Hero Forged by Josh Erikson

Series: Ethereal Earth #1 Rating: 4/5
Date of Publishing: June 4th 2018 Genre: fantasy, urban fantasy, dark fantasy
Format: Kindle Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble
Number of pages: 346 Author’s website: https://josherikson.com/

Quote of the Book

“People will challenge your worldview every day, and normally it’s up to you how or if that fits into your life. But a good con artist won’t challenge you at all. He’ll make you feel like a genius with secret special knowledge that nobody else has.”

Blurb

Gabe thought he had covered all the angles, but it’s tough to plan a contingency for accidentally trapping an evil god in your brain.

Gabriel Delling might call himself a professional con artist, but when walking superstitions start trying to bite his face off, his charm is shockingly unhelpful. It turns out living nightmares almost never appreciate a good joke. Together with a succubus who insists on constantly saving his life, Gabe desperately tries to survive a new reality that suddenly features demons, legends, and a giant locust named Dale—all of whom pretty much hate his guts.
And when an ancient horror comes hunting for the spirit locked in his head, Gabe finds himself faced with the excruciating choice between death...or becoming some kind of freaking hero.

Hero Forged is the first book in the new series, Ethereal Earth, a modern fantasy adventure that challenges the natures of myth, humanity, and what it means to be the good guy.

Personal notes

I’ve read Hero Forged as part of the SPFBO competition. I had a pretty good feeling about this one from the moment I laid eyes on it, and then the other bloggers started to review it and they liked it so I knew I was right. Since then it had become our first semi-finalist! To check our process you can now find everything related on my brand new SPFBO page!

Song of the Book

Hoo boy, I had a hard time picking a song for this book, but I’m quite satisfied with the result.

Review

Gabe claims himself to be one of the best con artists in the world, while living in Lincoln, Nebraska, taking care of his dad and trying to get through the days. Then he gets a job offer he can’t afford to turn down and things go to hell from there. He finds himself sharing his head with a god who happens to be the master of lying, running from a goddess who wants to get her husband back, with a succubus on his side who is bound to him. Gabe has to come to terms with things quickly, if he wants to get out alive from this mess. His skill of talking himself out of any situation might not be much helpful this time. He is also forced to make choices he might not be ready to make.

Gabe, despite being a con artist, surprisingly a pretty likable character. You can’t help but feel sorry for him when he finds himself deeper and deeper in trouble every time he makes a decision or strikes a deal. His struggle with grasping his new reality is very well portrayed. Although the events happen in a matter of days, Gabe goes through several phases of acceptance starting with denial. And who would blame him? When you find a god trapped in your head and monsters from your worst nightmares chasing you, you’d be inclined to crawl back to bed, pull the blanket over your head, waiting out until the madness passes. Gabe, however doesn’t have the luxury of that, and when he wakes up he finds a succubus right beside himself in his bed. Which could be a very nice dream, if she weren’t so keen on insisting to keep him alive long enough to earn her freedom. Gabe is smart, not really athletic, and always have at least one plan. Which usually ends up with a bigger catastrophe than the previous one. At least he is not your average urban fantasy main character who accepts his situation almost instantly and sets out to save the world. No, Gabe only wants to save himself and Heather since she is bound to him. And also because she saves his ass a few times. Not talking about her being sexy as hell and quite seductive when she wants to be. But then, that’s a succubus for you. All in all, Gabe is no hero. He never was. He never wanted to be. And sure as hell didn’t ask for being responsible of stopping some enemies with a really dark power at their disposal. And a few supernatural monsters for emphasis. But he copes with all this on his own way: being a snarky smart-ass and trying to con everyone and everything they come across.  Earning a few more enemies along the way. But hey, they practically asked for it! Starting with Aka Manah, the god taking residence in his head. But this time Gabe got a worthy opponent: with the time running out the line between madness and reality gets blurry and it’s hard to say what is a lie anymore.

“Most of life is about embracing the choices you make and making something of them. Even your mistakes. And if you’re really good, you can own your errors so thoroughly that they actually become advantages.”

Hero Forged has two strengths: the characterisation and the humor. Gabe and Heather are both very complex characters who come a long way during the story, and learn to deal with each other as much as their enemies. The ever-present banter between them just makes their interactions more real and enjoyable to read. Gwendal is a crazy enough villain, with no morals and questionable taste:

“Once upon a time it might have been nice to have a throne of skulls to sit on as you glutted on the blood of virgins, but there’s only so many times you can do that before it gets old, you know? And skulls are not terribly ergonomic. The teeth are particular murder on the thighs.”

And this quote also highlights the humor this book can offer. I’ll be honest, I laughed out loud a few times. When the only thing that keeps you sane is humor, well, then you have to use it. And it works, it lightens up the mood when the shit really starts to hit the fan.

The short snippets from Gabe’s book he is working on, titled CONscience are just pure awesomeness. Sometimes they are light and funny, sometimes they have deep thoughts but most importantly give a background to Gabe’s character without actually using info dumps and thus sparing the space for the action and character building.

“Most of life is about embracing the choices you make and making something of them. Even your mistakes. And if you’re really good, you can own your error so thoroughly that they actually become advantages.”

Overall, this book is very well written. It takes a bit of time to understand what’s happening, what Umbra is or the Ether and what is happening exactly. Erikson choose to explain everything to the readers as Gabe tries to grasp his new reality. The pacing is generally good, sometimes felt a bit dragging, but the end play was pretty cathartic and managed to place a few punches. But honestly, I still have no idea where to put Aka Manah. He remains to be a mystery.

This book reminded me a bit of Craig Schaefer’s Daniel Faust series with the tone and atmosphere, and that the main character isn’t your typical hero in shining armor. Their moral might be a bit shady, they still try to do the good thing. Which usually comes back to bite them in the ass. Gabe’s well-played ruination of a sorcerer has unforeseeable consequences for one.

Hero Forged is a fast paced, unique, entertaining urban fantasy. It has everything from a villain with blood lust, to an information dealer giant locust, some monsters from your nightmares, gods, a succubus, and a snarky main character being thrown in the middle of it all. If you are bored with the usual UF tropes, you might find this book quite refreshing. A warning: there might be quite a few dead bodies scattered along Gabe’s path.

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