the sword back and runs for the hills. Her brilliant plan from there is to follow the prince and his hired heroes, wait until they get into trouble, then save the day and show them all that a woman can be a hero too.
The story takes its first step into weirdness at this early stage, and Jiana gets lost, loses her horse, and ends up starving and battered at a remote farmhouse. She is helped by a 15 year old boy who lives there, Dida, and he is instantly smitten. She spends a few days recovering and having a mental battle with herself about seducing the FIFTEEN YEAR OLD BOY. She’s 28. TWENTY-EIGHT. Spoiler alert: she gives in and they have a wild roll in the literal hay. Whereupon he falls madly in love with her and follows her when she leaves to continue her quest.
When she catches up to the prince, she finds out that he’s not just sexist, he’s also pretty much the villain of the story. For reasons I never quite understood, he’s burning and pillaging his way through the countryside. (She “accidentally” kills a village survivor who keeps insisting the prince is a godlike hero, and my brain started hurting. She’s the most unheroic hero I’ve encountered in quite a while.)
Okay, this is getting way too long, especially for a book I didn’t really like. Jiana continues following in the prince’s wake, even after she finds out he’s a murdering dillhole, because saving him will still get her name in the storybooks. Besides a lovesick, horny teenager, she collects a priest-turned-philosopher who decides to come along for the ride because he’s fascinated by her multiple personality disorder.
I don’t even know how to describe all this. Jiana thinks that she was born an evil little girl with magic powers. After the evil girl killed her/their abusive father, Jiana buried the evil girl (she calls her Jianabel), stopped having any magic, and became the regular, well-adjusted person she is today (ha). Except that she’s started having a little bit of magic ability, and the priest explains to her that Jianabel wasn’t a demon, Jiana wasn’t cursed or possessed – Jianabel and Jiana are the same person. And he basically tells her about traumatic experiences and splintering off bits of your personality to survive, which Jiana has never heard of because she lives in the world of a fantasy novel, and the priest lives in a psychology textbook. So THEN, they have lots of long fireside conversations about the nature of personality, childhood, magic, whether the gods are real, etc. etc. etc., and apparently it’s now a philosophy textbook.
I think I have to stop now; there’s just too much weirdness to cover. Out of body experiences, deals made with gods, the prince’s captain of the guards is really a demon who Jiana has to unleash Jianabel on to defeat, capture, escape, breaking up with the 15-year-old, lots more philosophizing…this book has a lot to say. Unfortunately, none of it is very good, and none of the characters are very likeable, or have any reason at all to do the things they do. Dida leaves his home and family to follow a bitchy heroine who doesn’t want him. Jiana follows an evil prince and keeps trying to save him from stuff, even though he keeps killing innocent people. The priest follows Jiana and Dida off on a far-fetched quest with no real motivation at all. Nothing they do makes sense, but they talk about it a LOT.
There, I don’t think I actually spoiled anything, since I’m not sure any of the above makes a lick of sense. Now you know how I feel!