Monday, December 30, 2013

Helen and Troy's Epic Road Quest by A. Lee Martinez

This epic road quest takes place in an alternate world where humans, orcs, and other manner of mystical creatures are just accepted as normal.  Helen the rare minotaur girl and Troy meet at work.  They are brought together when their boss tries to sacrifice Helen to a long lost banished God.  Things go from bad to worse when the God sets them on a magical quest where Helen and Troy will battle dragons and orcs even as they try to decipher the mystical clues that the Fates give  them to gather magical weapons which will set the lost God loose on earth.  Will our heroes succeed with so much aligned against them?

This is the second book I have read which was written by Martinez and so I expected Helen and Troy's Epic Road Quest to be quirky but what I didn't expect was for it to be laugh out loud funny. I found myself giggling at the conflicted Orcs who caused damage in restaurants because that is their nature and then worrying about emptying bank accounts to pay for the damage.  Then there was the fate who ran the truck stop, and of course Orc Gods worried about learning to play bridge and shuffleboard.  The situations were absolutely absurd but it was impossible not to laugh.

The female protagonist did, unfortunately, come with the usual super special descriptor - being a rare female minotaur and the first to manifest as such in her family for generations.  Her story was largely about self acceptance because she dealt with body issues throughout the book.  Normally these kinds of issues ascribed to women irritate me because it plays on the trope of women always needing to doubt their physical attractiveness; however, if I had horns, a tail, fur and smelled horrible when I got wet, I would be a tad insecure about dating as well.  Helen was remarkably strong and though she lacked confidence in herself, she was unafraid to meet any challenge and even ended up saving Troy.

The male protagonist Troy was also a little trope laden. He is the Asian kid who is the perfect son, always gets good grades and is of course well liked.  I did however like how he discussed being turned off by a girl when she sought to fetishisize him which is something people of colour face on a regular basis.  Troy didn't want to be anyone token.  He is capable and strong if somewhat annoying with his perfection - something Helen takes care to point out repeatedly.

It is worth noting that Martinez did make the mistake of conflating real people of colour with his mystical creations. 

"Just because my ancestors were barbaric hordes that doesn't mean I'm a natural-born killer. I think it's a bit racist that you assume that"

Having on protagonist be a man of colour does not erase the harm of this.  These kinds of conflations detract from the racism that people of colour are forced to live with on a daily basis.

Martinez did chose to include a gay character - James the orc.  Unfortunately, James is a trope laden mess. James drinks imported fruity beers, is the only Orc with fuchsia on his bike, loves musical theater, has Funny Girl as his favorite movie, and has a habit of punching people if they cannot differentiate between lavender and lilac.  James, of course, leads a closeted life with his roommate Gary until he is finally confronted about his sexuality by his fellow Orcs. If anything James is a token and extremely empty.  It's not enough to have inclusion, portrayals of marginalized characters shouldn't be cardboard cut out tropes.

Despite it's faults, I enjoyed every moment of Helen and Troy's Epic Road Quest.  It's an easy read and a great way to waste away the afternoon.  The story won't change your world view, or challenge you to think but it will entertain you.  The writing is extremely vivid and it is so easy to picture all of the characters we are introduced to as well as all of the fantastical locales that the story is set in.  It's impossible not to root for both Helen and Troy and the Wild Hunt which places the reader in a bit of a conundrum because they are on opposite sides.  When you can love the good guys and the bad the guys that is a sign of a really good book.

Editors Note: A copy of this book was received from Netgalley