By John Scalzi
Inheritance should never be something that you look forward to, but when you receive some, it can make a huge change to your life. I may be enough to pay a deposit on a house or pay for a child to go to university. It can also be a real pain in the bureaucracy. Think of the taxes that need paying, the stipulations that you must follow, if you are the executor, you have a whole lot of paperwork to contend with. All these issues will seem petty to compared with the ones that Charlie Fitzer must contend with in John Scalzi’s Start Villain, not only has he inherited his uncle’s business, but also the secret lair under a volcano.
Charlie’s life is not going to plan, divorced, and working as a substitute teacher, he was meant to be a famous writer by now. His dreams are more realistic now and a chance to own and run the pub that he frequented with his father would be enough and for once that opportunity may be in sight. His estranged and extremely rich uncle has died with no family apart from Charlie. To get some inheritance all Charlie needs to do is speak at the funeral. It is a shame then that the guests are all there to check that the uncle is really dead this time. There feels like more than a few strings attached to this gift.
There are many reasons to want to read. To challenge, to provoke, to make you think. I have always been an advocate to read for fun. Read books that you enjoy, these may be serious, or they may be seriously fun like John Scalzi’s recent output from standalone stories about Godzilla like monsters, to a thoroughly entertaining sci fi crime series. Scalzi is writing books that I am loving to read, and Starter Villain has not finished that trend.
For one thing, this feels like a complete novel. It could be followed up with more, but works perfectly in its own right. Charlie starts off at a dead end, and he does not end up where you may think, but he has developed his confidence and is a different person. I would be happy to walk away from Charlie right now knowing that he is happy but would also be interested to see what came next.
This is because the world of Start Villian is so entertaining. It is like a camp 60s Bond version of the John Wick universe. There is a network of villains out there trying to make as much money as they can and are killing to get what they want, but they are also a bit useless and not always ruthless against the right people. Charlie is thrust into this world and calls out the people for who they are. Reading pomposity being pricked is always fun.
Scalzi gets a good balance with the character of the uncle. As a villain he is evil? Not necessarily, this is no Dr Evil, but a man who worked in the grey spaces of world politics, often making money from the bad guys, or by forcing a stand-off between nations. In a way extorting their money to force the peace. This is the world that Charlie needs to learn about and quick, lest he become victim of a very hostile takeover. There are also the sentient cats to deal with and the dolphins looking to unionise.
Scalzi never allows the world of Start Villian to get too serious and that is why it works. Charlie sees the nonsense for what it is. Along the way we meet characters, both good and bad, but mostly somewhere in the middle. It is a fun story that is enjoyable to read, perfect for someone who loves to sit down and read a book to be entertained.
Written on 21st September 2023 by Sam Tyler .