On the surface, J. Zachary Pike’s Orconomics follows a group of unlikely heroes, pulled together by a questionable prophet, to fulfill a destiny to eventually save the land. Sound familiar? Well, it’s not that important, because this is not an on-the-surface book. It is a scathing satire that attacks the tenets of capitalism and a profit-based society at large, as seen through the lens of a classic fantasy story. It is self-aware, tongue-in-cheek, hilarious, and poignant. It is also somewhat depressing due to its unfortunate similarities with our current financial and political climates. In short, Pike has crafted a refreshingly original novel that has a lot to say, and does a damn fine job saying it.
In this story, the word “hero” goes no further than your job description. Professional heroics is a finance-driven business, and not a romantic morality play on ‘doing the right thing.’ In this world, everyone wants a piece of the pie: shares of loot are sold to investors in advance, agents and guilds vie to increase their cuts, and adventurers are treated as commodities. Some people, such as the Shadowkin -- classic fantasy monsters like dragons, goblins, and orcs – are targeted simply because they’re seen as pests, or keepers of a valuable treasure. Yet many of the Shadowkin are harmless, and just want a chance to survive on the fringes of civil society. But why should we pay any mind to the plight of these lower-class citizens if they are swept aside in the name of profit? Won’t the investment firm executives utilize their unregulated power to continue to influence the market to their liking? Is this all starting to sound a bit familiar?
“Is there a good way to be bankrupt?” said Jynn.
“Morally,” suggested Heraldin.
This is book sets its sights on a multitude of targets. It is full of incisive dialogue that mocks pop-culture monologues. It takes on sweatshops, the “magic” of marketing (“an illusion that men pay to be fooled by,”) and a literal Wall street. There’s a smart yet sadly topical bit about healing potion addiction that serves as stand-in for the opioid crisis. A tongue-in-cheek scene at an enchanted weapons store serves as a clever allegory on the lax laws of gun ownership. Even religion isn’t safe from being scrutinized through the lens of capitalism. Countless nuggets of economic wisdom are sprinkled throughout the book, but it never feels like they’re being shoehorned in. Rather, these insights call attention towards the theme of the decline of capitalism, presenting evidence of how money is more important than people’s lives or well-being. So many of society’s problems can be traced back to greed and consumerism, and not even a land of dwarves and necromancers are safe.
Good thing this book is more than funny enough to counterbalance the bleakness of its message. There are stones from the Sons of Ogh Magerd (ohmygerd!) and even a nod to a long-running Arrested Development gag involving a green-skinned version of “Annyong.” Pike weaves between puns and poignancy with so much ease that it’s hard to believe this is the work of a debut author. It is written with a comfortable prose and its characters are full of personality. Perhaps we could have spent a bit more time getting to know some of the cast a bit better, but it appears that the sequel will address those concerns. By all accounts, Orconomics is a resounding success, and one of the most interesting and original takes on fantasy I've encountered. I look forward to seeing what else this author has in store in the books ahead.
Review by Adam Weller
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