“Me, I’m just here for a nice clean death, and Dub said he can give me one. I don’t care who ends up running the world. I just want it to stop being my problem.” ~Jim Bottomroach.
Life was so much simpler for Jim Bottomroach when he was dead. Being undead, now that was a trick. Killed during a skirmish between St. Gordon’s Magical College and the warrior schools of Stragonoff over a mystical stone that doesn’t exist, Jim was quite satisfied to join the stone in its nonexistence. His two years of magical college hadn’t amounted to much. Learning just three spells, the most useful—and by extension most entertaining—being one that would turn a rival into a rabbit (momentarily). Just that would be enough to turn anyone off the magic business. Jim had begun to seriously regret his career choice in the moments before a training war hammer knocked his soul right out of his body.
And that’s where it should have ended, all bright light and life reflection and then nothing.
However, things never turn out how they should, as Jim quickly learns (well, okay, 60 years later is not all that quick) when he’s resurrected by the necromancer Dreadgrave, who seeks to create an undead army to pillage the land around his impenetrable “Doom Fortress”. Jim is quickly impressed into this undead army of the unwilling and put in charge of the rat pit, a rather unsavory fate–or savory, from the rat’s point of view–for any adventurers caught raiding Dreadgrave’s (impenetrable?) compound. Distraught at his fate, Jim promptly jumps from the first tower he can climb.
Imagine his surprise to find that yes, he can die again, but no, it just won’t take. Sure, his body is in worse shape, an eyeball here, a lung over there, but his consciousness is as intact as his body isn’t. From then on, Jim’s goal is to search for a permanent means of death. In the meantime, unlife goes on, until that fateful day a horde of angels descend from the sky and delete the Doom Fortress, Dreadgrave and all, yet somehow missing Jim and two others. Meryl is an overly earnest young woman (she’s been dead as long as Jim, but she died young) and Thaddeus is a religious zealot who considers himself and the others to be a blasphemy against God.
It’s no small irony that only when they’ve stopped running and have a moment to think, Jim realizes his missed opportunity to end it all. During the course of their flight, Jim discovers that while he returns to his body in a slightly more damaged state, for the past fifteen years, anyone else who dies is resurrected in a new body, a phenomenon people have come to call “The Infusion.” Nobody dies permanently, not people, not cows, not blades of grass. However, no births occur either. So life goes on, perpetually and death doesn’t have the cache it used to. Especially when you’re not granted a new body, and technically aren’t alive.
But fate isn’t done kicking Jim and his cohorts around just yet. There’s a new Vicar in town, name of Barry, and he’s been endowed with almost God-like powers by the great God Si-Mon. He’s also got it in his mind that Jim and his fellow undead are an aberration that Si-Mon requires be deleted to make the world right again. At this point, Jim realizes that he’s not just fleeing aimlessly; he’s on a quest. Defeat Barry and the great God Si-Mon by restoring the laws of nature, and by extension, find a way to die permanently.
Jim is helped along the way by a rogue adventurer/dolt by the name of Slippery John, who suggests his best bet to correct the natural order lies with the Magic Resistance, a group of sorcerers whose motivations parallel his own. Especially the necromancers, who are finding it hard to get good help when no one stays dead. Slippery John has his own motivation for tagging along, namely to find a cure for his beloved Drylda, who’s suffering from a malady known as the “Syndrome.” The Syndrome only seems to attack adventurers, causing them to strike heroic poses and become obsessed with completing quests, right up until they become catatonic. However, some might say Drylda’s catatonic state explains Slippery John’s “date rapey” interest in her. So, add finding a cure for the Syndrome to Jim’s to-do list.
As a final obstacle to their quest, the adventurer’s guild has sicced a pair of stone cold murderers on their trail to find the Magic Resistance and stop their efforts. Questing is good business, after all. Summing it up, Jim simply has to find the Magical Resistance, enlist them to help him change the laws of nature while dodging the attentions of the Adventurer’s Guild and simultaneously find a cure for the Syndrome. If he weren’t already dead, I’m sure Jim would wish he was.
One other thing—every time Jim dies, he sees words in the air, disturbing words that make him question existence, or what he thinks it is. Once he finally realizes what’s going on, what existence really is, that’s when the book really pays off. It’s also a spoiler I’m not willing to reveal. You’ll figure it out, especially if you figure out what MOGWORLD really means.
Reading MOGWORLD, I’m reminded of Tom Holt, Christopher Moore, Robert Asprin or maybe A. Lee Martinez, all authors who’ve put their stamp on the genre of comedic fantasy. Mogworld has the same quirky sense of humour and horror I found while reading any of the above authors, but especially Tom Holt, an author for whom reality is usually just a mask disguising what’s really going on. Both hilarious and touching, Jim’s exploits to become “just” dead reveal a character that’s not nearly as nihilistic as he’d like you to think.
Just look at how he interacts with his fellow travellers. Jim’s outward disdain for Meryl cannot mask his concern for her well-being. Given several chances to leave her to her fate, he never actually does. Time and again he suggests Thaddeus lay off all the “smite this” and “aberration that” but never kicks the former minister out of the party. Drylda and Slippery John really aren’t his problem, nor is finding a solution to the Infusion when he can simply let Barry delete him, but his desire to die permanently is always put behind the welfare of the world. Jim chooses time and again to dodge the death he claims to welcome in his quest to fix the world.
Yahtzee Croshaw’s debut novel is hilariously entertaining. I went into it thinking it was just going to be an interesting take on the sword and sorcery genre, focusing on a character that generally doesn’t get the limelight, just like Star Trek’s redshirts, or any super villain’s henchmen. You won’t be disappointed, especially if you’re a fan of the underdog, or find yourself rooting for the zombies at the movies. If you’ve ever spent hours down at the arcade playing Gauntlet or long nights of misspent youth at D & D sleepovers, then this novel is for you. If not, well, it’s still for you, because it’s a delightful look at the henchmen whose job it is to make the heroes look good.
As Jim put it himself, he doesn’t want to be a hero, just a protagonist.