Hero Forged by Josh Erikson (Ethereal Earth #1)

Imagine you’re living a normal (ish) life, conning people and stealing stuff, when you take the wrong job and end up in a creepy basement in the middle of some kind of supernatural ritual involving body snatching and death and the crossing of worlds. Some bad day, huh? Gabriel Delling is just that unlucky. Except it’s even worse than that because that he ends up sharing head space with an ancient God who has a seriously bad attitude and a hankering to make the place his own. From carefree swindler to lead in an Urban Fantasy in one instant, Gabriel’s brutal entry in to the world of gods and monsters is too close for comfort…and it comes with a ticking clock. Get rid of his divine passenger within a few days, or he could transform into a paranormal nightmare or, you know, die.

His whole life philosophy was based on the idea that things weren’t worth doing if he wasn’t effortlessly good at them. It had worked so far.

As a lifelong con artist, Gabriel has developed the kind of quick thinking, charm, and glib patter necessary to deal with all kinds of dodgy or unpredictable situations, as well as an ability to read people and negotiate his way into or out of almost anything. All handy talents he’s going to need more than ever now magic has come into play. His past has given him a seriously well-developed antenna for danger- he’s seen the movie and isn’t playing the game. That thing where people run blindly into dark basements with no thought to the waiting horror?? Not this guy. His outlook is all about self-preservation, with a moral flexibility that should allow for the prioritisation of his personal security, except for that pesky tendency for occasional bravery and heroism. It’s hard to decide which part of his character gets him into more trouble. He’s fully alive to the dangers of such courageous acts and somewhat equivocal about taking them. This awareness forms part of a larger understanding of and reference to literary and film tropes that runs through the book and is seriously funny, forming one means the author uses to trample all over your expectations. On top of that, there’s a truly excellent level of snark and humour that rarely misses the mark, especially in the conversational banter and backchat. Gabriel has a sarcastic internal voice that felt truly contemporary and properly made me laugh, endearing me ever more to him as the book progressed. He reacts to the whole thing with a kind of humorous incredulity: you’re kidding me, right? Guys…?? Come on….seriously? Even if I thought he maybe should have gotten over it a little quicker, it’s an easy stance to take from the safe distance of my armchair. His instinctive reaction to want to shut it all out and not deal with it once all the action and fleeing from enemies died down felt entirely real, I would have bailed long before that. And died, no doubt. As in many other instances, his sidekick succubus, Heather, is there to slap some sense into him. Refreshingly portrayed, she’s an excellent foil for newbie Gabe, a supernatural entity that brings realism to his now violently disordered world, and she’s not about to allow him to let him take the easy way out. They’ve got lives to save, after all, including their own.

The book starts out a little shaky but it picks up quickly, though I would have started with Gabriel rather than Gwendyl. I see why the author chose to do it that way but Gabe’s chapters are by far the best, with those from the Team Bad perspective a little too superlative, a bit ‘behold my evilness and villainy, I am the baddest baddy of bad times’ type of thing. Actually, the author addresses this issue at a later point, turning it into another joke, which kinda made me forgive the whole thing because it was done with a purposeful smirk. He works the same trick with the romance, there was much eye-rolling when it was introduced right at the beginning, but the relationship was so well utilised by the end that I appreciated being fooled. Perhaps there were a few instances of too handy plot devices, one matrix style information update via magic was a bit unnecessary for example, but the world building as a whole more than made up for that. It was detailed, inventive, and as fun as everything else in the novel, fitting well the swift pace that favoured action over character. The book has a light touch, but doesn’t suffer for it, it’s pure enjoyment and allows space for future instalments to reveal more of each individual’s qualities. Even so, the short ‘rules’ section at the beginning of each chapter, purporting to be from a book Gabe’s writing on the art of the con: CONscience, effectively add a greater depth to his character and the relationship with his father, giving the events of the finale a poignancy that wouldn’t have been quite as sharp without them. 

Hero Forged is one of those just-another-chapter books, and if you do manage to put it down, you want to get back to it as soon as you can. It’s action-packed, creatively imagined, and one of the most genuinely funny books I’ve read in ages, with real heart lightly hidden beneath the humour. There’s no doubt I’ll be reading whatever comes next. 

8.3 / 10 -- Emma Davis

What impressed me the most about this extremely fun urban fantasy is how it covers so many things so well. The shady, outlaw characters with their dry wit and questionable moralities call to mind Elmore Leonard’s Detroit/Florida-set crime capers. The “hidden in plain sight” supernatural population and their quirky attitudes was reminiscent of Men in Black. Humor juxtaposes the horrors of the demonic presence and adds levity before the content gets too dark. Even the romantic angle is nailed, with palpable sexual tension between the two leads that grows over time. 

The characters are likable and their motivations are easily understood. In a story where soul-eating demons make human sacrifices to revive elder gods from a void plane of existence, the author didn’t lose sight of what makes a good and compelling protagonist. Gabe’s relationship with his father, coupled with his unpublished book passages that preclude each chapter, give the reader a strong sense of how and why Gabe ended up the con man he is. And the book cleverly morphs from a “how to” book on scamming into a more personal confession of self-discovery. It sneaks up on you quick and it meshes will with the emotional finale.

But the finale is probably the only part that didn’t totally land for me. Since this book is a series, it had to spend some time setting up the sequel with a few unexplained mysteries, which was fine. But the actual final confrontation took quite a long time to set up as well as execute. Each time I believed we reached the final location, the resolution kept being pushed back. It was an odd pacing shift, as I had devoured the page count so quickly, but took a couple of pauses in the last 20%. Also, although there are rules to the magic of this world, some of these rules seem to have been bent for plot convenience. But it’s a minor nitpick, one of very few I found in this well-crafted story.

Overall, Erikson’s writing is both creative and sharp, presenting many interesting concepts while keeping the story moving fast and clean. Urban fantasy isn’t my usual cup of tea so I didn’t know what to expect when I started this, but Hero Forged has won me over to the genre. The overarching plot was secondary to the wonderful relationships Erikson has built, which I am looking forward to exploring further in future volumes. This is a fast-paced, funny, and surprisingly emotional genre mashup that is deftly executed. A very easy book to recommend, even for newbies to urban fantasy.

8.3 / 10 -- Adam Weller

8/10 It’s action-packed, creatively imagined, and one of the most genuinely funny books I’ve read in ages, with real heart lightly hidden beneath the humour.

Reviews by and Adam Weller

1 positive reader review(s) for Hero Forged

Josh Erikson interview

Hero Forged reader reviews

from USA

While I’m not normally a fan of fantasy reading, I’m so glad I gave this book a chance. I was fully prepared to force myself through the book, but was pleasantly surprised when it drew me in and took me on a great adventure!! This author has the ability to make you get to know his characters in a way that has you feeling their emotions. I feared villains, rejoiced victories, and cheered on the good guys! An author who can take me into a story, regardless of the genre, has a true talent! I will look forward to reading more of his work!
9/10 ()

8.7/10 from 2 reviews

All Josh Erikson Reviews