John Golden: Heroes of Mazaroth by Django Wexler (Novella Review)

I started reading Django Wexler earlier this year and he has quickly become one of my favourite authors to read, thanks to his first fantasy novel, The Thousand Names and his cyberpunk-urban fantasy novella John Golden: Freelance Debugger. The latter is about a tech-guy named John Golden who pulls out pixies and other urban fantasy junk out of computer systems. Freelance Debugger was one hell of a story with a winning premise, and I loved it from the get go. Which is why I wanted to read the follow-up as soon as it was available, which happened a few weeks back.

Heroes of Mazaroth sees John tackle the MMORPG of the same name, the most popular such game in the industry. And the premise is simple: due to some pixie magic-wrangling and some idiocy at some point, Heroes has a pixie problem in that one of its greatest villains, the current top-end raid boss, has become self-aware and has left the game for a place where he isn’t repeatedly killed and looted by bands of adventurers. But things aren’t always as they seem and John has a really tough fight ahead of him now, one that only his masterful duo with his friend and partner Sarah can help him get through.

John Golden - Heroes of MazarothJohn Golden: Heroes of Mazaroth is full-on satire and comedy, unlike Freelance Debugger though that too was written along the same lines. The inspiration behind the premise, and even the titular reference is quite obvious. However, beyond even that, John takes a lot of fun potshots at some of the best and worst cliches of modern computer gaming, especially in relation to RPGs and MMORPGs. A lot of the times, it might look like he’s just joking, but underneath all that is some great commentary about the moralistic state of the video games industry.

Still, what matters first and foremost is that the characters are excellent, and they certainly are in this novella. Whether we talk about John or Sarah, or the dark lord Anaxomander or any of the other characters of this particular story, they all give a great accounting of themselves and I do have to say that the villain absolutely steals the show, given how Django writes him.

The novella is full of some wild abandon, and it doesn’t really take itself too seriously. It just moves along, with some great twists in every four or five pages, in a way that you are hooked in good and proper. The biggest of course all revolve around Anoxamander himself and the efforts by both John and Sarah in getting him back to he game where he came from, so that John’s clients can rest a little easy since it is kind of a really big deal for them that Dark Lord Anaxominder returns to Heroes of Mazaroth and the game story gets back to being normal, or some approximation of it, at any rate.

And that is what was most fascinating in the novella. I loved both Sarah and John in the previous novella, and I loved both of them even more this time. Django’s particular skills in creating some really fascinating characters finds a great home in John Golden, and as you read through this novella, you can really feel all of it, without it coming across as overbearing or overexaggerated or anything of the sort. In fact, John is a much better character this time around, now that the initial phase is over, and the same goes for Sarah as well. We learn a lot about her favourite hobbies and styles in this issue, and that helped create a really vivid picture of the human-turned-AI who can do all sorts of cool and crazy things with electronics and what not.

The two heroes also get to meet a great ally in this novella, someone who fits the character of a typical MMORPG-er’s very, very well, and also someone who can really brighten up the novella. There is a ton of banter here between said character and our heroes, and those too are some of the best moments of the story here. What it all boils down to is the fact that there are some really complicated things going on, and all the different twists that Django throws in for the heroes, keep the reader guessing, and even second-guessing. The story will be heading in one direction and then it will all flip positions and then go off in completely opposite directions. But at the same time, when you are done with the novella, you also get to see that it is all wrapped up nice and tight by the author, who delivers a resounding and action-packed finale well on par with some of the best fights of World of WarCraft, Blizzard’s super-hit MMO that is quite clearly one of the big inspirations behind Heroes of Mazaroth and some of the cliches of the genre that Django tackles here.

Once again, one of the other things that I loved about this novella was all the footnotes put in by Sarah, which in a fourth-wall-breaking kind of way, or just some typical first person viewpoint narration, serves to inform the reader a great deal about these two heroes and their relationship that has evolved over the years. That is something that I very much wanted to see more of in this novella, and Django certainly did not disappointm me.

Heroes of Mazaroth is most assuredly a better story overall than Freelance Debugger, and I’m really glad that I loved it, since I would have hated for it to have been a downer for me. But that’s not the case and we can all rest easy as a result. A lot of the kinks of the previous story have been ironed out for the sequel, and that also has to do with the fact that this is a second story and also because Django writes it in a continuity-free manner. You don’t have to have read Freelance Debugger before this and even, you can read them in any order that you choose. Which is a great decision on the part of the author.

In the end though, all that matters is that Heroes of Mazaroth is one of the best novellas I’ve read all year, and that ain’t no joke.

Rating: 9/10

More John Golden: Freelance Debugger.

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Posted on October 13, 2014, in 2014 Reading Challenge, Challenges, Novella Reviews, Review Central and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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