2018’s Son of a Liche is the second installment in J. Zachary Pike’s Dark Profit Saga.
Dwarf adventurer Gorm’s quest in Orconomics: A Satire was something of a mixed success. Well, more of a catastrophic failure: the orcs of Guz’Varda Tribe befriended by Gorm and his friends dropped their guard and were massacred by gold-hungry humans; two of Gorm’s friends died; and the party was unjustly branded as criminals by the government of the Freedlands.
The only up-note was that Gorm and company dealt the Liche Detarr Ur’Mayan a resounding defeat.
Well, less a resounding defeat and more a minor set-back. Cue the undead legions carving their way across the continent.
Neither the government nor the financial geniuses of the Freedlands have any inkling that this undead horde is in any way different from all the previous waves of shamblers who tried and failed to overrun the living world. Everyone expects that the age-old pattern — a few early defeats, a final victory by the heroes of the living — will prevail. To legendary hero Johan, the crisis is merely an opportunity to remove certain impediments between him, the throne, and the queen who comes with it. To the financiers, the crisis offers enormous profits, thanks to newly developed complex financial instruments.
Detarr Ur’Mayan’s key insight is that all previous would-be undead world conquerors relied on pure domination to orchestrate their armies. With their attention divided across their hordes, it was all the rulers could do to get their zombies and skeletons to shamble slowly in the same direction. Detarr wonders: why use force when one could use persuasion instead? With the aid of an inspired marketing team, Detarr sells the living on the benefits of undeath and the undead on the benefits of collective action.
Detarr’s approach is wildly successful. This has consequences. In the short run, many people die and then rise as various flavours of undead. In the medium run, a financial firestorm sweeps across the markets, as instruments held as assets turn out to be toxic liabilities. In the long run, all of the living seem doomed in the face of Detarr’s unstoppable advances.
Conventional responses have failed. This leaves unconventional responses, like that consisting of one disgraced but cunning dwarf and his collection of fire-forged friends, each one with a backstory more tragic than the last.
Content warning: the tragic backstories of the adventurers continue to bedevil them. Even though this is not an Evil Wins! novel (Evil takes a sturdy steel-toed boot to the ‘nads) Good does not escape unscathed. A lot of scathing can be chalked up to own-goals.
This is, as was the previous book in this series, Murder Hobos Meet the 2008 Financial Crisis. 2008 is over a decade in the past now, so it may be very hard for modern readers to imagine it, but yes, people did manage to convince themselves that markets would rise endlessly. They did place their faith in financial arrangements that were very, very complex and that also (as it turned out) did not perform as promised.
The idea that people faced with a universal calamity like a zombie horde or, I don’t know, a pandemic, would persist in kidding themselves that life could continue as normal without some sweeping reforms might seem absurd. Surely crises of historic proportions would be met by collective action guided by the best experts available. The hapless fumbling seen in this novel is as ridiculous as a head of state suggesting some novel malady could be cured simply by chugging bleach or ramming a UV lamp up one’s backside. Only in a comic novel could authorities be this idiotic.
Ah, well. That’s why this is fantasy.
This book clearly wants to be a Pratchett novel. As did Pike’s first novel, it falls a bit short: the humor is often laboured and the morals are strident. It would have helped had the author had more faith in his readers. We can catch subtle hints. A developmental editor might have helped too; the novel would be improved by some judicious cuts, some streamlining.
But … I expect that Pike will improve with practice if he keeps writing. If we compare this book to early Pratchett—The Colour of Magic , say — it stands up reasonably well. Read and enjoy this book with moderate expectations.