SPFBO Review: Orconomics by J. Zachary Pike

cover of Orconomics by J Zachary Pike

Well, here we are! The very last entry in my series of reviews of the top 10 SPFBO 2018 finalists. I was not affiliated with the contest in any way, but I very much enjoyed reading and reviewing all these excellent books. Alas, now I am done. There will be no more SPFBO finalist reviews after this one. At least not until they announce the finalists of this year’s contest.

Orconomics was the winner of the 2018 SPFBO contest, and I have to say that it was extremely well deserved. I thoroughly enjoyed quite a number of the books I read this year, and I think several of them would have been extremely worthy winners. But among them, Orconomics really does shine.

Orconomics begins with the premise, “what are the actual economic implications of a world where adventuring heroes make a career of trying to rid the world of monsters?”

Dwarven berserker Gorm Ingerson used to be somebody in the adventuring world. That is, until he ran from a mission, a cardinal sin in the adventuring world. Now, he’s forced to live his life in disgrace, disowned by the adventurer’s guild and his dwarf clan alike. Everything changes when Gorm takes pity on a goblin and hires him as his squire. This attracts the attention of the wrong people, and before long, the church of a mad goddess conscripts him into a dysfunctional adventuring party of fellow misfits and has-beens. This involuntary assignment sounds a whole lot like a suicide mission, but it also might be a chance for him to redeem himself and get his career back on track. Gorm is desperate to bring his ragtag team together and make the mission a success. But nothing is ever that simple. Gorm has suspected for some time that the entire adventure-based society is rotten. But he and his team are about to find out just how rotten.

I honestly wasn’t expecting to be as invested in this book as I was. I worry I’m beginning to sound like a broken record, but I came into Orconomics not sure what to expect, or if it would be the type of book I typically enjoy. Part of what’s been so great about reading these, is I have been introduced to several of excellent books I might not have necessarily picked up on my own. In this case, comedic fantasy.

Comedic fantasy literature is something I have struggled with in the past. I enjoy it on screen, such as the Shrek movies and the tragically short-lived TV series Galavant. But comedic fantasy books, for some reason, generally fail to grab me. After spending a lot of time (too much time, probably) wondering why that was. I think ultimately, when it comes to books at least, I need to be able to take things just a little more seriously. Not to name names — I am not here to insult your favorite comedic fantasy, believe me — but it sometimes feels like the worlds aren’t lived in, and the characters aren’t people, but rather both are props intent to serve the joke the author is trying to make. On the surface, it almost seems like Orconomics is more of the same. But it isn’t. It really, really isn’t.

If I were to compare this book to any existing fantasy, I would probably say it’s cut from the same cloth as the Band series by Nicholas Eames. Both series have a similar balance of the satirical and the serious, and both attempt to handle a similar topic, albeit in different ways: that is, the questionable ethics of hunting sentient monsters and being celebrated for it.

Orconomics is billed as satire. But satire doesn’t necessarily mean “doesn’t take itself seriously” or even “is funny all the time.” In this case, it means, “A brutal but necessary indictment of modern society in general and capitalism in particular.” In fact, while there were some funny moments in this book, there were just as many moments where the book ripped out my heart and stomped on it. Orconomics tackles such thorny themes as racism, addiction, and even factory farming, and lays them bare before the reader. But while Pike does not shy away from his real-world commentary, never at any point do the characters feel like cardboard cutouts or mouthpieces for his ideas. Rather, every character feels like a living, breathing human (or dwarf, or goblin, or orc, or elf). I found myself rooting for the side characters as much as I rooted for Gorm. It’s hard to say who I liked most, if it was the once-famous elf who is now an alcoholic has-been, or the fire mage who can’t control her powers, or perhaps the goblin who just wants to make a better life for himself and those like him. This book made me care deeply about every single one of them, and now I am clambering to buy the sequel so that I can find out what happens next.

I’m hard-pressed to find things I didn’t love about this book. But like with anything, there are always minor quibbles. For instance, I would have liked more loose ends to have been tied up, as instead we are left with quite a cliffhanger. I also thought some of the names were confusing or sounded too similar to each other. I had trouble keeping Jynn, Niln, and Flynn straight in my head, for instance. But that’s it, that’s the end of my list of complaints.

This is a good book, and you should go buy it.

People who might like this book

  • Fans of witty satire in the same vein as Kings of the Wyld
  • People who like fantasy that tackles real-world issues
  • Anyone who thinks goblins and orbs get a raw deal in the adventuring world

People who might not like this book

  • Someone expecting slightly more light-hearted comedy
  • Jerks who have no soul (kidding, kidding. Or am I?)

r/fantasy Bingo Squares

  • Self-published
  • Local author (New Hampshire)
  • LitRPG? (debatable. This does not take place inside a video game, but characters do have stats and levels and obviously inhabit a game-like world)