Book Review: In the Company of Ogres by A. Lee Martinez
Never Dead Ned lives a life of quiet mediocrity, crunching numbers in the accounting department of a mercenary army called Brute’s Legion. His only talent is dying, which he has done hundreds of times and in nearly as many ways. And, of course, there is the bit where he keeps coming back to life. It’s not strictly true that he’s never dead; he just never stays dead for long. He doesn’t know why he keeps coming back from the grave. He has learned to live with little fear of death, but little relish for life either—and even less self-respect. He just wishes it would end.
And then Ned gets promoted to commander of the Ogre Company. It’s not a promotion he would have sought, by any means. Ogre Company is the rawest, most undisciplined unit in Brute’s Legion, and it chews up commanders as fast as they can be assigned. Ned’s only qualification for the job is his knack for resurrection. Even so, nothing prepares him for the series of freakish, fatal accidents in store for him, beginning the moment he sets foot in the Copper Citadel. And that’s before the three highest-ranking officers under him vote on whether to assassinate him, like all the others before him; before two deadly females become romantic rivals over him; and before everything bad that can happen in a military unit manned by humans, elves, goblins, orcs, ogres, dragons, and trolls, happens.
While Ned works hard at staying alive more than half of the time, he meets a crazy combination of fantasy characters: an Amazon who wants a man in her life; a siren who wants to be loved for something other than her singing voice; a two-headed ogre named Lewis and Martin; an orc who looks like a goblin; goblins who specialize in shape-changing and roc-riding; a blind seer who can hear the future; a treefolk who considers “ent” a demeaning label; and a wizard who is allergic to magic, yet who is so mad for revenge that he is willing to risk being transformed into a platypus.
All that is very well, and fun in a violent, darkly humorous way. And Never Dead Ned soon starts to show tentative signs of not being a completely useless loser, or at least knowing that he is one and being willing to change. But only when the goddess who has been keeping Ned never dead sacrifices herself to save him, does he himself realize what a complete disaster he could be. For now, suddenly, Ned has a reason to fear death. In fact, if he dies, the whole universe could be destroyed. And that, friends, is when a demon styling himself the Emperor of Ten Thousand Hells swoops down on the Copper Citadel and snatches Ned out of its midst.
Inevitably, this leads to a battle in which gazillions of creatures perish, good and bad; a cosmic confrontation on which the fate of the universe depends; and a test of what is truly in Ned’s heart, and the hearts of the ogres, orcs, goblins, elves, trolls, and others who care the most about him. By this point you might be one of them (choose your own species). At the very least, you will have enjoyed yet another hilarious, sexy, apocalyptic fantasy by the author of Gil’s All-Fright Diner, Monster, and Chasing the Moon. Other books by A. Lee Martinez that I hope to read soon include A Nameless Witch and The Automatic Detective.