eARC Review: John Scalzi & Starter Villain

Starter Villain by John Scalzi is yet another sci-fi treat by an all-time favorite author. I had the pleasure of reading a free copy of the book thanks to the publisher and NetGalley. After loving The Kaiju Preservation Society to bits, when I got approached to read Starter Villain in exchange for an honest review, I couldn’t believe it, couldn’t contain my excitement.

But even though the book carried the same spirit, and had the same lighthearted tone, it failed to press the same buttons as Kaiju. Let’s dive into my Starter Villain review to better explain why.

Starter Villain Plot

Meet Charlie – a divorced substitute teacher who has no idea where his life is going. He dreams of running a pub in his hometown but can’t pay utilities in time, let alone afford the price tag of the pub. His siblings rather he didn’t exist, so they could sell the family home. The best thing about his current circumstance is his cat.

Until one morning, he hears on the radio his rich but estranged uncle has died. To his surprise, Uncle Jake has requested Charlie to speak at his funeral. Imagine his surprise when guests bring in flowers with obscenities, suggesting that people are pleased with Jake’s death.

The real shock comes when a mourner tries to stab the dead uncle’s body. Little does Charlie know that apart from being a parking lot magnate, his uncle’s also a professional villain. And Charlie inherits his villainous empire along with the secret lair and the talking cat. His cat.

But most importantly – Charlie inherits the schemes, the enemies, and the dolphins on strike.

Starter Villain World & Characters

What Charlie and we as readers learn about villainy is that it’s a corporate world. It has subscriptions, business owners race to introduce the next disruptive device or service and to meet needs faster, cheaper, and better than governments. There’s a lot of money at play and thus – lots of loans.

The rest is spoilers. Unfortunately, I can’t say the world is immersive. While Kaiju was way more far-fetched than the present-day-Earth evil lair, its world felt lived-in, vibrant, and alive. Starter Villain is very two-dimensional – it and its characters. The only ones having some sort of personality were a sentient cat and a dolphin on strike. Even Charlie lacked the main-character charisma I found in Jamie.

And I know that I draw too many parallels between two wildly different books, but I can’t help it. The Kaiju Preservation Society was dynamic, fun, with an active protagonist and a cast of engaging characters. Starter Villain’s weren’t. They were figureheads in the plot of an omniscient dead person.

Because the entire book is someone’s plot unfolding before us, it began slowly. So slow that it took me two weeks to read 50% of the book. But I managed to read it, and I’m glad I did!

Starter Villain: Review Verdict

The burning question – should you read it? Yes.

I sound disappointed because I expected a wild, hilarious ride. After all, we have sentient cats. But the snippy dialogue and quirky characters weren’t enough for me. That’s why my final Starter Villain review verdict is only 3 stars.

That doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy it. We still get Scalzi’s characteristic writing and humor. The book’s a piece of satire that rings close to home when we think about capitalism, fair pay, and workers on strikes. So, prepare yourself – Starter Villain by John Scalzi drops on the 19th of September, and the management’s comprised of sentient cats.

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Starter Villain by John Scalzi
I’m a copywriter by work, reader by heart, writer by night & a daydreamer all year round. I dabble in graphic design whenever time’s left. I breathe words and try to weave worlds.
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