Title: No Hero
Author: Jonathan Wood
Publication Date: 2014
No Hero by Jonathan Wood is the first book in his ‘Arthur Wallace’ series of urban fantasy/horror/weird fiction novels. The basic plot of No Hero is that Arthur Wallace is a top detective investigating a case that involves strange murders that occur at construction sites. During the investigation, Wallace is grievously injured by an attack from an unknown assailant. When he awakes in the hospital he’s approached by a mysterious woman who offers him a job with the covert government agency MI12 which is responsible for protecting England and the rest of the world from supernatural and other worldly threats. Arthur Wallace soon finds himself caught up in a mission to prevent a threat that would result in our very reality from being wiped out.
Wood writes the novel No Hero in the first person perspective, which I am usually not a fan of since you only get their side of the story. Plus, there’s nothing quite as bad being stuck with an annoying or boring character for a couple hundred pages or more.
That being said, Wood manages to create a clever and dry-witted narrative that makes for an entertaining read. Arthur Wallace has a knack for clever one liners that Wood manages to sprinkle into the narrative at the right moments without becoming too heavy handed or annoying.
Arthur Wallace is pretty much your typical ‘every man’ which helps immerse the reader into the narrative. He’s not some expert detective a la Sherlock Homes or a killing machine like Jason Bourne. But he is smart and his reaction to the bizarre encounters he has are believable. His struggles to develop relationships with his new coworkers and find his role on the team should be relatable to anyone who has ever taken a new job or enrolled at a new school.
Jonathan Wood also has a knack for creating quirky characters that fill the world of Arthur Wallace. They run the gamut from pre-teen girls that live in a giant pool filled with squids and octopusses to a sword-wielding woman who posses uncanny speed and agility. All the supporting characters in the novel are memorable in some way, whether they are one page for a chapter or the entire novel. I found Wood’s ficitional world to be an entertaining blend of contemporary reality mixed with the bizarre and fantastical.
The main conflict in No Hero is a bit of a homage of H.P. Lovecraft along with a splash of Mass Effect and every other sci-fi/horror plot line. It’s not the most original conflict, but it does fit the world Wood created, and it is entertaing. It also gives the characters clear motivation and direction.
The plot of the novel is fairly brisk without much time spent on exposition or back story or subplots. I felt that this is a good and bad thing, but in terms of conflict/plot it worked well to have a brisk pace. The way Wood writes his chapters, each one ends at a point where I literally didn’t want to put it down. Wood tends to write his chapters so that they’re fairly short, but they all help move the plot forward. I never read one that I felt was merely ‘filler’.
Wood is a pretty solid writer when it comes to the technical side of writing. I rarely, if ever, came across a passage where his word choice or grammar irritated me enough to break the immersion in the story. But he did have tendacy to give certain characters the annoying habit of speaking in incomplete sentences and short choppy sentences. I understand he was trying to convey the character’s social awkwardness, but after awhile I began to dread reading certain scenes.
Early in the novel, once Arthur Wallace has been recruited, I felt that there was a bit too much of exposition told through the proverbial ‘talking heads’. It made for a horribly dry read and was rather repetitive.
Wood is quite adept at writing action scenes in No Hero. They’re brisk, suspenseful and most importantly coherent. Unlike some writers’ action scenes, I was never confused as to who was doing what, or what was happening overall. The first three quarters of No Hero, Wood demonstrates some marvelous action scenes, yet it doesn’t last. Near the end of the novel there’s some major fights that simply drag on way way too long and become completely unbelievable. Characters that should be either comatose in a vegetative state were somehow able to function with just some minor pain and bloodshed. That coupled with the fact that it all seemed gratuitous toward the end really hampered my enjoyment of No Hero. It felt like Wood should have had an editor or beta reader tapping him on the shoulder during the later portion of the book when it comes to these action scenes.
The other thing that kept No Hero from being a great read was the utter lack of emotional connection I had as a reader with any of the characters in No Hero. I think that in part it has to do with the fact that the novel is written in first person perspective so Wood does not have the opportunity to really develop his characters as deeply as he could if he had written No Hero in third person perspective. If some time had been spent on giving insight into how the other characters felt and thought or what their personal lives were like, it woud’ve made them much more relatable to me as a reader. But since Wood did not do this his supporting characters seem rather flat and bland. They’re more like plot devices rather than characters. Toward the end of the book there’s a major plot twist which shoud’ve been hugely impactful on me as a reader, but due to the lack of character development I really didn’t feel anything for it. When certain characters die or come close to it, I really didn’t care.
The biggest problem I have with No Hero is the main character Arthur Wallace. Despite having some funny one-liners, albeit in the typical dry British humor that some readers may not get, and having the reptuation of being a brilliant detective, Arthur is the odd man out in No Hero. By that I mean he literally sits back and lets his team mates doing all the work, be it fighting or doing research or even leadership. Arthur rarely does anything in the book to help his team. In fact it feels like he’s merely along for the ride. Early on in the book I thought he would bring his investigative skills to the team, but that never really happens. Even during the final showdown in No Hero, Arthur hangs back and seems to let everyone else do the fighting.
I get it that he’s not supposed to be an American style action hero cop, but his complete lack of action and passiveness irritated me as a reader. I was hoping that the death of a character midway through the novel would be the catalyst of his character developing in a different direction, but Wood never took advantage of the situation.
Another problem I have with Arthur Wallace is that I never learned anything about him during the novel. There’s no attempt by Wood to give him any type of backstory or personal life other than a very minor subplot involving his old partner that ends abruptly and has no long term effect on Arthur. Like the other characters in No Hero, Arthur Wallace ends up feeling like a wooden piece of plot device. Even when Wood tags on a random sexual/romantic connection between Arthur and another character, it is lack luster and feels shallow.
It may be that the brisk plot keeps Wood from developing his characters more so, but I think a few subplots that are developed along the way that are unrelated to the main conflict would have done wonders for No Hero.
No Hero is over all a fun read, that stalls out toward the later half. It works as a plot driven novel, but the lack of character development and a plot that’s not the most original leaves me as a reader wanting more. The character Arthur Wallace is a fan boy for Kurt Russel’s sci-fi/horror films and in a lot of ways No Hero is the equivalent of a ‘pop corn’ blockbuster, a fun diversion but easily forgettable.
No Hero is the first book in a series, so perhaps Wood will develop Arthur and the rest of the characters in more depth, although I’m doubtful that I’ll read another book in the series. There’s nothing about the characters or plot that make the series a ‘must’ for me.