Orconomics was hilarious and heartbreaking, and that’s coming from somebody who usually doesn’t like “humerous” fantasy. Its mix of serious and funny reminds of Discworld – which, of course, can’t be a favourable comparison, but it comes surprisingly close. Taking place in a clearly D&D inspired world, with the economic aspect of adventuring hero troops taken seriously. Also, Pike has absolutely had it with Fantasy racism and will punch you in the feelings over it.
The (of course misfit) band of (not really) heroes goes out to adventure on an unfortunate quest, and is busy with incompetence and banter that every DM will recognise. They have to make some hard choices and despite (or: due to) their best intentions, it all goes horribly wrong. That’s the plot, but that’s not the interesting part.
If you read this site occasionally, you’ll know that I’m into world-building. And this book fucking delivers. Going into dungeons or fulfilling quests is profitable, so obviously there’s an entire economy branch focused on it. There are banks investing in hero groups in return for a share of the loot. There are investment fonds diversifying between adventurer groups to alleviate the risk. There is an adventurer guild handling enforcement of contracts and distribution of loot after a quest ends. It’s all as terrible and corrupt as it seems – a mix of early Pratchett and economy Pratchett, if you will. But the available hordes shrink, and looting becomes less profitable, leading to … everything that happens in this book.
The other part are the so-called shadowkin (F.O.E.s, Forces of Evil). Goblins, orcs and the like can be killed by anybody, and heroes gain in status/points for doing so. They don’t enjoy that, naturally, and their way out is to acquire N.P.C., noncombatant papers. They have to carry them always, and by doing so gain access to the lowest tiers of society. It’s all dark and amazing and I’m very into it.
There were also some original world-building parts that I was very into; for example, magic is thought about as the weave of the world, and the two affinities are the warp and weft. Addiction to healing potions was also a very nice touch. Orcs following the school of aggressive door-to-door salespeople had me in tears. Oh, and there was an extremely neat declaration of love for lock picking that could have come straight from Hogfather.
I wish the author had had a bit more confidence in his world and had resorted a bit less to “haha I’m using Tolkien/D&D nudge nudge”. You can name a halfling Bolbi Baggs and his secretary Lobelia, but do you have to? But really, it got me to laugh and it delivered a gut punch, and I can’t ask more than that. It’s not quite Discworld in a way that I struggle to put into words. Pratchett is more grounded, and when he’s serious you know he’s making a Point that he’ll back up well. Though that’s also more true for later Pratchett, and “you’re not late Pratchett” is an unfair criticism. Also, apparently, this is self-published, making it even more impressive.